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The Student Detective—A Textbook Investigation

Benjamin A. Gorman

Contents of Curriculum Unit 82.01.04:

To Guide Entry

When first received, students often regard their textbooks with great interest and they are immediately eager to discover what lies beneath the cover. However, their enthusiasm is eroded halfway through the teacher’s practical coments on the Table of Contents, Glossary, Index, Map Lists, etc. From now on, the textbook becomes the enemy for some, a burden for others and for a few, only a guide for learning.

Innate curiosity can make students natural detectives. From an early age, children are full of questions; as younger adults, they tend not to accept all the answers that adults supply, but question silently. As eighth graders, many are just silent; they are content to accept or reject information that is read or teacher-presented. Of course, the teacher has the advantage over the printed word because the human element can make the material come alive, whereas the information that is read often begins on the page without becoming meaningful. Students do not transfer their curiosity or once quizzical minds to their studies. The strategy of this unit will be to get the students involved with the textbook early in the school year by allowing them to search and question what they find.

The unit’s objectives are:

1. Students will learn to identify factual information using their textbook as a source of inquiry.
2. Students will become aware that a social studies text can be an object of historical investigation.
3. Students will develop a sense of questioning evidence as presented in their textbook.
4. Students will have the opportunity to present solutions based on their historical inquiry.
This unit is designed for use at the eighth grade level and it is aimed at my average and below average students. The major source of reference will be my students’ social studies text which is The United States and the Other Americas by Allen Y. King, Ida Dennis and Florence Potter. It is published by Macmillan Company, 1980 edition and written for use on a fifth grade level. Although the unit refers to material contained in our particular book, its use need not be limited by the text. The examples for investigation are found in most eighth grade level books. Indeed, students on any level possess a curiosity that can be directed towards their text which contains the puzzle pieces of our history.

Why investigate the textbook? As students of history, they should realize that the textbook is a collection of evidence waiting for interpretation. It is more than a chronicle, a record to be just accepted. The history text, as with an artifact, painting or structure, should be understood. This is achieved by criticism, by questioning the evidence. For the historian, everything is potentially evidence; . . . “something here and now perceptible to him: this written page, this spoken utterance, this building, this finger-print” (R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, p. 247).

Fortunately, all students enjoy an unfolding mystery and are thrilled at the moment of discovery. Thus, the history book need not become a burden, a collection of information that is too puzzling to reconstruct and to understand. But given a sense of confidence and a “modus operandi” the student can become involved with the people, places and events of history. In a textbook investigation, the student can find the thrill of discovery and learning.

In his article “Everyman His Own Historian,” Carl L. Becker shows how we all use history, for without its use our lives would be aimless and without significance. By his definition—“History is the memory of things said and done”—we are all historians and are involved in historical inquiry. We gather information and records; we draw conclusions and interpret. Our human nature attempts to preserve, to enrich, and to seek satisfactory meaning. Our students may be surprised to learn that they too are historians. Examples of their using history or making it will help them to realize that history is more than a school subject and that it continues beyond the memory-filler pages of a text.

The professional historian gathers the evidence of actions and events, and attempts to present them in an orderly fashion, drawing conclusions upon which we can plot the future, if we remember the past correctly. Thus the historian is the detective for mankind. For the record, he gathers the facts—names, dates, locations, events, and presents the motives. A story of human action, moving through time that can be a shared experience for the reader.

While the student is an historian on one level, he is not a professional nor at an age where an historical perspective will be present. The student lives in the here and now. What the student and the historian can have in common is the role of the inquiring detective. To this extent, there is a parallel between the fictional detective and historical research, but it ends here. The detective is intent on the solution while the historian’s work is never done. Their ultimate purpose may not be the same yet, as exhibited in that body of literature known as detective fiction, the methodology is shared.

