Since I will not be teaching full time, the classroom I will be working in will not be my own. Maryellen Hellyar with whom I once co-taught, has agreed to work with me in her third. After having taught my 2003 unit in her classroom this year, I am certain that the arrangement will be a positive one. It is important to note also that the unit is not written differently from what I would have written were I to teach it in my own classroom.
Most students enjoy trying to solve riddles. Though many are just plain silly, they require students to examine the riddle’s content carefully to find possible clues that will lead to its solution. Especially the riddle’s vocabulary must be investigated, with the “detectives” trying to find multiple meanings that might keep the reader on the right track. In their examination of riddles, students will be asked to look at the facts presented in the riddle. It is important that they then try to look beyond the obvious interpretation of the facts. Could the meaning of certain words be other than what we normally might expect? In the riddle that asks, “Where do snowmen go to dance?” the teacher would ask, “What is another word for ‘dance’?” Hopefully students would see that the answer to the riddle is “snowball.” In the riddle “What’s harder to catch the faster you run?” students’ need to discuss what happens to you as you run faster. “You breathe harder.” “What do you try to do as you breathe harder?” “Catch your breath.”
These simple exercises do not consume much time, but they do begin to encourage the students to examine details and think more in a mode that will help them to unravel a mystery.
The use of a daily riddle will begin immediately. There is a chart containing one hundred riddles, “Laughing Our Way to the 100th Day.” In New Haven, students are made aware of the march toward the 100th day when various activities related to the number one hundred are conducted. Using the chart fits naturally into the curriculum, as well as into this unit.
There are also a number of very good sources for children’s riddles available on the Internet. They may be found simply by searching for “riddles.” My favorite is www.justriddlesandmore.com. Besides riddles, the sites contain picture puzzles, hidden faces, challenge puzzles, jumbles, and a mystery corner. There is also much more.
Developing a Framework
Beginning sometime in January, I will review what we have done as we solved our daily riddles. (Looked at the facts. Looked for less obvious interpretations of the facts. Looked for the interrelationship of facts. Looked for any facts that seemed unrelated to a solution. Finally, drew our final conclusion, our solution.} I will then lead students into comparing a mystery to a riddle, a mini-mystery we may be able to unravel by examining the known facts. They should be able to see the mystery connections among things with which they are generally familiar, such as riddles, math problems and tricks, picture puzzles, and even the solving of every day mysteries. (“Where did I leave my glasses?” “Why didn’t Juan speak to me today?”) They should be able to see that a mystery revolves around a puzzle or an unusual problem that needs to be solved.
Students will then participate in a general discussion of mysteries that they have seen on television, at the movies, read about in books, heard about on television news programs, or perhaps read about in the newspaper. The class will develop a list of the basic elements that are part of a mystery. The list should look something like this:
(Often including a detective or detectives)
They will notice that this list is identical to some of the elements in story maps that they have made in reading. This list will be used later as they organize the events in the mystery stories we will cover.
The role of the “detective” or “detectives” and the clues they discover will be the next topic of discussion. Students should be quite familiar with police and detective programs that they may use as a source of information to draw upon when determining the process used in solving a mystery. They should have many examples of how clues are discovered and interrelated in order to solve the dilemma. The presence of clues that are “red herrings” leading us astray will be examined. Pupils will note that police and detectives often carry a small notepad that they use to record the facts that they uncover during the investigation. These notes are then used in drawing conclusions as they attempt to solve the mystery. Each pupil will be given a similar notepad in which to record clues that are discovered in the mysteries stories we listen to or read.