Sleuthing and Snooping:  Real and Imagined Mystery Read-alouds

For Lower Elementary Students

Before reading

Your kindergarteners and first graders will likely need some instruction in some basics about this genre. To find out just what they know about what a mystery is, you can stage a simple one to solve in your classroom. Enlist the aid of a colleague and perhaps arrange to leave an important object in their classroom.(“Hmmm...boys and girls, I have a mystery to solve. I can't seem to find ______. Does anyone have any ideas?”) Get students to ask lots of questions to help you locate the object. You will likely have to do some searching in your own room first, but lead them into a query about where else you might have been with the object and ultimately to the object itself.

To reinforce the idea of clues and important details, put together a mystery box by using a large shoe box covered in colored paper and black question marks. Cut a hole in the side big enough for student hands. Place one object in the box at a time and have students feel inside without looking to figure out the contents. If students have trouble volunteering information themselves about the object, facilitate questions such as: Is it hard or soft? Smooth or rough? Does it make a noise if you shake it? Does it fit in your hand? Etc. Alternatively, you can play a version of the game Twenty Questions, and practice.

Afterwards you can talk about mysteries being like puzzles. A secret, a crime, or a strange, puzzling situation must be solved. There are important details or clues that may help, and asking lots of questions makes you a good detective. Things are not always what they appear to be. Other vocabulary words which may be helpful before some of the read-alouds that follow are: detective, ace detective, gumshoe, private eye, case, investigate, evidence, snoop

As you read some of the books below, use a think-aloud strategy to teach and reinforce language and vocabulary for the mystery genre.  Model questioning, predicting, and noticing details which may prove useful.  Consider keeping a chart or graphic organizer with information like the story map file listed here.


After reading

After reading a number of short read-aloud mysteries, students should be able to generate some “big ideas” for a class anchor chart about this genre, including:

• You can usually tell it's a mystery if there's a secret, a crime, or some sort of puzzling situation.

• In a mystery, the main character usually investigates by following clues and asking lots of questions.

• Usually the author of a mystery doesn't tell you everything; the reader's job is to notice important details and evidence along the way and try to put the pieces together in their brain to solve the mystery.

Encourage students to read more mysteries on their own by having a basket full of them in your classroom library. Riddle books are logical companions to mystery books and are quite fun. Have a center where partners can read and solve simple riddles together.

Continue to practice being detectives with a game such as Guess my _____ (animal, food, fairy tale, book sport, etc.) OnMonday, reveal one clue as part of your morning message or on a bulletin board or chart. On Tuesday, reveal another, on Wednesday, another. Do not allow guesses yet, but encourage asking questions that have a yes or no answer. On Friday, have students record their guesses on the morning message or chart and celebrate their group success. Have discussions about which clues were especially helpful.

Have a center or free choice activity with the board game “Guess Who.” In this game students play against a partner and ask questions to gradually deduce their partner's character. (“Does your person wear glasses? Do they have brown hair?”)

Expand upon the mystery theme in your math program. Over the course of your mysteries unit, open your daily math time with a “two minute mystery” from Valorie Fisher's book below. Encourage individual students to share how they solved the mystery (problem) of the day.


Recommended Books

Cushman, Doug. Aunt Eater Loves a Mystery. ISBN: 0-06-021327-2. Lexile: 290. (Others in the series range from 260-290.)
Here we get to know Aunt Eater (an ant eater who loves to read mystery stories) in four simple chapters. In the first three chapters, Aunt Eater learns a bit about being a detective (and jumping to conclusions) but by the final chapter she skillfully solves a mystery by herself. Great fun, especially if you pause partway through the story at a critical point and ask students to predict the outcome based upon what they know so far. You may be surprised!

Fisher, Valorie. How High can a Dinosaur Count..and other math Mysteries. ISBN: 0-375-93608-4 (no Lexile available)
Fisher has put together a number of math “mysteries” which are basically math problems. Each is accompanied by a colorful illustration with obvious and not-so-obvious details. Most of the problems can be solved with simple skills of skip counting, estimating, adding, and subtracting. Solutions are given at the end of the book, along with additional problems that can be generated using the same illustration.

Hurd, Thacher. Mystery on the Docks. ISBN: 0-06-443058-8 Lexile: 350.
This book was a Reading Rainbow selection and has more of a crime-and-villain aspect/component to it than some others on this list. The pace is fast, and the author's questions at key points, (...or was it? Or was he?) keep readers engaged and invite speculation. The pictures also help to set the scene and the mood of the story.

Kellogg, Steven. The Missing Mitten Mystery. ISBN: 0-8037-2566-3. Lexile: 380.
Students will surely relate to Annie and her puzzle about where her missing red mitten has gone. She practices the strategy of retracing her steps from a fun day in the snow with friends. This book has a satisfying and plausible conclusion and is a celebration of Annie's imagination and perseverance.

Kwitz, Mary DeBall. Gumshoe Goose, Private Eye. ISBN: 0-8037-0424-0. Lexile: 360.
In this easy reader chapter book, Gumshoe Goose, son of the local police chief, tries his hand at detective work. Children who look at the pictures carefully will pick up clues along the way. They will delight in the way Gumshoe saves the day just in the nick of time and succeeds where his inspector father does not.

Rylant, The Case of the Climbing Cat (and others in the High Rise Private Eyes series) ISBN: 0-688-16309-2 Lexile: 210
An introduction to the book reads, “In a high-rise building deep in the heart of a big city live two private eyes: Bunny Brown and Jack Jones. Bunny is the brains, Jack is the snoop, and together they crack cases wide open...” Rylant does a wonderful job of making mysteries accessible to younger students with this early reader series. Short chapters, tight text, and charming illustrations by Brian Karas with visual cues support independent readers, but also make for an enjoyable read-aloud. In The Case of the Climbing Cat, Miss Nancy's binoculars appear to have been stolen. Can Jack overcome his fear of heights to complete the investigation on the twentieth floor? Rylant gives readers a glimpse into the process of solving the mystery in a chapter called “Clues.” Before reading the final chapter with the solution encourage the class to use what they know to come up with a solution themselves.

Sharmat, Marjorie. Nate the Great. ISBN: 978-0385730174.
Lexile: 130 (Lexile levels in the series range from 130-480)
This is the first in a large series about this well-loved boy detective. Nate solves the mystery of Annie's missing painting in a longer story that makes use of lots of dialogue and fun details that kids can relate to. Nate looks everywhere, asks lots of questions, and reminds us that “everything counts” when trying to crack a case. Use after reading a number of the shorter books on this list. Keep a chart of important details and predictions. Decide as a group why Nate is so good at what he does. Follow up at the end of the month with Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt (Lexile 370).

Skofield, James. Detective Dinosaur Lost and Found. ISBN: 0-06-026784-4. Lexile: 260
In this sequel to the first book in the series (Detective Dinosaur, Lexile 330), bumbling Detective Dinosaur and his sidekick Officer Pterodactyl have three new cases to solve. A baby is lost, a kitten is found, and our heroes use their unique talents. Silly, and lots of appeal for dinosaur lovers.


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