The role of the detective is easier for the student to experience. It calls for the use of his curiosity and cunning. It is a role that uses a disguise to mask any fear of learning. The student in the detective’s role can investigate a sometimes enemy at hand—the textbook. It is laced with clues and when assembled, can point to an understanding of motives and causes. Collecting the facts and discovering the “who done it” may raise questions of why it was done. Therefore, the unit’s thrust is to get the student to assume the role of a detective and to use that role to investigate and question their textbook.

The first step for the student detective will be to practice gathering basic facts. Using the textbook, the student will collect certain information in the role of a newspaper reporter or nearly forgotten, Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am.” The well-known event—Columbus’ discovery of America—can be a starting point. The students will be asked to investigate the who, when, what, where, and how of the event. This simple exercise will build confidence in the students and help to erase any fear that the textbook may be beyond their comprehension. It will get the student inside the text covers and lay the foundation for historical inquiry.

When asking the students for their information, they should look at a picture or illustration in their book depicting the event. This will help to place the students at the scene of the event because it visibly recreates it for them. Their eyes can visualize the event as they supply the facts, thereby making the event more alive and substantial. (Refer to page 46, The United States and the Other Americas.)

“Just the facts . . . .”
“Who do we see in this picture?”
“Columbus!” the class responded.
“What is happening in the picture?”
“Columbus is claiming the land,” comes the answer.
“Where is the place that is shown?”
“America!” with enthusiasm.
“When did this event happen?”
“1492,” in unison.
“How did Columbus get to America?”
“He sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean,” the chorus replies.
Good questions, correct answers . . . so far.
At this point, the question, not put forth as yet, may be asked, “Why did he discover America?” Depending on the students’ interest, the investigation may be pursued further. The question of why Columbus discovered America necessitates a look at Europe, rising nationalism, and of course, other early voyagers. Uncovering this information may lead to other questions demonstrating that the information in our text is related. Single historical events play in front of a broad backdrop.

The students as reporters have given the facts in the Columbus case. Now armed with their four W’s and an H, they may be asked to search out basic information for a number of events or persons. The students will realize that the textbook contains a wealth of facts and by allowing them some practice, they will get a chance to scan the book for the breadth of its coverage. A high rate of success is expected and the skill of searching for the basic information should increase. What they discover on their own will be remembered longer.

With some practice in identification and collection in hand, the student detective is now ready for . . . .

The Case of Questions and More Questions

“Let’s read about the opening conflict that led directly to the American War for Independence. I want you to be prepared to identify who was involved, when and where it took place, what happened, and how it began.” Pages turn. Quiet reigns. The feeling of concentration is present. “Good group,” I notice, “everyone is even on the right page.” Time passes. “Now class, let’s look at the picture below on page 162 (“Battle of Lexington” by Alonzo Chappell) as I ask you some questions.”

“Who do we see in this picture?”

“Soldiers, British and colonists,” the class responds.

“What is happening in the picture?”

“They are fighting!” “Shooting!” “It’s a battle!” The cries come from different parts of the room.

“Where did this happen?”

“Lexington in Massachusetts!” Comes the answer.

“When did this event happen?”

“April, 1775!” Shout enthusiastic voices.

“How did the event come about?”

“The British were after Hancock and Adams.” “And guns and powder, too!” The chorus replies.

Good questions, correct answers, but does anyone know more than they did before the first question?

For some students, these questions may satisfy their interest. They have responded correctly using some pre-knowledge; they have related the textbook facts and “Just the facts.” Sometimes this is as far as the teacher can proceed. The students have given facts and the illustration has made the facts more vivid for them. As reporters of the illustrated scene, they have answered the most basic questions. As students of history, they have just begun and are ready for more questions.

“Let’s look again and ask another series of questions.” “Can you carefully describe what you see in the picture?” “What events led up to this picture?”

“How do the colonists feel? The British?”

“How do we know this happened as we see it?”

“How can we check the information as presented?”

The second set of questions attempts to get the students behind the ink and colors. It may be difficult to get many students to question beyond what they see; by asking the questions they may learn not to accept what appears in the textbook as absolute truth. We may assume that the textual description read by the students is historically valid. The second series of questions forces the students to go beyond the facts. These questions may point out that there is a discrepancy between the printed word and the accompanying picture. Of course, this would bring forth even more questions.

