Teaching mysteries to my third graders has always been an exciting and fast-paced adventure. They’re always enthusiastic and revel in the plots of the books we read together, and the unit becomes key in their literacy development.
This year, distance learning prompted me to teach mysteries using Flipgrid. Along the way, I found new ways for my students to build their technical and public speaking skills and, perhaps best of all, share their excitement with second graders to build anticipation about their third-grade experience.
I typically teach mysteries right after a challenging nonfiction unit that includes searching for main ideas, compiling boxes and bullets to aid students in further understanding the main idea, and deciphering meaning from challenging nonfiction words. I find that after that rigor, my students are more than ready for a change of pace in which they get to play detective.
When I teach mysteries, I rely on the Teachers College Mystery unit. That framework helps students learn to read closely and annotate, predict outcomes, and build their vocabulary with words like hunch and suspicion—and it often helps them develop a strong interest in reading a series of books, such as A to Z Mysteries, The Whodunit Detective Agency Series, and the Case Closed pick-your-path series.
As they read, my students work in partnerships as co-detectives, informing each other about clues and suspects—and cautioning each other about red herring clues. In addition to making predictions about what’s next in the plot, they ask each other questions like “Why is that character a suspect?” and exchange “I wonder” moments. The children are always thrilled to discuss with their partners why a suspect could not be the perpetrator.
As we approached the end of the mystery unit during distance learning, I searched for an approach that would be a celebration and function as an assessment. Since I have both remote and in-class learners, I envisioned a culminating project that could also unite my students, no matter where they were, and help build a sense of community among them. Flipgrid made sense.
I also saw an opportunity to engage second graders and build their excitement about becoming third graders. If second graders saw just how thrilled their older counterparts were by mysteries, I reasoned, they’d be primed to dive right in when their time came with the same unit the following year. A Flipgrid video could possibly lessen any anxiety they might feel about a new school year.
My students had already completed a Flipgrid a month prior to this project, so they were familiar with the platform. For the mystery unit, they created videos that covered topics such as how to make a list of suspects or look for clues, as well as ones that recommended mysteries they had read and adored and offered strategies for persevering through a challenging mystery. Some students were naturals when it came to addressing the camera and their audience as if they were a teacher or an actor, while others made speeches on note cards for easier reading and used hand gestures to explain their meaning.
With this Flipgrid project, my students wanted to add a layer of sophistication beyond their previous work with the tool. They added uploaded images from the web (e.g., red herrings to mark details) and emojis and images from the effects section of the Flipgrid site, as well as motivational messages like “Get ready for fun in grade three!” for the second graders; in the process, they bolstered their technical skills.
I could share a single link to the videos with the grade two teachers via email because the project was included as a topic on Flipgrid; their students could then view a stream of the videos. I also shared the videos with our principal and the district coordinator for ELA.
Assessment and Outcomes
After their presentation, my students looked at their videos together in class, without the second graders. Then we discussed what each child did well in their video and what we learned. I used the videos along with a rubric to determine what each student had learned during our mystery unit, evaluating what they said about mysteries and how they explained red herring clues.
The students got plenty of positive feedback from the principal and district coordinator, and they were particularly delighted by the glowing reviews they got from their former, second-grade teachers.
The Flipgrid mystery project helped my remote learners feel more present in the physical class because their videos were shared at school on interactive whiteboards, and they could share their experience learning from home. The third graders enjoyed feeling like teachers as they watched themselves and their classmates instruct, and the second graders loved seeing their older friends onscreen, whether that was from home or in the classroom. Some second graders were inspired to read their own mystery books and search for red herrings.
As for a sense of community, there’s no doubt that the Flipgrid mystery project helped my third graders feel more connected to each other, but it had the added benefit of building connections among them and the second graders.