Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mystery Plays

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!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mystery History

Did you know that the true mystery story began in 1841 with Edgar Allen Poe's "The Murders in the Rule Morgue"? We learned this and much more about the mystery genre while unpacking a challenging, nonfiction text. Some of the strategies we used while reading were coding and previewing tough vocabulary. Students learned how the mystery story has changed over time. After reading, students worked in groups to create timelines that captured this new learning. Timelines included main events with supporting evidence, including important dates, invented characters, influential authors (like Sir Arther Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King), and variations of the classic detective story. Students had the opportunity to follow up with some research and to find images that enhanced the messages in their timelines.

19 Drafts

Even the very best and published writers think, write, rethink, correct, and write some more before arriving at a final draft. To deepen our discussion about the writing process, we read a final, published version of Donald Hall's poem, Ox Cart Man. Students then partnered up to examine the many drafts of Donald Hall's poem. Students made notes about Hall's writing process. In particular, they examined the specific changes he made to each of the nineteen drafts. Our discussion reinforced the idea that writing is not a single activity. It's a process that involves lots of actions, steps, behaviors, thoughts, and changes.