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I am 10,000% obsessed with Harry Potter. From the moment I started teaching, I kept looking for ways to incorporate this novel into my classroom. I really wanted to be able to show my students the magic of these books, even though it's now so easy for them to have seen the movie without ever having picked up the books. Besides prior exposure, I was also worried that Harry Potter was a long book, so my students might get tired of it. Two years ago, I finally decided I had the perfect unit to incorporate Harry Potter into...mysteries! {Read more about my mystery unit here.} And I was SO glad that I did! 
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
Here are some of my favorite takeaways about why using Harry Potter was a fantastic choice:
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  1. It's a model for both the fantasy AND mystery genre. Everyone knows that HP is a fantasy series, but the whole series is a mystery also. The first book in particular has its own individual mystery, with all of the elements, from detective to suspects to clues and even a red herring. 
  2. Students love the vivid details. J.K. Rowling really describes her wizarding world so well that students get into every detail. The passages work well for showing students how to visualize what an author presents AND how to create their own visual narratives. 
  3. It's a model for ALL THE THINGS. Besides imagery, this book works for plot, types of conflict, point of view, character development, and more. During and after reading this novel, we used this book as a model time and time again for a variety of our reading skills.
  4. Illustrated Edition = AMAZING. If at all possible, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the illustrated edition. If it's not in your budget, get a copy from your local library. My students loved the pictures. Several of them looked for illustrated copies of the second book to continue reading the series too. Also, I bought a couple of the coloring books and had the pictures available for my students to color while we read.
  5. It's a series. Speaking of continuing the series, isn't that the point? I love picking books that are part of series, or they're by an author with a few books out, so I can get my students hooked. HP checks that box easily!
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  7. Book and movie comparison! After we read the book, we had to watch the movie. Some of my students who had seen it before were now watching with new eyes. *spoiler alert!* They were distraught over Peeves missing (me too!) and the logical potion part of the journey to retrieve the stone, among other things. 

Are you a Potter fan? Let me know how you have used Harry Potter in your classroom!

Looking for more specific ways to target comprehension skills with Harry Potter? Try this lapbook, which focuses on monitoring & clarifying (close reading) skills with the mystery clues, track vocabulary words, analyze characters using character traits, and write creatively. 

I love the Wizard Dictionary where students can write all of the new words they learn. I'll never forget the first time I read the word "muggle" and one of my students (who wasn't usually interested in reading) looked at me with intrigue and said, "What's a muggle?" (Cue me doing a happy dance about the excited reader!) 

Okay, now I'm ready to go re-read the books. Again. :)







Often when I see posts and activities about growth mindset, they usually include some amazing picture books. While I love picture books, novels are a huge part of my classroom. My yearlong curriculum is based completely on using novels (with some additional resources, especially for non-fiction). This is when I decided to plan a novel unit based around growth mindset.
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
This unit is planned as the first of the year for my fifth graders, but it can also be used at other points in the year. 

These three novels are my main focus:
1. Because of Mr. Terupt: Several of the students go through a mindset change, but my favorite is Jeffrey. He's a quiet character so he can be overlooked, but his mental shift is so powerful.
2. Fish in a Tree: Ally is in 6th grade but can't read. This is a concept that's foreign to most of our students. And for those that struggle, they will see a kindred spirit in Ally. Her mindset completely changes from beginning to the end. 
3. Holes: Stanley goes through both mental and physical changes throughout the novel. He learns a lot about himself and grows as a person during his experience at Camp Green Lake.

Here's a picture of my standards based outline: 
Grab a printable PDF version of this with links to the pictured resources and YouTube videos at the end of this post!
During the first two weeks, we'll focus on Because of Mr. Terupt, which my students will have read over the summer.* The book is segmented into months, which works perfectly for our review. Using discussion task cards and our monthly summary booklet, we can focus on important parts of the book. Since my students have already read it, I'm trying to have them review it without having them completely reread the whole book. We'll start using it to model narrative elements, including types of conflict, and discuss character traits. Each of the characters is so unique that it's easy to explore their traits and how they change over the

course of the book. The last thing we'll discuss is theme. There are several different themes in this book, but my goal is to focus on growth mindset, which will easily segue us into our next books!
Learning Styles bit.ly/FishinaTree

We will start Fish in a Tree as our read aloud by the second week. I always save the last 10-15 minutes of my ELA block for read aloud time. (If you don't plan for it, it's easy to run out of time, or never have enough time. I plan for it, my students expect it, and we all know it's an important part of our time together!) 

Fish in a Tree will serve as point of comparison for Because of Mr. Terupt. Both books feature students struggling to deal with difficult times. Their journeys are different and the way they approach the challenges are different. Growth mindset! And really, fixed mindset at first from Ally as she struggles with reading. Text connections are a huge part of my decision to use this book as a read aloud. Similarly to Because of Mr. Terupt, we will use task cards for discussion and also for writing. We'll also talk about learning styles and how we learn individually. This will help me to know my students better and plan better lessons. As with most of my read alouds, our Fish in a Tree time will be more casual because I want my students to enjoy the book and not think of it as "work." Our writing and discussions are more open-ended and less formal. So now let's talk about the real work with my third book.

