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Teaching the Mystery Genre to Elementary Students

Mystery books are one of my favorite books to read!  Since I want to share my love with students, I came up with an amazing way to teacher the mystery genre to my K-3 students.  

Teaching the mystery genre to elementary school children.

What is the Mystery Genre?

I love to share the mystery genre with the children in my school, partially because it’s my favorite genre but also because I think mysteries have great hook-me power. Simply put, mystery is category of fiction that revolves around the investigation and resolution of a puzzling event or crime. It is characterized by its focus on suspense, intrigue, and the unraveling of secrets. Mysteries typically involve a detective, amateur sleuth, or protagonist who is determined to uncover the truth behind a mysterious occurrence or the identity of a culprit.

Key Elements of the Mystery Genre

Like any genre, mysteries have

  • Crime or Puzzle: A central element of a mystery is the presence of a crime, often a murder, theft, or a significant event that needs to be solved. Alternatively, it may involve a perplexing puzzle or enigma that requires unraveling.
  • Investigation: The heart of the mystery genre lies in the process of investigation. The protagonist, often a detective or investigator, gathers clues, interviews witnesses, examines evidence, and analyzes the facts to piece together the truth. The investigation often follows a logical or deductive approach, emphasizing the protagonist’s ability to reason and solve complex problems.
  • Suspense and Tension: Mysteries build suspense by withholding information from the reader, gradually revealing clues, and introducing red herrings—misleading elements designed to confuse and misdirect the investigator and the audience. This creates a sense of anticipation and tension, making the reader eager to discover the truth.
  • Plot Twists and Surprises: Mystery stories frequently incorporate unexpected plot twists, surprises, and revelations. These twists challenge the reader’s assumptions and keep them engaged. They may involve the introduction of new evidence, the discovery of a hidden motive, or the revelation of an unexpected culprit.
  • Clues and Foreshadowing: Authors of mysteries often provide subtle clues and hints throughout the narrative, allowing astute readers to piece together the puzzle alongside the detective. These clues may be cleverly concealed within the text or hidden in plain sight, requiring careful attention to detail.
  • Resolution: The resolution of a mystery typically involves the identification of the culprit or the unveiling of the truth behind the puzzle. The protagonist’s investigative efforts culminate in a climactic revelation or confrontation, bringing closure to the mystery and tying up loose ends.

How I Teach the Mystery Genre


To really sell this lesson, you will have to put on your best acting! Facial expressions are key– wide eyes, gasps, hand over the mouth, etc are especially useful when pretending to listen to each stuffed animal answer a question.

Prep Work/Needed Materials

  • caution tape around the ‘crime scene’ (for me, it was the top of a shelf in a window to the hallway that was easily viewable by students)
  • 3 stuffed animals- I used a dragon, a teddy bear and a lion (you may neet to adapt your story if you don’t have these animals, especially the dragon)
  • a baby blanket
  • (optional) magnifying glasses
  • (optional) detective outfit
  • a ‘burned’ piece of paper (a pictured I downloaded from online)
  • iridescent paper cut into small pieces

I had students enter the library and sit in our story area as usual.  I got in front of them and said “I have a little problem.  I had picked out the funniest book to read to you.  I put it in the window so I didn’t lose it, but it’s missing! Do you think you can help me solve The Mystery of the Missing Library Book?”

When I did this, students were so excited, they screamed and cheered!  You have to really SELL your story with your best acting!

Next I said “Ok, I knew that if we were going to solve this mystery, I needed to gather some clues.  Let me tell you what I found.  First, I found these 3 suspects (dragon, bear, lion) and isolated them from everyone else so you could question them.  I also found a piece of burned paper and some weird things that look like scales.” Then we lined up and walked by the crime scene so students could get a look.  

(I took ZERO pictures, but if I redo the lesson this year I will take some!)

Then we sat down and talked about the questions we should ‘ask the suspects’.  I had to do a some guiding and leading, especially with the Kindergarten and First Grade students.  We eventually worked out that we would ask the following questions:

  • Where were you last night?
  • Did you see anyone near the book?
  • Did you take the book?

We started by questioning the teddy bear.  I ask the questions and pretend he whispers in my ear.  I report to the class that Teddy Bear said “I was curled up in the corner with that baby blanket! You know, I’m supposed to be hibernating right now but it’s hard to sleep during the school day! I didn’t take the book and I didn’t see anyone near it.  I fall asleep as soon as the kids leave.” (If you aren’t teaching this lesson in the winter, I would leave out the part about hibernating.)

Then we questioned the lion, who said “I had a bad case of the zoomies last night.  I ran circles around the shelves for most of the night.  I didn’t go anywhere NEAR the books because you remind us every night to leave the books alone while you aren’t here!”  (Here, I nod my head and say “It’s true!  Remember how we talk at the beginning of the year about taking care of your library books by keeping them away from animals?”)

Then we question the dragon.  He talks in my ear for a much longer time.  I occasionally stop and look at him with various looks- shock, anger, sadness, understanding.  Then I give him a big hug and say “Let me talk to everyone else and see what they say.”  

I turn to the class and say “OK friends, here is what happened.  Library Dragon said he was bored last night.  He tried to take a nap but he wasn’t tired.  He tried flying laps around the library but there wasn’t a lot of room to spread his wings.  He knew he wasn’t supposed to touch the books… but he couldn’t help it.  Unfortuneately, the book was SO funny, he accidentally snorted fire and burned the book up.  He is very, very sorry and promises never to do it again.  Should we forgive him?”

By this point, students are so enthralled, most of them call out “YES!” Although a few of them say “No!”

I wrap up the lesson by pointing out that mystery books will often have a detective or other problem solver, a crime or problem to solve, suspects and the clues that are collected may not have anything to do with the crime.  Then I show students the mystery book display and book talk a couple of my favorite mysteries.  If there is time, I read one.  I really like Seven Ate Nine!

Mystery Books You May Like

Here are a few of my favorite mystery books to read to children! You can find these and more in my Amazon Storefront!

More Genre Lessons

Click on the genre below to find more fantastic genre lessons!


I hope your students enjoy becoming detectives to learn about mysteries as a genre! I would love to hear how you teach mystery genre so drop me a comment or email (!

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