Perhaps a good approach would be to begin with the second set of questions omitting any fore-knowledge that the student would bring to the event. Some of these questions attempt to place the student at the scene. The first question asks for close observation, to look at details and background, positions, and visual motion. The next question allows for recreating the events that led up to the moment shown, thereby establishing a sense of the setting. The third question asks for an emotional assessment of the participants. The facial expressions and body positions, frozen in the picture, reveal clear emotions. The detective or historian, with question four, seeks to establish the reliability of the evidence at hand, and the last raises the question of verification.

Textbooks often, as ours does, show a glorious scene which is not substantiated by their written description. The engraving drawn within hours of the event by Amos Doolittle, a Connecticut militia-man, may be shown as contrasting evidence. Doolittle’s graphic record, which is at the Yale Art Gallery, shows the Americans offering no resistance, moving towards cover, and not even firing in flight. In the spirit of patriotism, later artists such as Pendleton, Henry Sandham and Chappell, took liberties in embellishing history. An explanation of how artists have portrayed the actual event will demonstrate why writers of history may shape or interpret their evidence. Becker also notes that “The history written by historians . . . is thus a convenient blend of truth and fancy.” The student detective must try to distinguish between fact and interpretation by continued and extended questioning. By comparing the facts and questioning Alonzo Chappell’s painting of the Lexington event in our text, the detective can conclude that there was no “battle.”

“ . . . The first thing is to get a clear history of what happened . . . always bearing in mind that the person who speaks may be lying.” Hercule Poirot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, p. 138.

A sense of procedure now being established, the next step would be the continued questioning of what we know or think we know. The students will continue to be concerned with motivation and presentation of evidence. Information presented as fact and information that may be omitted become the object of the questioning student detective.

The Case of Love and the Revolution

“Hey! Give it back!”

“Give what back?”

“You took it; it’s mine!”

“Me? I got nothin’ of yours.”

“Not again,” I muttered to myself. We had only been interrupted twice since the class period began and . . . .

“You musta’ had it for a week; it’s mine. Gimme.”

“Hold it,” I interjected. “Now what’s the problem?” The Civil War could wait for two more minutes; after all it had been over for a long time and everyone knew who had won. “Earl, what have you got that belongs to Donald?” With the words just out, I knew that it was the wrong question.

“Nothin’!” said Earl, of course.

“Rephrase and redirect” I thought. “Donald, please tell us what is the cause of your concern.”

“He’s got my social studies book. He musta took it out of my desk last week.”

“This should be easy,” I thought, now that the problem was established. Donald would have his name in the book, of course, and that would solve the conflict. Taking the book, I opened the cover and discovered . . . no name.

Realizing that the Civil War would still have to wait, I said authoritatively, “Let’s state the facts—two students, one book, missing for a week, no name. Maybe we can find a clue,” I said hopefully, thumbing through the pages. And there it was! Earl’s homework folded within, on the page where the Civil War questions were located. But then I noticed, as the pages flipped over, some words penciled in the Revolutionary War section. “Donald Loves Carol,” I read aloud and handed the book to the redfaced Donald.

As I returned to the chalkboard and the Civil War, Earl whispered. “Well, they all look the same.”

While social studies texts may all look the same to students, the books differ according to how the author presents or does not present the information, besides allowing for grade and reading level differences. This point may be made if a multi-text approach is used, by reading and comparing information concerning the same event, person or idea. Historians will conclude differently from the same set of facts, and of course the fictional detective deduces differently from the police investigator. Certainly, students may read the same words and come to different conclusions. All do have obligations to question the evidence because knowledge must be based on accurate and complete observation. Honest mistakes may be made yet the results remain errors. Although limited to one text, our student detective should still develop a sense of questioning the information as presented and also develop a practice of seeking out what is not readily in view.