During week 3 of school, we'll start Holes. This is our first full-on, in depth close read together. I love love love this book. This is one of those books that I decided I was going to teach before I even became a teacher. I try to build up the excitement for this book from day 1. {Check out this post to see how I set the stage to engage for Holes and other novels.} 


Setting the stage to engage for Holes!
For this book, we'll be looking at those same reading standards- narrative elements, character traits, theme, and text connections- and my students will be doing more of the work on their own. We'll use our lapbook to delve deep into the text. For regular assessments, I'll have my students complete these Quick Checks. My students are assigned chapters to read every couple days as part of their homework. They also can work on their reading during any of their free time. The Quick Checks serve as an assessment for me and for them so that we can both see if they're paying attention to their reading. 

As we're reading, the theme of growth mindset and the importance of reading will come up through our work and discussions. We'll also use this non-fiction Illiteracy in America piece (from the Caramel Apple Teacher). My students were amazed at the statistics for children and adults who couldn't read. This was a powerful real world connection about reading that connects with both Holes and Fish in a Tree

By the time we are finished with these three books, students will have a solid understanding of narrative elements, character traits, theme, and text connections in addition to growth mindset. There will be a culminating project where students can choose how they want to show their learning (see the options in the unit outline). As we continue through the year, we can keep reflecting back on these books to make more connections and use these characters as role models for growth mindset. 

What other novels would you recommend for using growth mindset?

*NOTE: My school asks us to assign two books for summer reading and I chose Because of Mr. Terupt as one of my reads, knowing it would fit perfectly at the beginning of the year. If you aren't able to have students to read it ahead of time, then it could easily be a read aloud or independent read over a couple weeks. 

Want to grab that free growth mindset unit plan? Click here to have it delivered to your email.



The day we start a new novel is one of my favorites. I'm always ecstatic to share a book that I love with my class and to get them all as interested in reading as I am. Choosing the right way to start off a novel unit can be tricky because you're setting the tone for the whole book. These are some ideas you can do individually or mix & match for what will work with your class. Make sure to check out the one I ALWAYS do- it's at the end!
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
1. Mystery Bag: Fill a grocery bag with items that provide clues to the novel. Have students try to make connections and predictions based on the items.

I used this at the beginning of the school year for Holes by Louis Sachar. I included running shoes, peach preserves, notepads, an onion, and sunflower seeds. We had such a fun time making predictions. Then, as we read the book, my students would have an AH-HA moment when they would call out, "Now I know why you put the onion in the bag, Mrs. Veise!!" Once we were finished reading, we also talked about the significance of each item and what else could have gone into the bag. 



2. First Page: Photocopy the first paragraph or page and have students develop questions based on the short introduction. (You could even just read this aloud, but I like having my students have the chance to annotate also.)



This was my choice for The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. The bonus with this book is that the very first page includes a picture and text. We look at the picture and read the text and then create TONS of questions all around it. After reading the first chapter, we go back to our questions and see what has been answered. Then we come up with more questions. This is a strategy that we keep using throughout our novel study. It keeps the kids very engaged. My students love to come up to me after they finish part of the reading to tell me both answers and new questions!

3. Chapter Title Journal Entry: Give students a list of the chapter titles from the book. Have them choose one and create their own short story about it. 

We did this when we read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It was fun to have them create their own short stories and it had my class guessing and talking about what the book could possibly be about. 

4. Read Aloud Chapter 1: This is self-explanatory, but this is the one I ALWAYS do. (Well, sometimes I just read the first couple pages if the chapter is really long.) Occasionally, we listen to the audio book instead of just me reading, just to have students get used to a new voice. Plus some of the readers are amazing! One of my favorites for audio books is Frindle. Oh and I can't forget Matilda (which is read by the amazing Kate Winslet!). Having the first chapter read aloud forces students to listen and maybe makes them concentrate just a little bit more. And my favorite thing to hear when I stop? "Keep going!!" Because now it's their turn to read! :)

What do you do to launch a new novel study? Share your ideas in the comments! I'd love to hear from you.

Looking for more activities to do once you've started the book? Check out these lapbooks and tab books for engaging comprehension activities that will keep the excitement going.



I hope you've been following along with the great journey through our entire mystery unit. First, my Detective Mission got my students engaged and excited. Then we watched a little Scooby Doo to reinforce our detective skills. Most recently, my class was split into two groups, reading mystery novels while completing their Detective Mystery Case File. After finishing Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief and The Westing Game, we were truly experts in every part of reading mysteries. 


The only logical next step was to start writing our own mysteries! My students knew all of the parts that needed to be included: a detective, crime, suspects (maybe even a red herring!), and clues. 

