The science of deduction reaches perhaps even further back in time than ancient Greece and into biblical history which is certainly rife with murder, mayhem, and sundry forbidden fruits. Coming forward in time from Greek and Roman legends, The Arabian Nights shows evidence of crime fiction drama during the Middle Ages. And while Edgar Allan Poe created the formula for the detective story upon which other writers patterned their stories in the later part of the nineteenth century, the genre of crime fiction did not take hold until Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes.
In the easily readable “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes—Adapted for young readers” by Catherine Edwards Sadler—students will be introduced to the time-honored sleuth as well as his esteemed creator. Prior to reading “A Study in Scarlet” (one of three novels offered in the book), students will view Basil Rathbone (as Holmes) and Nigel Bruce (as Watson) in a few clips from “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Both Rathbone’s and Bruce’s performances paint a physically, as well as emotionally, accurate picture of Conan Doyle’s characters, and should give students insight into the personas of the characters prior to reading the story.
“A Study in Scarlet” will be read orally in the classroom, and students (as well as the teacher) will take turns reading. Oral reading can be a most effective way to motivate student interest in a topic, especially if the teacher acts as a participant as well as a coach. I have often found that students with poor reading skills—although apprehensive at first—respond favorably to understated and polite corrections. Reminding students who are anxious “to breathe; take it slower; don’t worry about the words you don’t know, I’ll help you,” puts them at ease and redefines the word, “mistake” to mean “building block”—an essential part of the learning process.
The learning focus in this section is on deductive reasoning, and how mystery is created in a story by tricking the reader almost metaphorically—something “seems” to be a certain way for a certain reason, but “really” isn’t. We will interrupt our reading from time to time, to explore not only the methods by which Sherlock draws his conclusions about clues, but also how the clues are presented in the story. In “A Study in Scarlet,” for example, the partial word, “rache” appears written in blood on a wall. Inspector Lestrade determines that it must mean “Rachel” because a woman appears to be implicated in the case. Holmes, of course, sets him straight in short order by explaining that “rache” is the German word for “revenge.”
After the story has been completed, students will be instructed to read the “Introduction” of the book which tells about the author, and Joseph Bell, a particularly inspiring professor for Conan Doyle at Endinburgh Medical College where he attended school in 1876. Students will then work on clusters for the following name pairs: “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Dr. John H. Watson,” “Dr. Joseph Bell/Sherlock Holmes,” and “Inspector Lestrade/Police Officer.” Students will write vignettes to characterize Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade.
Later on in the curriculum, students will be given reading assignments as part of their homework. Students who have difficulty reading will be advised to read orally at home, and if possible, tape record themselves. In this way they can read the assignment again while they listen to their own voices on their tapes. Difficult areas can be replayed as necessary.