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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.





I can't believe that it's almost fall. And with fall comes the beginning of the holidays. I don't know about your students, but for mine, as soon as October 1st rolls around, they're counting down to Halloween.
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.
Confession: I'm not a huge fan of Halloween (but I do love candy, especially pumpkin Reese's!). I do know that I need to capitalize on my students' excitement about the holidays to help keep them focused. Here are some of my favorite Halloween-themed ELA activities:
Just this cover gets my 4th graders excited!

1. Read aloud scary stories. My students love the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection. These books are great because they allow students to practice inferencing. I love turning off the lights and reading by flashlight too, just to make it a little extra scary. πŸ˜‰

2. Create a haunted house of nouns. Using a blank picture of a haunted house, have students draw and label nouns of all of the creatures they might see in a haunted house. This is a fun and easy way to fit in a little grammar practice. These also make a great hallway display of spoooooky nouns. Here's a free haunted house template for you to use with your students. 
We used this worksheet to track all of our mystery elements.
3. Watch a little Scooby Doo- and review the mystery genre. I love Scooby Doo and I love mysteries. Scooby Doo episodes are great beause they're formulaic and short. They show all of the main parts of a mystery- detectives, crime, clues, suspects, and criminals. Show your students an episode and give them a chance to be detectives and solve the crime alongside the whole gang. {Want more info for how this works? Hop over here for the whole blog post.}

4. Halloween-Themed QOTD: Are you already using morning journals or whiteboard questions? If you follow me on IG, you know I love my QOTD! These Halloween-themed questions of the day infuse just a little bit of Halloween into your daily routine, without taking away from your regular lessons. Turn their energy into a little bit of writing and community building. Grab this freebie here. 

5. Write scary stories & poems: This is one of my favorite writing projects of the entire year! First, we read a chapter from Invasion of the Road Weenies called "A Little Night Fishing," which always creeps my kiddos out. Then we talk about what makes a scary story so great (and it's not just witches, ghosts, and vampires!). Throughout the next couple weeks of our writing time, I guide my students through the writing process of a narrative- and I am constantly amazed by their ideas every year! We brainstorm, use organizers, write drafts, peer edit, and have student/teacher writing conferences before typing or writing our final drafts. The best part is the day to celebrate their writing by reading our stories by flashlight right around Halloween. Check out this project by clicking here.  


I also like using any holiday to work a little on poetry skills. Using my students' excitement about Halloween, we work on imagery, rhyme schemes, quatrains, acrostics, parts of speech, diamontes, riddles, and free verse poems in a mini- booklet- 13 Days of Halloween Poetry. I LOVE teaching poetry, so finding another way to squeeze some practice in early in the school year was a must. This booklet works great. Find it by clicking here.

This is my favorite part from the 13 Days of Halloween booklet- first students guess the answer to each of these free verse "Who am I?" poems...πŸ‘‡

...And then they get to write their own! Which are very fun to share and also to put out as a hallway display so people who pass by can guess too. πŸ˜ƒ


What's your favorite Halloween activity?





Hopefully you've already read part 1 of my mystery genre unit where I set the stage to engage with a Detective Book Mission. Here I'm going to talk to you a little about Scooby Doo and one of my favorite characters Red Herring. 
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.

Pretty much everyone knows Scooby Doo and has watched the cartoon in one of its many incarnations. I love classic Scooby, but my absolute FAVORITE version of Scooby Doo is a little known version from 1988-1991 called A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. The gang are all kids and they have some great adventures solving crimes. I also decided this version would work perfectly for my lesson because I remembered Fred's sworn enemy, a character named Red Herring. As a kid, I didn't get this joke at all, but now I realize this is the perfect tool for giving my students another example of their favorite new mystery term.
Red Herring!

For our Scooby Doo lesson, I started off by asking my students to remember all of the fun mystery terms we had learned during our previous class. We wrote the list on the board as we named and defined each word- detective, crime, suspect, red herring, clue, etc. Once we were finished our verbal review, it was time to watch! 
We used this worksheet to help us gather all of our mystery data. It's included in my Complete ELA Mystery Genre Unit.

I chose "The Schnook Who Took My Comic Book" from Season 1 because I knew it featured Red Herring. While watching, I wanted my students to take notes and track all the mystery elements. We paused a few times when my students called out- "That's a clue!" We also stopped to record through the recap of clues right before the big reveal, and we took a quick vote on who we thought the committed the crime. After the episode was over, students reviewed their notes with their table groups and wrote down how the mystery was solved. I did collect their work, not for a grade, but more for myself to see if my students were able to follow along and understand the different mystery aspects. 

There were a couple things that I really enjoyed about this lesson (besides an excuse to watch one of my favorite childhood cartoons!):

1. The show follows a format that easily adheres to all of the aspects of the mystery genre, which means almost every episode works.

2. Episodes are short, so this doesn't need to take up my whole ELA time.

3. This lesson could easily work as a sub plan, or even be repeated if needed. (My class begged for us to watch more Scooby Doo!)

4. Bonus: Did you know there are Scooby Doo books? If I wanted to add in a reading aspect, or even reteach this lesson (especially for my lower level learners), I would use these books I found in our school library. Scooby-Doo and the Cupcake Caper is an example of the Level 2 reader that would work well. They're available used on Amazon for as low as 15 cents if you can't find them at your local library. 

Have you ever used Scooby Doo or another TV show in your classroom? 

Click here for the next blog post- all about how we became novel detectives!

P.S. Interested in more mystery resources? Check out the Complete ELA Mystery Genre Unit in my TpT store, which includes this Scooby Doo printable plus the Detective Mission from my last post and more.

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