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Amanda Madden


"As an adult, I love to read mysteries," Amanda Madden explains. "I began to notice that there were lots of mystery series at the second grade reading level -- Nate the Great, Cam Jansen, and A to Z Mysteries to name just a few. I thought that if I could get students interested in this genre of literature, it would increase their motivation to read. I know I can't put down a great mystery."

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So Madden, a second grade teacher at Blythe Academy of Languages in Greenville, South Carolina, designed a unit she calls "Whodunnit? Mysteries Across the Curriculum." She begins by reading a mystery aloud to the class, and as the book is read, students "map out the mystery" by keeping track of the story elements and noting important vocabulary words associated with mysteries.

Next, Madden's students read mysteries with a partner and map them out on their own. They use the new mystery words in book talk groups as they discuss events in their stories. A great resource Madden discovered while designing her mystery activities is the GEMS unit Mystery Festival, which contains two mysteries -- one for primary students and another for secondary students. Primary students solve the tale "Who Borrowed Mr. Bear?"

Amanda Madden's students discover a crime scene in the classroom. They map out the scene for future reference.

"Students' attention is automatically captured through the crime scene set up in the classroom before their arrival on the first day of the unit," Madden told Education World. "Clues from the crime scene are collected and students perform various experiments over the next week to collect evidence and make predictions about who borrowed Mr. Bear. All the evidence is compiled in a suspect chart. By the end of the week, students are thrilled to have become real detectives in solving a real-life mystery on their own!"

Students' favorite activity during the unit is experimenting with the clues collected from the crime scene in the classroom. They love the action of being "real detectives" and making predictions about who committed the crime. The informal discussions students hold as they gather around the suspect chart give evidence of their growth in understanding the mystery genre.

A student gets up-close to identify a thread found at the scene. Students track the suspects and compare notes.

"I am able to tell that students understand the new vocabulary and are able to draw conclusions and make inferences," Madden said of those chats. "It is wonderful to sit back and listen to them explain to one another how suspects have been eliminated through our experiments and explain their new theories as to who committed the crime."

Article by Cara Bafile
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