A simple investigation of the famous ride of Paul Revere may get students to question the source of this event and to allow for the separation of fact and interpretation. A section of the poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, can be read to the class or duplicated and distributed as evidence. An excellent comparison would be Revere’s own account of his ride, if available;then a reading of the textbook’s narrative of that April night in 1775. The students may then discuss which is the more reliable report and why Longfellow, writing in 1860, does not tell us that Revere was captured by the British after he had reached Lexington. Neither does Longfellow mention the other rider that night, William Dawes, a leatherworker who also rode from Boston. Our text correctly mentions Longfellow’s poem as an “exciting tale” (p. 162) and does not quote from it. The textbook, within its content, or on the map (p. 161), does not state that Revere and Dawes were captured. Nor does it refer at all to Dr. Samuel Prescott. Prescott was the only one who reached Concord, which was the object of the British march. The questions might be raised, why does our text not include the poem and would Revere have been so well remembered without it? The students may be aware that historians use many different sources of information in seeking the truth. However, in order to understand the facts, they must come to know the speakers.

A clear illustration of the importance of knowing the speaker and his motives can be given by reading the colonial Sabbath Laws as written by the Reverend Samuel A. Peters in 1781. In the section titled “The Case of the Cheating Documents” by Allen Nevins, he cites from Peters’ A General History of Connecticut:

No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from meeting.

No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave on the Sabbath or fasting day.

No one shall . . . make minced pies, dance, play cards or play on any instrument of music, except the drum, trumpet, and jews’-harp.

Peters’ list of laws coincided with the popular idea of Puritan severity in Connecticut. These “blue laws” were accepted by other writers as accurate until modern researchers questioned their extreme nature. Peters’ “Never on Sunday” list, which he did allude to as unpublished laws, never existed as fact. The laws that were published did provide a basis for the ones that he cited but were not as extreme. The impression that Peters gave of a harsh, stern Puritian existence in Connecticut was false; he only reflected the perceptions of his age and times.

The Case of George Who?

“Who was George Washington?”

“Our first President,” proud voices respond.

“What kind of person was he?”

. . . Silence.

The student’s concept of George Washington may serve as the best example of what out text does not tell us and of what we think to be true. His name is very familiar to students. Yet beyond the fact that he was our first President and fought in our War for Independence, the person remains a mystery to most students. His birthday celebration having been removed from the school’s holiday list further removes students from that special day for the “Father of our country.” Washington’s name may bring to mind stories heard about him in or out of school. Thus, as a starting point, an assessment of the students’ current information about him should be made. Tales from Parson Weem’s Life of George Washington concerning the hatchet, the cherry tree and the confession may interestingly still persist and shade their picture of him.

As students, they can list what they know about the man and then, as detectives, search the textbook’s biography (pages 176-8) listing clues to answer the question, “Who was George Washington?”

In this search for the missing person, the making of two lists may be helpful. One list will be for activities and jobs—the facts; the other list will be for interests and attributes—evidence. Students are to cite the various words and phrases the authors use to portray Washington:

School boy Good in arithmetic
Learned to ride and shoot Hoped to join the English army
Surveyor Learned about the forest
Fought in French and Indian War Interested in the West
Raised crops, cattle, horses Loved his wife
Married Important man
Elected to House of Burgesses Never gave up
Delegate to Congress Was loved and respected
Commander of the army

Plantation owner


From the list of his activities and various positions, the student can realize that Washington had interests other than the army and politics. Washington, for them, may become more dimensional. Viewed apart from these two particular accomplishments, he has a more human side. Students may relate more easily to the schoolboy years, the ability to ride a horse and shoot, the fact that he had a family, a home, and its obligations. These activities give him a more human quality than the impersonal face portrayed on our currency or the wooden pose presented in our textbook by an unknown artist.

