Mystery Unit | Read, Write & Think Like a Detective Activities

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109 Ratings
Brenda Kovich
Grade Levels
3rd - 5th, Homeschool
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123 pages
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Brenda Kovich
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  1. Five weeks of detective-themed ELA activities engage fourth and fifth grade students. The unit includes mystery reading, critical thinking, and writing projects; two novel studies; a simulation; posters and book report templates. A complete 25-day schedule guides instruction. Read Like a Detective –
    Price $39.96Original Price $49.96Save $10.00


Kids love reading and writing mysteries. When you add secret codes, fingerprinting, and invisible ink, they’re really hooked! This unit will engage your little detectives. It was specially designed for third, fourth, and fifth grade students.

All resources are available as printable PDFs and shareable Google Slides or Easel Activities. Open the preview to take a closer look at all resources.

Read Like a Detective

Eight inference activities and five short detective stories help kids build critical thinking and deduction skills. These materials are great additions to any genre study. The passages can also be used as stand-alone reading comprehension activities.

Making Inferences - In order to understand mysteries, students must be able to pull subtle clues from the text and make inferences. For example, if a character’s eyes are red and puffy, kids can infer that he has been crying (or has allergies). Three read-aloud situations introduce inferences. Then kids complete five worksheets independently. Each focuses on a specific theme:

  1. Professions
  2. Age Groups
  3. Relationships
  4. Vacation Spots
  5. Information About People

These short passages encourage readers to become more observant, pull small details from the text, and draw conclusions. They’re great for scaffolding to full-blown mystery stories.

Mystery Stories - Five short, simple original stories are included. Reading them helps students learn to locate subtle clues (including false clues, or red herrings). They can also act as exemplars for student writing.

  1. The Case of the Missing Cookies
  2. Mystery of the Missing Bike
  3. The Case of the Missing Lunch Bag
  4. The Mysterious Whispering
  5. The Case of the Disappearing Pansies

A magnifying glass organizer can be found after the first story. Kids use it to jot down clues they have found. This helps them understand how a writer “maps” a set of clues (and throws in some red herrings, or false clues, to make the mystery harder to solve). As the unit progresses, students may use the organizer to write their own stories.

Book Report - A corresponding book report is also included.

Write Like a Detective

This set of activities was designed to let kids write their own mysteries. Choose from three fun projects: (1) crafty puzzle pictures, (2) choose-your-own-clues paper bag mysteries, or (3) a traditional mapped detective stories.

The projects are sequenced from simplest to most complex. If you want shorter bursts of fun writing, choose puzzle pictures or paper bag tales. To really develop writing skills, select the mapped story. For differentiation, you can assign different activities based on readiness. Or, if you’re like me, have all students do all three!

Puzzle Pictures - This little activity is more craft than writing. It makes a great classroom display. Kids print or cut pictures of well-known objects, animals, or people. Then they write clues beneath the picture, cut a small viewing area, and staple the paper on top of the picture. Classmates can view a small piece of the picture, read the clues, and guess what it is. They can lift the paper to see if they’re right.

Paper Bag Stories - To prepare for this activity, cut and fold three sets of cards: character, setting, and situation. Place each set in a labeled paper bag. Students pick one card from each bag, then develop a mystery around them.

Mapped Detective Stories - Kids develop their own clues. First, they read and analyze “The Case of the Missing Cookies” (included). Then they use the planning sheets to organize, develop, and write their own stories:

  • Choose a problem/crime.
  • Explore setting.
  • Develop characters - including suspects with motive and opportunity.
  • Map the mystery with at least three clues and one red herring.
  • Experiment with beginnings and endings; choose a pair.
  • Draft.
  • Edit with a peer.
  • Publish.

Think Like a Detective

Now add some fun! This set of activities lets kids explore how a detective thinks - and makes them do a little thinking of their own. Your students will love decoding secret messages, analyzing fingerprints, trying different types of invisible ink, playing observation games, and working logic puzzles.

Secret Codes - Students are presented with five different codes. For each, they decipher an encoded message and write their own messages too. (An answer key is provided.)

Observation - Try this set of six activities to see how observant your little detectives are.

Deductive Reasoning - Let students work on their deductive reasoning skills with a set of five logic puzzles. For an extra challenge, have them make their own puzzle. (It’s easy if they write all checks and exes after they write each clue.)

Fingerprints - On the first page, kids learn about fingerprint patterns and try to identify some patterns themselves. The second page gives kids an opportunity to make their own set of fingerprints. You can use an ink pad or pencil lead colored darkly on a paper for this. (These resources are included in the bonus file.)

Invisible Ink - Five “recipes” for invisible ink are provided. Try one ~ or for maximum fun, let students try all of them to determine which works best. (These resources are included in the bonus file.)

Enjoy Teaching!

Brenda Kovich

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I'm committed to continual improvement. The entire bundle was updated in May of 2022.

Total Pages
123 pages
Answer Key
Included with rubric
Teaching Duration
1 month
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 2–3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4–5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4–5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.


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