Mysteries in the Classroom

Thanksgiving Mystery Classroom Activity

There’s a story and a ton of memories behind one of my all-time best-selling resources! Here’s what inspired it! 

Murder Mystery Parties & Other Fun Stuff

A couple years ago, I hosted a murder mystery party for my daughter’s 16th birthday.  She is a theater kid, as are her friends, so it seemed like the perfect party! AND IT WAS!

The only problem was the mystery kit I purchased was for 20 characters, and she had invited 40 kids from her theater troupe.  I went to work creating 20 new characters, giving them their own back stories, and figuring out what actions they should take and how their actions would weave together with the actions of the original 20 characters.  It was a lot of work, but really fun work! By the time I was finished, I was confident I could create my own murder mystery kits.

Check out my special instagram feed with hidden clues and my computer file with all the stuff for the mystery party! 

I told you it was a lot of work!

Thanksgiving Mystery Classroom Activity Readers Theater

The party was loved by all. Several of the kids, and several of the kids’ parents, told me it was the best party ever!

As the excitement of the party lingered, I began thinking about how much students would love to take part in a murder mystery activity.  Of course, the murder part was inappropriate, and the prep work needed to be minimized, but overall, I wasn’t discouraged.

I went to work trying to figure out how a party like this could flow within the constraints of an elementary classroom. After lots of brainstorming, I finally figured out a way to have a Mystery Party without the worries that come with a traditional mystery party kit.  Here are some reasons I saw that a traditional kit wouldn’t work in the classroom and the ways I modified mine to work better.

Thanksgiving Mystery Classroom Activity Readers Theater
  1. Murder — Of course, murder is inappropriate, so I changed it to something a little less scary and settled on the theft of a turkey. I thought it would be fun to try and pin the crime on as many family members as possible!
  1. Delivering the Clues— Presenting the clues through conversations and actions was no problem for my daughter and all her super dramatic friends, but that’s not how a classroom is.  With many shy students, how could I ensure they are having the conversations and performing the actions that are necessary for a traditional mystery party to be successful? The answer was simple: I couldn’t.  So, I completely changed the format of the clue delivery.  I wrote all the clues in the format of a script. Every student is a part of the script, which ensures they know exactly what’s going. They gain clues just by paying attention to the script and the narrator.
  2. Not much Learning–– A traditional mystery party isn’t very educational. With a few tweaks, such as adding vocabulary and a creative writing activity, I was able to ensure students were using their time in class to actually learn.
  3. Too much Prep— You can’t imagine how much prep work I did for my daughter’s party!!! My mission is to give teachers their nights and weekends back, and I knew a traditional mystery party would just take away their nights and weekends.  My version is designed so that a teacher could teach the entire lesson using only the presentation and a projector.  There are lots of other materials provided too, but with even the script being in the presentation, all the teacher really has to do is say “Get out a piece of paper and a pencil!”
  4. Gathering materials & Evidence—  I had to have actual tangible materials for my daughter’s mystery to unfold properly.  My version has pictures of the evidence instead.  No gathering anything!

Here’s what I loved about the traditional mystery party that I was sure to keep in my own classroom version:

  1. Fun!!!!!!! 
  2. Collaboration
  3. Investigation
  4. Thinking like a detective
  5. Communication
  6. Inferring
  7. Mystery

Check out a mystery experience you can use in your classroom! Click here!

4 thoughts on “Mysteries in the Classroom”

    1. It will take about 45 min. to an hour to finish the readers’ theater. How well the students read and how well they follow along can affect the time. To add in the extras, such as learning detective skills, completing the vocab worksheets, and spending lots of time discussing evidence, suspects, etc., expect to add to the time. To make a really thorough experience, I would dedicate at least 2 hours to the activity. It’s a really fun activity, and the students will not want to stop playing.

  1. This activity was amazing! The amount of thought and detail put into this mystery was phenomenal! I’m teaching remote students this year, and it was perfect for them…I can even use it next year with in-person students! Thank you so much!

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