Who is your favorite fictional detective? What are some of the most interesting mysteries that detective has solved?
When it comes to detective stories, would you rather read a novel or watch a movie? Why?
According to the article, Edgar Allan Poe introduced a number of elements that have become firmly embedded in most mystery novels of today including the reclusive genius detective, his 'ordinary' helper, the impossible crime and the incompetent police force. Can you think of any detective mysteries that don't contain each of these elements? If so, what are they and how are they different?
According to the article, the detective story was particularly appealing to nineteenth-century audiences for many reasons ranging from the promise that intellect will triumph to people's anxieties about the Industrial Revolution and fears of an ever-present evil. In line with this reasoning, what type of literature do you think should most appeal to society today? Why?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Encourage students to brainstorm ideas. Then give them time to write a mystery or crime story for their classmates to solve.
CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:
Like his life’s work, Edgar Allan Poe’s death remains shrouded in mystery. Read this Smithsonian magazine article to explore the top nine theories about his death.
On December 4, 1872, the unmanned Mary Celeste was found adrift in the Atlantic with its cargo fully intact. The mystery of this “ghost ship” remained unanswered for over 135 years. Invite Students to watch this Smithsonian Channel video and the subsequent videos “Why They Might Abandon Ship” and “What Was Left Behind?” to gather clues, debate ideas and come to conclusions of their own. If you wish, have students conduct research to learn more about what is widely regarded as the most famous mystery of the sea.
Use this lesson from the National Museum of American History to teach students the differences between primary and secondary sources as well as the value of primary sources in history. By using primary sources to answer a series of questions, students will see that, much like detectives, historians have to provide evidence to prove that their answers are correct.
In this interactive game from the Smithsonian’s History Explorer, students select a mystery character from the Civil War and examine objects that hold the key to their identity.
Historians use several types of evidence to learn about the past. One key source when investigating what it was like to live in a sod house is the photographs taken by a man named Solomon Butcher. In this activity from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, students examine some of Butcher’s photographs, analyze what they see and come to their own conclusions.
Not all great detectives are fictional. When scientists discover a new fossil skull, they compare it to skulls that have already been identified as particular human species. Invite students to become scientific detectives as they complete this National Museum of Natural History activity and help identify the mystery skull.
In this 1981 issue of Art to Zoo, students become detectives, piecing together the life of a nineteenth century woman by examining primary source documents and artifacts.
This online game magically takes players to the Smithsonian American Art Museum after hours. In the museum, players find that the artworks are mixed up—all because of the troublesome Root Monster! To get back home, players must solve mysteries—and help their new friends find their artworks.
This interactive game from the National Museum of American History is a fun way for students to learn about currency and explore American history. Players enhance their analytical skills as they decipher clues and closely examine objects from the National Numismatics Collection to solve mysteries and escape from the coin vault.