By listing and examining the evidence that is presented about Washington, the student can conclude that most of it concerns his accomplishments. Information concerning his likes and dislikes, his emotions and personality, is lacking. We might ask the students why the authors tell use little of his human side. Detectives are inclined to collect as much information about the persons involved as they can. Sherlock Holmes remarks in A Case of Identity (p. 194), “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

As student historians, the students should construct a series of questions based on their evidence. Their questions should attempt to reveal his human interests; questions, they might ask, if they could in person, as a friend. By this process, the student may be drawn closer to the person rather than to just his accomplishments. By coming to know the person, they will understand better the facts as portrayed.

The detective and the historian want to get behind the person’s actions and words in order to construct as complete an individual as possible. Little of the real Washington may be known because he was so revered by past historians, and the first task of today’s researchers is to separate the evidence, fact from fiction. Although our textbook does not present any Washington myths, it does present information that maintains the Washington “monument.” The students’ questions should reveal a natural interest in the person of Washington. The answers would reveal a man who was fallible, enjoyed combat, impatient with criticism, at times lonely, and longed for his home and peace. He was a man who displayed great energy and determination; he was a stern disciplinarian and quick to anger. His integrity was widely known. It is important for the students to realize that Washington was human; he was not a superman or a sculptured bust frozen in excellence. Washington was a good man, a competent soldier, an honest official with a satisfying record.

Agatha Christie divides her Murder On The Orient Express into three parts: “The Facts,” “The Evidence,” and “Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks.” The student detectives have practiced collecting facts and analyzing evidence. The last step in the textbook investigation will be the attempt to solve an historian mystery, and as Poirot, to think.

The students can read the account of the “lost colony” on Roanoke island (pp. 54-55); it contains the facts and clues which they can list and then assess. Here the question of verification will be raised. Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff, in discussing verification, state that “The historian must try to reach a decision and make it rationally convincing not only to himself but to others” (The Modern Researcher, p. 90). Although no solution exists, the mystery of the “lost colony” does not lessen the attempt of the student detective.

No trace of the settlers was ever discovered. The clues that were found were the letters CRO carved into the bark of a tree and the word CROATOAN carved in a post. What exactly did the letters mean? What happened to the settlers? The questions remain unanswered. The mystery of the “lost colony” of Roanoke Island thus presents itself for the student detective to investigate.

Sir Walter Raleigh obtained from Queen Elizabeth of England permission to establish a colony in the New World in the lands named “Virginia.” Raleigh and the government hoped to gain the riches that Spain was finding in its new colonies. His first attempt failed and the colonists returned home with Francis Drake who arrived after raiding Spanish ships. Spain, of course, did not want any competition for the riches and despite the threat of their powerful navy, Raleigh was eager to gamble again. He organized a second expedition, led by John White, which sailed from England in May, 1587.

The three ships with over a hundred settlers landed at Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina, in July. Though told to stay away from the island because of the storms, they settled there anyway. Within a month, White realized that their food supply would be exhausted before a crop could be harvested. He decided to return to England for more supplies. His family, including his baby grand-daughter, Virginia Dare, the first child born in America of English parents, remained at Roanoke. Never would he see them again.

In England, White found the nation preparing for war with Spain. Delays and a shortage of ships put off his return until April of 1588. Moreover, the ships were badly damaged by Spanish warships and had to return to port. With the subsequent victory over King Philip’s Armada and renewed financing, White was finally able to sail in March, 1590.

Viewing a map showing the location of the settlement and an explanation of the time-delayed relief expedition may help the investigation. Working in teams, the students can list possible solutions and decide which would be the most reasonable. One solution might be that the group was captured by the Spanish and taken away into slavery or killed at sea. Another might be that the settlers attempted to flee the island and were lost in a storm. However, the question of evidence comes into play; there was no evidence of any struggle and the carved words need an explanation. A third solution might be that the settlers took refuge with the Croatoan Indians on a nearby island and eventually became absorbed into the tribe. Settlers in Jamestown in 1607 heard about survivors living among the Indians but they did not make contact. Of course, the Roanoke settlers could have been killed by hostile Indians, thus the unfinished letters “CRO.”

