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Write a Mystery

Students will learn about the elements of a mystery story. Then they will select a scene, write character biographies and outline the plot. They will utilize these elements as they write their own mysteries.

PROCESS:

  1. Inform students that all stories have the same basic elements: characters, setting and plot. In a mystery, or detective story, these elements work together to create a puzzle for readers to solve.
  2. In a mystery, the cast of characters generally includes the main investigator, a sidekick-who doubles as the narrator-the victim, the guilty party and an assortment of others whose main job is to inform or mislead the reader.
  3. The setting can vary. Some mysteries take place in a single room. Others have the investigator and sidekick traveling around the world. That all depends on the plot, which is centered on a crime that the investigator must solve. A good plot is based on a central conflict that comes to a peak as the investigator unravels the puzzle. Well-placed clues guide the way to the finish.
  4. Display the Smithsonian Learning Lab's Mystery Month collection of resources. Instruct students to select one item from the "Mystery Inspiration: Scene" section. If you like, have them select one or more of the "Mystery Inspiration: Characters" as well. Instruct students to utilize those elements as they plot out and write their own mystery.

ASSESSMENT:

Invite students to share their mysteries in small groups. Challenge classmates to identify key clues that helped them solve each mystery.

CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:    

Grades 3-4:
Before students begin to write, instruct them to create a brief biography of each character. What does the character look like? How does the character act? Challenge them to identify important traits that will help define each character's role in the story.

Grades 5-6:
Before students begin to write, instruct them to create a detailed description of each character. Then have them outline the plot. Challenge students to include two good plot twists that will keep readers guessing until the end. 

Grades 7-8: 
Before students begin to write, instruct them to create a detailed description of each character. Then have them map out the entire plot. As they do, challenge students to identify key clues, false clues and a clear and convincing motive for the crime. 

Grades 9-10:
Before students begin to write, have them create a detailed outline of their characters and plot. Then instruct them to conduct research to make their stories more believable. Tell them to begin by learning more about the scene they selected from the Mystery Month collection. Then have them investigate to learn more about specific elements of their plot.