And then *bam*, instantly when we started talking about writing these mysteries, their brains started going crazy! Their detectives sounded like they were superheros. They had weapons and cars and could solve crimes magically. Um, wait, what? This wasn't like what we had been reading.

Instantly, I realized I needed to reign in their imaginations a little. We talked about our mystery detective models. In The Westing Game, Turtle was our 13 year old detective, and, in Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, Sammy was 12. They solved crimes using their intellect and clues they had access to. Even Scooby and the gang are only in high school, and they didn't use any extreme means to solve their crimes. Following these examples, we came up with some detective guidelines. (I said "we," but really it was mostly me because some of my students were wildly disappointed at these restrictions!)
  1. Detectives could be no older than 14. <-- Reasoning: writers always write what they know and my 10 year old students couldn't "know" much about being more than 4 years older. Also, I knew this would limit transportation. No crazy cars or motorcycles!
  2. All crimes had to be solvable by the character that's the age of the detective. <-- This one made sense mostly to my students because we brainstormed some examples. Some suggestions were stolen objects, bullying-type harrassment, or grades hacked/changed at school.
  3. Clues had to be found logically. <-- This was a realistic story, friends. Clues do not magically appear to detectives. Again, we looked to our examples of Turtle, Sammy, and the Scooby gang to see how they found clues.
Using these guidelines, we did a much better job writing our detective stories. We used this mystery case file as our graphic organizer to brainstorm and record all of our ideas. 


Some friends still had a few problems with making their stories completely make sense (there were a *few* magically appearing clues 😜). Through writing conferences, we were able to make most of these errors go away. The conferences were CRUCIAL to helping me be able to differentiate for my students and enable my students to go further as writers. (To read more about how I run writing conferences, check out this blog post.)

For this project, I checked both organizers and rough drafts through conferences. While working on our rough drafts, we did also have some mini-lessons about action words, dialogue, and imagery to help make sure our mysteries were spectacular. Using examples from our novels (Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief & The Westing Game), we saw how those expert writers used those three elements to be super writers. 

After our rough drafts were edited, my students each typed up their story in Google Docs on our chromebooks. At the end, we had a very fun sharing day where my students were able to read aloud their mysteries.

My one regret as a teacher is that I wish I would have published their writing altogether in a book. That's a goal for next time!

Have you ever taught mystery writing before? Share any tips or ideas in the comments! Also, feel free to let me know if you have any questions. This was my FAVORITE unit to teach last year. I can't wait to start it again with my class this year.

If you're interested in mystery reading & writing, but not sure where to start, check out this mystery bundle which includes a Detective Book Mission, Mystery Novel Case File, and this Whodunnit Mystery Narrative case file (these are each sold separately as well). Don't forget to check out my other mystery blog posts as well for more ideas! 



Hopefully you've been following along with my series about teaching all about mysteries. If you're just jumping in, be sure to flip back to read about how I set the stage to engage my students with a Detective Mission and how we used Scooby Doo to help us practice what we using our new mystery knowledge. 
This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
After our Scooby Doo adventure, we were ready to jump into our novel study! When I planned this project originally, my language arts classes were set up heterogeneously with students on all levels. I decided to best suit the needs of my students, I needed to choose two separate novels- one that was on level for 4th grade and one that was above.  

Remembering a fond experience reading The Westing Game (Puffin Modern Classics) when I was younger, I knew that HAD to be my above level book. This book is full of a variety of clues that really challenge the reader to pay attention. There is a lot of play on words and a strange cast of characters thrown together that will keep any reader on their toes. 


For my on-level book, after some research, I chose Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief for a couple reasons. One, it's the first book in a series- this gives me something to recommend to my on-level and below-level readers if they find Sammy interesting. Two, the main character, Sammy, is tomboy-ish girl, which I knew would help her to appeal to both the boys and the girls in my class. In fact, when I first read this book, I actually forgot whether Sammy was a boy or girl for awhile, which was kind of cool, because her gender didn't effect her detective skills in anyway. I always like to introduce my students to a variety of main characters and I could tell Sammy's spirit and attitude would draw even my reluctant readers into the story. 

Once I had my books, then I knew we needed a fun way to track our mystery clues and keep our detective theme going! These Detective Mystery Case Files worked perfectly. For each chapter, we wrote one-sentence summaries so we wouldn't forget any important events. Then, focusing on the important parts of a mystery, we tracked the detective, the clues, and suspects. We also made some educated guesses about whodunnit and then evaluated our own work at the end of our novel study. 

Here are some pictures from one of my students' case files. She read The Westing Game.


This is a side by side picture of the inside. To make each folder look like a "real" detective case file, I used two brackets on to hold each set of pages together. 


This was such a fun novel study! Each group was really into their book and came up with some great suspects based on their clues. I was very impressed with how hard they worked. Creating this case file and reading these novels really helped to prepare us for our next big adventure...writing our own mysteries! Click here to see the final part of our huge mystery genre study and see how we constructed our own mystery stories.





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