By this exercise, the students will realize that because of a lack of evidence—written records, bones, weapons, eyewitnesses, etc.—a verified solution does not exist. The students must still ask the questions because the process of inquiry is important, for its own sake. Like the historian, they have gathered the facts, questioned the evidence, made a critical judgment, and presented a solution in a rational manner.

The Case of the Unnecessary Burden

He quickly entered the room eyeing the clock; moving through the rows, he reached his place before the bell. “Just in time” he thought and began to relax. Looking around he saw that the others were getting ready to start and he must also. His arm reached for the cover but fingers only felt air. He looked where his hand had grasped the emptiness. “Where is it?” he groaned to himself, “I don’t need this!” Thinking back, he knew that no matter how much he disliked bringing it, it was a necessary evil that he was supposed to have. “But why?” he asked himself. “I didn’t want it and it is always so much trouble. I’m here, isn’t that enough?” Glancing around, no one had noticed its absence yet and his mind roamed for a usable excuse. How he hated it; always a burden, open or shut, a weight that reminded him of his role. It demanded his time, his energy, and his spirit; from it and the others like it, there seemed to be no escape.

Bending over as to cover his nakedness, buying time to think of its location, he didn’t hear her. “Maybe it’s . . . no I had it earlier,” he thought. As he pulled at his memory, he saw her pointing. “Where? . . . Yes, I gave it to her to carry for me.” Thankfully he opened the lid; it waited where she had placed it. He heard his name. Startled, he looked up and knowing the next question, he answered before it was finished. “It’s here; my history book is right here!”

The textbook, a burden even too heavy to carry for some, can be made into a challenge, and necessary object for exploration, investigation, and detection.

Lessons for the Student Detective

The following classroom lessons are suggested as motivational aids and they should serve as an introduction to this unit. Certainly teachers will know of others that they can use depending on their students’ level, interests and needs. Each of the three lessons isolates a human skill that all students must develop, whatever their course of study. In relation to teaching this unit, the skills are of obvious importance for the student detective. Professional or amateur, the historian, the investigator, or our students, they must develop the skills of observation, including reading, and listening. The major objective of these lessons is to raise the students’ awareness concerning the use and importance of these skills.

It might be helpful to conduct one lesson each day extending the activity as desired. Once the students have practiced using these skills, their interest can be transferred to the textbook investigation. Solutions to the exercises are to be found after the handout pages.

Lesson 1 Reading for Clues

The historical researcher and student of history rely upon their critical reading to uncover evidence and to reveal information. Reading is a natural skill for them. However, our students, whatever their level, need a purpose for their reading—a reason for practicing the skill and a reward for finding something of value. The following two exercises allow the students to read for a specific, yet revealing purpose.

Performance Objectives:

1. Students will practice careful reading by concentrating their eyes on single words.
2. Students will become aware that each word in a text is important for full meaning.
3. Students will realize that how they read is as important as what they read.
The first, reading for clues, exercise may be duplicated and distributed to the students. The instructions are within the text and they can read, and proceed accordingly. Upon completion, let the students reveal their scores in order to determine their success in the hunt. Usually we overlook the articles in speed reading, but each word, even the lowly article serves a function.

An Article Hunt

A good reader, like a good detective, looks carefully for clues which can help solve the mystery. The words are the clues for the reader which lead to an understanding. A good reader does not just get to the last sentence, but solves the message that is communicated in the words.

You are a detective and you are searching for the articles located in these two paragraphs. Articles are the adjectives: a, an, the. They are found near nouns because they limit or qualify them. Your assignment is to identify the articles and to draw a circle around them. A good reader must look at every word. Take a pencil and begin reading this article again. Read carefully in order not to miss the articles. When you have finished, count the words that you have put a circle around. Remember an article that is missed is an article uncounted.

The next exercise should be duplicated and distributed to the class. It is a note to a friend from an unknown place. The task of the reader is to read it in a special way thereby revealing the message within a message. The students might enjoy writing their own messages and letting others in the class try to read for the clues.

