Lesson plans will be similar in that the emphasis will be on the reading of the mysteries and somewhat on writing or role playing.
1. Plot: What keeps us in suspense?
what grabs at us? What or who do we worry about? What are the details in the first two acts that keep us worried and in suspense? These should be discussion questions that students and teachers should deep in mind.
Do we care about the characters? Do we worry about what is going to happen next? Do we really feel that the characters are in a situation from which they cannot extract themselves? Can they get away from Monkswell Manor or from Indian Island? Are they silly people who got into the situation through their own fault? Students like to have respect for a character. They don’t care about or worry about a fool.
Does the story move quickly? The students want a story to become involved in right away.
Does the author play fair? Do we feel cheated? Students should recheck the crucial moments in each play or book. How did the author mislead them? Why were they fooled? How is it that they can be fooled again and again, especially by the same tricks?
2. Characters: Create your own heroes (and villains)
Students should try to create characters after reading a few mysteries. This can be a small group project with several groups creating characters. Discuss what the students like and dislike about the characters they have already met. They should try to avoid both characters who act like idiots and super heroes such as James Bond. These are cartoon figures that people really don’t care about. Characters who fail and made mistakes are more interesting.
Put the characters in a scary situation. What are you afraid of? Students can discuss their own fears and ideas of a nightmare situation. Can you identify with you character? Is he or she real? Is the situation real?
Put two or three of the characters together. Can the students create a scene? Do they need to find new characters now? Perhaps now one of the heroes must become a villain. Can the students act out a scene, acting out the character he or she helped to create? Start with these characters, add an ordinary setting, and then give it a twist—and see what happens.
3. Create a Mystery Play
was originally a radio play. Have the students choose one of the stories and recreate it as a play. Can they create a radio play? Is it easier? What are some of the problems inherent in writing for the radio? What are some of the advantages? Can they create a play that is fair to the listener? If possible, play some old radio tapes for the students. “The Shadow” or “Martin Kane, Private Eye” are ideal. The students must listen carefully or they will miss the clues.
Can the students act out one of the short stories? How would they interpret certain scenes? Again, they must be fair to the audience. Can they do that without giving away the ending? How would they present the scene in
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
in which Dr. Sheppard first meets poirot? Or when he goes to Ackroyd’s house because he has had the mysterious phone call?
How can they reveal the setting in a play? Plays like
Ten Little Indians
are part of the setting, the trap set by the murderer. How can the students show the small village setting?