It's All a Mystery to Me! - National Council of Teachers of English
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It’s All a Mystery to Me!

“Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.”

—Sherlock Holmes in Silver Blaze by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of Sherlock Holmes, was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh. While Doyle is known for his writing, he was also a trained doctor, worked as a surgeon on a whaling boat and as a medical officer on a steamer, and was a journalist.

Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in “A Study of Scarlet,” published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. The characters of Holmes and Watson, and their legacies, are evident in many other stories, books, and in the media. While Sherlock Holmes fits well into a genre study of mystery, here are some other titles suggestions and lesson plan ideas.

Mystery stories make popular reading for elementary-age students; teachers can take advantage of this interest to help students engage in a genre study. This lesson teaches students about plot structure, character, and setting. Students identify the characteristics of mystery writing in class discussions, outline a mystery story using a graphic organizer, write and revise a mystery story on their own, and edit each other’s work. Students are then given opportunities to share their mysteries and to evaluate how clues are laid out to come to conclusions.

How History as Mystery Reveals Historical Thinking: A Look at Two Accounts of Finding Typhoid Mary” from Language Arts talk about history mysteries. This type of mysteries use dual detective stories to reveal historical thinking—the on-the-scene detective solving a past mystery and the present-day historian-detective researching the past.

The Voices from the Middle article “Fostering Authentic Inquiry and Investigation through Middle Grade Mystery and Suspense Novels” shares an analysis of sample middle grade mystery and suspense novels and provides specific suggestions for fostering students’ authentic inquiry and investigation skills in the English language arts classroom.

In this lesson plan, students examine story elements and vocabulary associated with mystery stories through directed learning–thinking activities and then track these features as they read mystery books from the school or classroom library in this lesson plan. Students then plan their own original mystery stories with the help of the online interactive tool Mystery Cube, peer edit and revise their stories, and publish them online.

What are your favorite ways to incorporate mystery into the classroom?