Third grade teachers at Everson Elementary were excited to share a plate of “celebrating Autumn” cookies with students as a way to get them excited about the fall season. And the students were equally as excited to get their hands on those cookies, even if they had to wait until after lunch.
But when the students returned from lunch, those cookies were gone.
In their place, though, were clues —a letter from principal Kevin DeVere, out of place objects from around the school or other items that linked teachers to the scene — giving students a first-hand opportunity to investigate the case of the missing cookies.
“Our next reading unit is all about reading mystery books,” says Jaclyn Hinton, Everson Elementary third-grade teacher. “Many students do not have prior experience with these types of books, so we wanted to do something fun that would pique their interest and get them excited about this unit and motivated to participate.”
Since mystery books have a new set of vocabulary words, such as suspect, clue, motive and opportunity, Hinton says the group of teachers thought giving them a real-life experience could help them understand their meanings and remember the words.
Once the crime scene was established, students in the classes of Hinton, Elijah Davis and Katey Hartsock worked to look for clues, brainstorm suspects and make predictions. Suspects, in the form of staff members, were brought in for interrogations and the students considered their culpability in the act.
While working to solve the crime, students received a thank you letter from teacher Autumn Griffith, explaining how she saw her name on the cookies and appreciated receiving them as a gift. “It was all a misunderstanding,” Hinton says of the outcome, “so no hard feelings for any of the teachers or students.”
She says it was fun to see the students work together to brainstorm possible suspects and discuss their reasoning. “They were noticing things us teachers didn’t even think of and really thinking deep and creatively like detectives,” she says. “It has been so fun to see their excitement. They truly believed the cookies had been stolen.”
While a unit introduction project of this scale takes more pre-planning and hands-on work than typically done, Hinton says the real-life experience allows teachers to challenge students more throughout the unit. “It has really gotten the students excited,” she says, “to read their mystery books and become better detectives.”