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Monday Morning Ready04.27.2017
Jumpstart Your Week!

When Edgar Allan Poe first introduced the world to C. Auguste Dupin, he hit on a winning formula. Dupin was Sherlock Holmes before Sherlock Holmes. Dupin was a genius detective. He first appeared in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." It was published in 1841. In that story, two women are dead. The game's afoot, as Holmes might say. Poe didn't give Dupin a nifty catchphrase.... < read more >
Grade 3-4

Think about the detective stories you've read. How are all of the detectives alike? What are the biggest differences between them?

Grade 5-6

Why do you think the main character in detective stories is always portrayed as a kind of superhero? And why do you think there's always an "ordinary" helper?

Grade 7-8

According to the article, the first detective stories were murder mysteries. In what ways do you think the genre has expanded beyond that in modern literature? Give examples that support your ideas.

Grade 9-10

According to the article, detective stories took off in the nineteenth century because of people's "faith in reason and mistrust of appearance." Detective stories are still popular today. Do you think that's because people still live by these two instincts or do you think it's because of something else? Why?

Write a Mystery


  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.


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


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. 

The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe’s death, like his novels, was a mystery. Learn about the top nine theories in this Smithsonian article.

Historians Are Detectives
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.

Mystery Skull Interactive
In this activity from the National Museum of Natural History, students compare unknown fossils with previously identified ones in order to place them in the timeline of human evolution.

Meet Me at Midnight
This online game magically takes players to the Smithsonian American Art Museum after hours. In the museum, they 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.

Lost in the Coin Vault
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.

Take a Trip Through Edgar Allan Poe’s America
From his birth in Boston to his death in Baltimore, check out places that were important to America’s favorite macabre author in this Smithsonian article.

Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake
This online exhibition from the National Museum of Natural History is based on the work of Smithsonian anthropologists working in the Chesapeake Bay area. It presents history through “bone biographies” of the colonists who teetered on the edge of survival at Jamestown, Virginia, and wealthy and well-established colonists of St Mary’s City, Maryland.