(figure available in print form)

Lesson II Looking for Clues

Careful observation is important; our sense of sight is used in looking but often not in viewing carefully. Students must look slowly and observe everything. Could they describe what the teacher wore yesterday is class? Could they describe the back of the classroom without turning around? Of course, the answers to these questions require that the students consciously look and remember. The two handouts will only require them to observe and to think about what they view.

Performance Objectives:

1. Students will realize that the ability to observe accurately is important for them.
2. Students will practice using their sight by observation.

Distribute Handout I . . . .Murder in the Classroom.
The students are to observe the two pictures and are to list as many dissimilarities between the two as they can find. Give the students a time limit and then list their findings on the board.

Distribute Handout II . . . On Time?
The students are to read the situation and to observe the picture in order to answer the question. In this case nothing is missing, but what should be is not.

Lesson III Listening for Clues

The students should be warned that listening is hard work and that it begins with concentration. They must also listen “slowly” without anticipating what is going to be said or rushing to conclusions. Listening demands the co-operation of the listener and the speaker: both should approach it with care and with optimism.

Performance Objectives:

1. Students will become aware of the importance of listening.
2. Students will realize that listening is more than hearing; listening includes interpretation, evaluation and response.
3. Students will realize that by listening to each other and by working together they can solve a mystery.
The riddle is an enjoyable tool to have students practice their listening skill and to do some detection. By analyzing the facts of a given situation, the students can evaluate and respond with a solution. The limited information of the riddle will force the student to concentrate and to stretch their imagination thereby placing themselves in the riddle. The first example is courtesy of Mother Goose.

As I was going to St. Ives,

I met a man with seven wives.

Each wife had seven sacks,

Each sack had seven cats,

Each cat had seven kits;

Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,

How many were going to St. Ives?

Other verbal puzzles can be given to demonstrate how language and logic are involved in their solving but there must be a decision to listen. Hearing the words is not enough. Try this one.

As I was running home, I encountered a masked man and immediately returned to where I was safe. Where was I? What is the situation?

The second part of this listening activity is from Joining Together by Johnson and Johnson. It is made available by the Children’s Creative Response To Conflict Program. The following twenty-two clues should be distributed, one to each student. They are to read them aloud, one at a time. The teacher should list the following questions about the mystery:

Who was killed?

By whom?

At what time?



The students must talk and listen to each other in order to sort out the complicated clues of this murder mystery. The students’ goal is to answer the questions; the unstated goal is to promote co-operation between listener and speaker.

Murder Mystery Clues

The elevator man went off Police were unable to locate
duty at 12:30 am. Mr. Barton after the murder.
Mrs. Scott did not see Mr. A knife found in the parking
Thompson leave through the garage had been wiped clean
lobby while she was waiting. of finger prints.
Mr. Thompson had virtually The elevator operator reported
wiped out Mr. Barton’s to the police that he could
business by stealing his see Mr. Thompson at 12:15 am.

Mr. Thompson’s blood type The bullet taken from Mr.
was found on the carpet Thompson’s calf matched the
outside Mr. Barton’s apartment. gun owned by Mr. Barton.
Mrs. Scott had been waiting Mr. Thompson’s body was found
in the lobby for her husband in the park.
to get off work.

Mrs. Scott’s husband had been Bloodstains corresponding to
jealous of the friendship. Mr. Thompson’s type were
found in the basement parking
Mr. Barton shot at an intruder garage.
in his apartment building at

midnight. The elevator man said Mr.
Thompson did not seem too
Mr. Thompson’s body was found badly hurt.
at 1:20 am.

____There were bloodstains in the

Mrs. Scott had been a good elevator.
friend of Mr. Thompson and

had often visited his apart Only one bullet had been fired
ment. from Mr. Barton’s gun.
Mr. Thompson had been dead When he was discovered dead,
for about an hour when his Mr. Thompson had a bullet wound
body was found according to in his calf and a knife wound
the medical examiner. in his back.
At 12:45 am. Mrs. Scott could Mrs. Scott’s husband did not
not find her husband or the appear in the lobby at 12:30 am,
family car in the basement the end of his normal working
parking lot of the apartment hours. She had to return home
building where he worked. alone and he returned later.

