The mystery genre is one of the most popular forms of storytelling in the world, and mystery stories have a respected literary history. Romantic authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the earliest mysteries, and the genre evolved through the works of Victorian authors like Nathaniel Hawthorn. The mystery story was established as a popular standard by the 1920s and 1930s, and mass media has lead to its growth.
In order to broaden students' exposure to the roots of the genre, our students were given an opportunity to perform classic mystery plays. The plays were a sampling of the most common forms of mystery stories, including tales of blackmail and con artists, hardboiled murderers and complicated whodunits. Students split into three groups to perform the following classic mystery stories by famous writers:
"Silver Blaze" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
"The Tenth Clew" by Dashielle Hammett
"As Simple as ABC" by Ellery Queen
After first reading for mystery story elements, students then began practicing their lines to improve fluency and expression and develop believable characters. Once our focus turned more to performance and delivery, students explored ways of dramatizing the scene in terms of their acting, interactions with each other and the audience, transitions, costumes, staging, props, etc. We invited fourth and fifth graders to watch the final presentations. Halfway through each play, we engaged the audience in a discussion to see if members were able to solve the mystery!