Genre Studies Series: Part 3 {Mysteries}

Other Posts in This Series:

Hi friends!  I'm super excited to dive into my genre studies with you!  If you missed the previous posts in this series, scroll back up a bit and read those first.

Once my students have a strong foundation of reading strategies to use as they're reading, we are ready to dive into some fun genres!  I start out with mysteries.  I do this for several reasons.

1)  Mysteries are FUN!  Who doesn't love to try to solve a whodunnit?  This is a genre that catches their attention and draws them in right from the start!

2) My strategies unit usually goes all the way through the month of September, leading me to begin my first genre study in October.  What better genre to tie into Halloween than mysteries, right?!  It just seems to fit perfectly.

3) But, most importantly, there are a TON of mystery series out there.  This makes it super easy for me to locate books on all of my students' levels!  Remember, the important thing is that we're all connected by reading the same genre, but students are applying strategies as they read books on THEIR levels.

And, not just any books.  CHAPTER BOOKS!  If you also teach 2nd grade, you know that the one thing students want to do in reading when they come to 2nd grade is read chapter books! <3  The selection within this genre makes it possible for ALL of my students to start the year off reading chapter books..even the lower readers!  Talk about excitement!

My lower readers will read from the Young Cam Jansen series while my higher readers will read from The Boxcar Children - and there's a TON of great series all in between!  Here's a list of some of them we will use.

* Young Cam Jansen
* Nate the Great
* A to Z Mysteries
* Olivia Sharp (Nate the Great's cousin)
* Cam Jansen
* Jigsaw Jones
* The Calendar Club Mysteries (A to Z Mystery characters' relatives)
* The Boxcar Children
* Encyclopedia Brown
* Nancy Drew

There are tons more of course, but those are some that we always love!

I begin this genre study by talking about mysteries in general.  We do a lot with riddles - using their clues to discover the answers.  We do a lot with observations - think of setting out a tray of objects and removing some of the items to see who can realize what is missing.  They are instantly engaged!  I select a mystery to read to the students (usually an A to Z Mystery because their plots are a little more developed than some of the easier ones).  As I read a bit of the mystery each day, we learn the "ingredients" (characteristics) that make up a good mystery.  I expose them to a lot of mystery vocabulary - detective, sleuth, evidence, clues, suspect, witness, etc.  This takes about a week - we complete a lot of graphic organizers and ask/answer lots of questions.

Once students have a good grasp of the characteristics that make up this genre, they are ready to start reading this genre on their own levels and begin applying good reading strategies as they read.

This is when I do my "reading groups" - however, it will look much different than most typical guided reading groups.

1) I pair my students up.  I don't want them reading in groups of 3-4 (or more) just yet.  They can't handle it.  I pair them up with another reader at the same level and assign them a mystery book to match.  Each student receives a manilla envelope - his/her "case file" - that includes the book, his/her work packet, vocabulary words, etc.

2) All of my students are reading at the same time.  Yes!  All of my groups (pairs) are reading.  I am not reading with one group of students while others are in stations working on writing, or word work, or listening centers.  We're ALL reading!  This just works for me.  I assign each pair pages to read for that day and they sit, scattered around the room, EEK (elbow to elbow, knee to knee) and share the reading with their partner.  After reading, they will pull their work out of their case file to complete for the day.  Students aren't distracted by others, wondering what they're doing...we're all being reading detectives together!

3) As students are reading, I'm working with reading groups.  I usually only have 4-5 different levels of students.  So for instance, if I have 20 students, with say 5 different reading levels, that would be possibly 4 students at each level.  If I had 4 students all at a lower level, I would give them all the same Young Cam Jansen book to read.  However, I do not want all 4 students reading together.  At this point in the year, they do much better in pairs.  BUT, when I'm ready to work with the Young Cam Jansen group, I will pull all 4 of those students to work with at the same time.  As I'm working with this group, all of the other groups are reading and working on their case files.  If I finish with this group, they will break up and continue on and I'll call another group to come over to work with me.  I can usually work with 2-3 groups in a day. 

4) I know what you're thinking?  What do students do if they finish early - before other groups?  If you're a center person, they could visit centers during that time.  My students work on a project when they're finished.  For mysteries, I have them creating a Case File Report.  It's basically lots of graphic organizers that fit inside of a file folder that has them summarizing their story.  Each day after reading they work on this and add whatever they can from that day's discoveries.  Toward the end of the unit they will use these to present the stories they read to the class.

As you can see through some of these pictures, I add whatever I can to up the enthusiasm!  When students are reading in detective duos, I have detective hats for them to wear.  As their reading trackers, they use mini-magnifying glasses.  And, well, sometimes while we're sharing these case file reports we'll enjoy pancakes in honor of one our favorite detectives....Nate the Great! :)

At the end of each of my genre studies we hold a celebration of learning.  Most of the time this is where we invite families to come in to see what we've been learning about.  Since mysteries is first, it's a little different.  We keep this celebration all to ourselves!

When students show up to school, they see this on our door!  And when they walk into our classroom, they see THIS!

Our very own CLASSROOM MYSTERY!!  This is actually a mystery from GEMS called "Who Borrowed Mr. Bear?"  You can order the book, Mystery Festival, at a reasonable price and it includes both a primary and an intermediate mystery.  It has the story to read to students, step-by-step daily lessons, and a letter to request donations.  I will say, it's a good bit to set up each day, but it's totally worth it!

Students will rotate through several stations each day conducting experiments on the clues left behind and then use their inquiry skills to apply what they learn to the mystery to draw conclusions.

One of my favorite things to do during this is to sit back and watch those predictions!  Students will leave a station and run over to the suspect chart to draw their conclusions and persuade their classmates of their opinion.

I hope this gives you some ideas for a mystery genre!  The students really do love the genre! <3  It's so much fun to watch them continue to gobble these books up from our classroom library or the school library.  Sometimes we'll even have an awards ceremony at the end where students will vote for the best mystery series, the most lovable detective, the most tricky plot, etc.  Those books will get special stickers and boy do they fly off the shelves! :)

Some of the resources I've created to use with this unit are below, but these are definitely not something you would NEED to conduct a mystery study.  Look around your classroom to see what you have available and work with it!

{Filled with activities that I use during this genre study.}

{Quizzes for all 26 books in this series.}

{A case file for 10 different mystery books of varying levels.}


  1. How fun! We do a genre study throughout the year as well. I love doing mysteries in a literature circle style and there are so many great mysteries to adapt for all students at this grade level!

    Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, Hardy Boys, and Nate the Great are also great titles for 2nd. Thanks for sharing this study. I'm looking forward to reading more.
    All the best,
    Ms. Pretzel's 2nd Grade Bugs

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blogpost about genres! I am new to 3rd grade and I need to sort all my books by genre. This will definitely help as well as give me some great ideas! Will you be doing other genres as well?

  3. Your blog is awesome! I am excited to use some of your Mystery genre ideas with my 5th graders this year! Thanks!

  4. Your are awesome! This is just what I needed, I can finally see the light! My district is moving toward genre study and I had no idea how to even began. Thank you so much! Please do biographies next 😄


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