Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Detective Drama: A literacy and drama unit

I always teach a mystery unit in my class. I love to read who-dun-its and I try to pass that love onto my students. Read alouds are great but I've learned to cast the students as detectives in the class. It gets them up and out of their seats and it becomes a bit of a competition to see who can solve the crime. Sometimes I set up a crime scene (chairs overturned and bags strewn about) other times I just tell them about a crime.

I always have students fold paper into four to make a detective booklet. They can jot notes from each witness statement in it. I generally have to teach them what notes are because they want to write down every word said.

Then I have them work in teams to put together a timeline and to check each witness' alibi. We learn fun words like sleuth, gumshoe and alibi and red herring for this unit. The students do a lot of work and they love the unit. They even offer to come in early or do extra work at home in order to be cast as a suspect or witness in the crime.

I sometimes show this commercial and ask who is framed in it. Then I ask what does the word "frame" mean. The students can always figure it out...

Mysteries have the ability to get reluctant readers and writers enthusiastic about reading, thinking, and writing. Mysteries often contain intriguing characters and are often able to hold a student's interest with their suspenseful and dynamic plots. Mysteries are a wonderful vehicle for teaching critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills in an exciting and enjoyable way. My mystery unit is a study of the mystery genre in which students will act as detectives. They will discover the elements of a mystery including the typical characters, the common plot structure, and the vocabulary that they will likely encounter in mystery writing. They will work in small detective groups to solve cases and will even write their own mysteries.

Why am I telling you this? A colleague and I are teaching a seminar on making reading fun and we are putting together a unit for teachers. (And I am just a bit nervous...)


  1. This is a great idea. Can I get worksheets from you?

  2. Hi Tessa,

    Email me at

    I'll email you the resources I've made.



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