Today, we’re welcoming Sharon from Classroom in the Middle! She’s sharing her ideas on a combined reading and writing unit with a mysteries theme.
Are the finer points of reading comprehension and written composition still an elusive mystery to your students? To one degree or another, reading and writing can be a bit mysterious to all of us, so why not play up the mystery theme with a combined reading/writing unit that is all about mysteries?
The mysteries theme is one of my favorites because you can incorporate so many basic language arts areas–reading, writing, fiction, and non-fiction. Yes, it can be a lot to pull together, but I would say it’s worth it! Here, I’ve collected some ideas for lessons and sources that I hope you will find helpful!
For reading comprehension it can be all about detective work – searching for the clues (close reading under another name)! Students can search for text structure clues in stories and essays. They can be on the lookout for specific clue words such as because, since, reason, and the combination if . . . then, which are all clues to the cause and effect text structure. They can find time order words such as second, third, next, and finally as clues in narrative texts with a sequential structure. Although the sequential text structure is most easily found in fiction or narrative non-fiction, such as a biography, there are plenty of good examples of other text structures in both fiction and informational texts.
Informational texts are great for working on text features, too, and students can learn to use simple features, such as bold print and indenting, as clues to the organization of the text. They can also learn to check sidebars, charts, and photo captions, since these are all great sources for more clues that might provide just the information they are looking for.
Finding non-fiction mysteries for the class to read can take some planning ahead, but fortunately, there are a lot out there. With a little searching, you can find great articles that are a good length and have intriguing pictures, too. As an example, 1848 Gold Nugget , found in the “History Explorer” section of the Smithsonian’s website, includes an article that is about one page in length, an investigation sheet for kids to use, and a photo of a gold nugget that could be used as a mystery introduction to the article. Where else to look for articles? I like the NASA website for all things space and Kid Reporter on the Time for Kids site for current events articles.
And what about the writing component of a mystery unit? Start with a mysterious picture. A tried-and-true favorite source is Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Or a quick internet search can provide plenty of choices for a mysterious photo that you can project to spark the class’s imagination.
If your students are going to be writing a fictional story, this is a great time to work on the prewriting stage of the writing process. Students can create a chart of clues that they want to include in their stories. More adept students might be encouraged to include tricky or misleading clues to make their mysteries more challenging!
If it’s time for students to write explanatory text, have students write about something that they learned about in history or science. Each student can choose something that they understand well and try to explain it very clearly to “take the mystery out of it” for other students. Possible topics might include something like “Taking the Mystery Out of the Scientific Method,” “The Not-So-Mysterious Bill of Rights,” or “Solving the Mystery of Hurricanes.”
Do you use brag tags to reward students as they accomplish the goals in a unit of work? If so, a series of tags featuring a kid detective might be just the thing for a mysteries unit. They would be easy to make with the free clip art image. I found a cute image of a kid detective with a spyglass at WPClipart.
For a great little introduction to the whole mystery unit, very short mysteries that you can read to the class work great. Stories with Holes by Nathan Levy is one good source. Each of the “mysteries” in this series of little books is about one paragraph long. They are described as creative-thinking puzzles and are sure to get your kids interested!
And, as the detective might say, “Just one more thing!” – a mystery FREEBIE! This is a 12-card sampler set of task cards with a mysteries theme that includes reading, vocabulary, and editing cards.
Sharon Fabian, from the Classroom in the Middle blog, has spent over 20 years teaching English, reading, and other subjects to middle school students. She loves having more time now to create and write about resources for teachers – especially materials for teaching reading, vocabulary, and writing to students in grades 4 through 8. Here is the link to her store, also called Classroom in the Middle.