Elements of a Mystery
So what elements of a mystery do we need to teach? Like all fiction, mysteries include characters, a setting, and a plot, but with mysteries, readers will find other common features. Readers need to pay attention to the clues and recognize when the clues are pointing to a red herring, or false lead. The plot is structured like other fiction. It will have a beginning problem (and it may be a crime) and introduction of characters, a middle that involves the revealing of clues that the reader uses to figure out what happened, and an end where the solution is revealed. I love this handout from ReadWriteThink.org I have used it with my upper elementary students to provide them with information explaining each mystery element.
Best Mystery Options
There are lots of mystery options available, but my favorite starter mysteries are the Nate the Great books. My kids have really enjoyed them, and I’ve created a few units to use with my kids. With Nate, you need to start with book one. This unit includes a variety of activities including a pre-reading story impressions activity to help students with using word knowledge to make thoughtful predictions. Students use the word list from the book to make guesses about what they think will happen. Students will work with the vocabulary before reading as well. Pre-teaching Tier 2 vocabulary words is important, and throughout the reading process, repeated exposures are essential as it takes 12-15 uses of the word to really understand a word.
After reading, students revisit the word list and use the words to summarize the story on the story impressions page.
In addition to guided reading materials, I’ve included a few writing pages for students to use as a response to the reading. They can write their own Nate tale or create a mystery of their own. Nate loves pancakes and feels pancakes help him think better, so I added a theme related writing prompt too.
If Nate doesn’t match your level, you can check out the titles above. There are titles at a range of reading levels. From these, I highly recommend Mary Downing Hahn for fifth grade. She’s well known for spooky books and mysteries.
Regardless of the book choice, teaching mystery elements will help your students better comprehend the text. Using column notes to record elements and predictions can make a huge difference!