Handout I

(figure available in print form)
Murder in the Classroom
(figure available in print form)

Handout II
School’s over: But Harry didn’t sleep well. His summer job starts at 11 o’clock this morning. He woke with a start in the dim room. He was never on time for anything. If he wasn’t on time for the job, it would be a long summer without any money.

If you were Harry, what would you do?
On Time?
(figure available in print form)


Lesson I.

An Article Hunt—27 articles can be found.
The Message—read down the first word in each line of the body; Can you crack this puzzle.

Lesson II.

Handout 1—Murder in the Classroom; there are a total of fifteen discrepancies.
Handout II—On Time? Harry should turn his clock right side up and go back to sleep; its ten before six o’clock. Cords usually come out of the bottom or near the bottom.

Lesson III.

St. Ives—One, the rest were going in the other direction.
Masked Man—Third base; a baseball game.
Murder Mystery—Mr. Thompson went to Mr. Barton’s room where he was shot in the calf. Mr. Thompson got in the elevator where he was stabbed by Mr. Scott, who was the elevator man. The body is taken to the basement where Mr. Scott takes it to his car. He then takes the body to the park where he dumps it.
____Mr. Thompson was killed.
____Mr. Barton killed him.
____Between midnight and 12:15.
____In the elevator.
____Stabbed in the back.

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Barzun Jacques and Graff, Henry F. The Modern Researcher. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1957.

Parts one and two offer valuable information concerning historical method and the historian’s work.

Collingwood, R. G. The Idea of History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1956.

Part five deals with the nature of history, historical method, historical evidence and progress. The mystery, “Who killed John Doe?” pages 266-282, illustrates historical questioning and the observation of evidence.

Davidson, James West and Lytte, Mark Hamilton. After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.

Explores historical mysteries.

King, Allen Y., Dennis, Ida and Potter, Florence. The United States and the Other Americas. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1980

The Murder Mystery activity from Children’s Creative Response To Conflict Program. Box 271, Nyack, New York. 10960.

Winks, Robin W. ed. The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence. New York: Harper and Row, Publisher, 1968.

Essays by Allen Nevins, “The Case of the Cheating Documents” and Carl L. Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian” are found in this collection of critical articles and reviews which deal with historical detection. An enjoyable introduction which keys on how historical methodology is similar to the investigations found in detective fiction should be read.

Winks, Robin W. Modus Operandi: An Excursion into Detective Fiction. Boston: David R. Godine, Publishers, 1982. Critical insight into the genre of detective fiction: “In the end, like history, such fiction appears to and occasionally does, decode the environment . . . .”

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Others of interest . . .

Barzun, Jacques. The Delights of Detection. New York: Criterion Books, 1961.

Cantor and Scneider. How to Study History. New York, 1967.

Winks, Robin W. ed. Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1980.

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For the students . . .

Montgomery, R. A. Mystery of the Maya. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.

The reader explores the disappearance of the Mayan Indians. It is an adventure in which the reader can choose various endings. R.L. 5.

Ripley, Austin. How Good a Detective Are You? New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1977.

Treat, Lawrence. Crime and Puzzlement. Boston: David R. Godine, Publishers, 1981.

Contains twenty-four picture mysteries, text and questions; many could be used in the classroom to practice observation skills.

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For the teacher . . .

Price, Anthony. Other Paths to Glory. London: Victor Gollancz, Ltd., 1975.

A military historian is approached to identify a map segment showing battle lines at the Somme, in 1916. The puzzle takes the researcher to the scene in France, to intrigue with the security services, and to a new career.

Tey, Josephine. The Daughter of Time. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., Publishers, 1951.

An inquisitive policeman, hospitalized and bored, applies his instincts of investigation to an accepted historical fact. With the help of a young American researcher, they dig into the story of Richard III murdering his young nephews in order to gain the English throne.

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Contents of 1982 Volume I | Directory of Volumes | Index | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

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