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Writing a Mystery Lesson Plan

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

Narrative writing lesson plans often fall flat because there's no focus and nothing to model. That's why writing a mystery makes an excellent writing lesson plan.

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    Narrative Writing Lesson Plans that Don't Work

    "OK, class," I said, "it's time to write a narrative."


    "Take out some paper and write a story. On your mark, get set, go."


    "Please take out some paper and write a story!"

    More crickets. Crickets invaded my being, shot up my nose and caused temporary brain damage. I passed out. I awoke. Sherlock Holmes was at my desk. He puffed on a pipe. "Hey, old chap," he said. "Your narrative writing lesson plans stink. Try writing a mystery."

    "That's a good idea, Mr. Holmes. I think I'll try new narrative writing lesson plans by instructing students to write a mystery."

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    Read a Mystery

    Writing a mystery or detective story requires the writer to include specific elements of the genre.

    1. It needs to be suspenseful.
    2. It should include a crime, a crime-solver, and several suspects.
    3. A good mystery includes key details--clues, alibis, character motivation.

    Before asking students to write a mystery, it's important to read examples of mysteries. Good mystery writers include Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Agathie Christie, Tony Hillerman, Sue Grafton, Edgar Allan Poe, and Joyce Carol Oates. Most literature textbooks have at least one mystery.

    As they read the mystery, instruct students to record important details. The details should include the following:

    • A list of suspects
    • Details about each suspect
    • A list of clues
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    Writing a Mystery Procedures

    1. Read at least one mystery and complete a chart with character details and plot details.
    2. Discuss the elements of a mystery.
    3. Prewriting - Brainstorm possible crimes. Choose a crime to focus on.
    4. Prewriting - Make a chart.
      • Draw a box in the middle of a slice of paper.
      • Write the crime for your mystery in the middle box.
      • Draw four more boxes surrounding the center box.
      • Draw lines connecting the middle box to each surrounding box.
      • Write the name of the detective in box #1 with his characteristics.
      • Write the name of a suspect in boxes 2-4, with key details.
      • Underneath the diagram, write two to three sentences setting up the situation.
    5. Drafting - Use the diagram as a guide. Provide readers with clues as you write. Make sure the conclusion is logical.
    6. Revising - Have someone else read your story and highlight clues.
    7. Revising - Add clues or change them if necessary.