In this section I will focus on the general teaching plan, which provides the basic structure for exploring the detective fiction chosen. The various strategies can be adapted to all the potential readings, which include the Crosby Bonsall series (The Private Eyes Club), the Nate the Great series, and the Cam Jansen series. When teaching upper elementary grades (3rd through 5th), these strategies and ideas can be readily adapted for use with The Boxcar Children, Encyclopedia Brown, and The Last Chance Detectives.
Following this generalized section on literature strategies is a section with specific activities. The specific activities often refer to and connect with specific ideas generated in the selections. Both the strategies and the activities that follow are flexible, allowing for their use with other titles within the various series.
Before Reading—Building Interest in the Mystery
Building background is crucial for developing an interest in literature. When young learners ease gently into new situations they become more readily able to accommodate new ideas. Before beginning any book, take time to familiarize the students with the characters, setting, and plot. Thinking about who, what, and where not only sets the tone but takes some of the pressure off the learner. Building background provides the learner with a comfortable base upon which to develop ideas.
-Using chart paper and markers, introduce the book to the children. Write down the title and the author, having the class help with this process. Change the color of the markers often so that the print is more easily tracked. Ask questions. Have we read anything else by this author? What do we already know from the title?
-Open the book and read a couple of sentences from the first page. Begin to skim through the book, stopping to look at any illustrations. (Cam Jansen, Nate the Great, and the Crosby Bonsall books all have illustrations.)
-Make a list of “interest” words, those which cause curiosity. This should not be a list of entirely new vocabulary, because that would not serve to engage the student in wanting to read the story. These interest words should be words that cause the reader to ponder and question. As you record these words on chart paper, leave adequate room around each word, so that you can go back and add supporting ideas while reading. What you are doing is creating a framework for discovery that serves to further engage the reader.
-On another piece of chart paper invite the children to make predictions based on the appearance of the book and the information gleaned so far in building background. Record some of the predictions, mainly those which are distinct from each other.
-Now it’s time to ask questions. Ask your students, “What do I want to find out while I read?” Remind them of the illustrations and the list of interest words. It is important that each child produce at least one question and that each question be recorded on chart paper using markers. You are now producing a rainbow of questions which set the tone for student involvement during reading.
Get a packet of small “Post it” notes. As you read the selection with a view toward finding out answers to the questions previously generated, you will mark the pages with stick-on notes. Write on these notes a couple of words which tell why they are interesting or important.
During Reading—Just the Facts Please
-Get out large sheets of construction paper in a variety of colors that can be written on. Label each sheet of paper with each of the chapter headings in the story. After you read each chapter together, go back and review the facts. As you do this write down the new information, events, and characters that have emerged in the chapter.
-As you read, you will make another chart entitled “Who, what, where, when, how, and why.” Pause often during reading to fill in this chart (color coding each section). As it fills up, this work will provide a variety of ideas and thoughts. Get the children speculating about the facts as they are presented by the author. The “who, what, where, how, and why” chart is broader in scope than the chapter charts in that it unites information across chapters. At this juncture the children will now begin to generate contrasting ideas, make comparisons, and develop moral codes as they note details in the story.
-Another chart you can make as the story unfolds is the “who done it” chart. Encourage learners to be creative and take risks as they develop ideas about the rationale behind the criminal. Encourage a discussion of moral issues and get the children to speculate about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the crime, based on the various reasons possible for committing it.
-Children can also keep a personal detective journal or story diary. They should date each entry and record the facts as they present themselves during reading.
After Reading—Who Did it and Why?
Engaging the children in a variety of post-reading activities serves to sustain their interest and encourages anticipation of the next book. These activities also help learners to remember what they have read.
-Children can speculate and write about another character who could have committed the crime. Changing the “who” and “why” facts forces students to justify their ideas with creative thoughts of their own. Scenes can be recreated where altering one small piece of evidence allows for the inclusion of an entirely different suspect. Again, this allows for a discussion of moral issues, as learners will need to also provide the “why facts” for their new criminal. Children can write letters, either to the hero (Nate the Great, Cam Jansen, Private Eye club kids), or to the criminal. In writing to the story detective(s) they can make themselves become the assistants (Watson, etc.) and share the facts of the case as they see them. Letters to the criminal can focus on advice (encouraging surrender), or a statement of possible facts designed to flush him or her out. Again this is a great activity for discussion of the moral issues at hand.
-After reading several books within the same series, children can create biographical sketches of the hero detective. This encourages them to recall and think about character traits. It might be appropriate to create portions of the character’s life, such as his/her background and family in order to present a detailed portrait.
-Students can become newspaper reporters and write about the case either as it progresses, or in summary. This encourages the writers to recall and deliver accurate facts as well as demonstrate brevity in their writing.
-Children will have fun writing the copy for a network newscast about the case, and read their copy “on the air.” If there is a video camera available, great! If not, photographs work too!
-Learners benefit from recreating the story through drama. Acting out stories in primary classrooms is wonderful for several reasons. Children cooperate with each other, because success is dependent upon a unified effort. Acting out also provides the opportunity to reflect and experiment with the more delicate intricacies of each characters personality. Here children experiment with traits such as gruffness, coolness, warmness, sweetness, and aloofness.
Scope and Sequence
Just as every child is unique, every classroom functions differently. Following is one idea for integrating the strategies from this unit into the classroom.
Week One—The Case of the Dumb Bells by Crosby Bonsall
Build background and set a purpose for reading by previewing the selection and choosing from the before reading activities. Make a list of interest words and use them in sentences. As you read portions of the story, develop a sequence chart made of colored paper that lays out the action using simple word phrases. The students can create a classroom newspaper that talks about the unfolding drama of the neighborhood doorbells ringing, and how the case is resolved. For math, use base ten rods and the accompanying worksheets which feature the book characters to work on the concept of tens and ones. Do many activities which utilize base ten rods to develop an understanding of our number system.
Week Two—Nate the Great and the Stolen Base by M. Weinman Sharmat
Again, take the time to familiarize the students with the characters, setting, and plot. Encourage the children to become more involved by making their own predictions about the selection; after all now they have a prior experience with detective fiction. Make a classroom prediction big book to display. During reading make a “Who, what, where, when, how, and why” chart as the plot unfolds. Have the children make a bibliographical sketch of Nate the Great drawing from what they have read about him. Help them to pursue the unknown possibilities as if they lived next door to their hero detective. For math, work on logic and problem solving using teddy bear counters. Because these are plentiful, teddy bear counters are good for acting out math scenarios involving all of Nates friends.
Week Three—Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Circus Clown by David Adler
By now the children should be more independent in their quest for background knowledge. As you preview the selection together the classroom may be ready to develop their own list of questions to ask before they read. As you read the story to them, encourage the children to keep a personal detective journal. They should record the facts and refer to the questions they asked and the ideas they generated prior to reading. Learners can write a letter to Cam Jansen asking what it is like to have a photographic memory, or write to Eric and find out what makes Cam such a good friend. For math you can work on developing number sense by doing the accompanying worksheets or creating your own, using Cam and her friends as motivational cues.