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IMGALTTAG Volume VIII: Unearth Clues to Good Writing


Elementary, My Dear Watson: Mystery and Suspense Writing to Expand Thinking

Sheila L. Carter-Jones
Pittsburgh Montessori School

There is not one among us who after hearing of some unsolved mystery doesn’t want to know, “Whodunit?” To arouse the minds and rekindle the imagination of students in such a way that they want to indulge in mind play is a fundamental goal of this curriculum. This unit offers opportunity for students to learn particular elements of literature and to use them to solve and to write a mystery. The focus is on using graphic organizers as scaffolds to help students bring their thinking from the abstract to the concrete. Several basic thinking strategies are presented which are intended to provide a little nudge to help students expand their thinking. These thinking strategies serve as a basis for the development of reading, writing, and speaking skills. The activities are arranged in such a way that the students have to continuously reach back for information already learned and apply it to the current assignment. This curriculum unit was written with struggling middle school students in mind, but with a little tinkering, it may be adapted to all grade levels.

The curriculum unit presented here also focuses on expanding thinking as a way to develop critical thinking skills by using the writing of mystery and suspense as means for getting at particular cognitive frameworks. Since writing is a thinking process and as well a physical blueprint for seeing what happens in the mind of the writer, the strategies and classroom activities offered in this curriculum unit are aimed at supporting teachers in helping students develop various ways of seeing and interacting with many possible meta-worlds by puzzling through the higher level cognitive skills as outlined in Bloom’s taxonomy. It is intended to be a non-threatening and fun way to develop and exercise the higher order thinking skills while working on and writing about real life situations.


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Where I Stand:
Fictionalizing the 20th Century Eras that Happened in My Neighborhood
Cheree Charmello-Cegan
Pittsburgh Gifted Center

Where I Stand: Fictionalizing the 20th Century Eras that Happened in My Neighborhood is a creative writing mini-course that spans two curricular areas by combining the building of suspense within original student-created works of fiction and setting development that is based on research of a significant era in 20th century history. This unit is divided into four distinct categories: Reading, Researching, Writing, and Responding. Equal weight is placed on process and product. The process goals are to have the students learn to recognize and utilize creative and higher level thinking and to work through the self-directed learning process efficiently.

This stand-alone course was designed for the seventh and eighth grade students in the Humanities Department of the Pittsburgh Public Schools gifted education program. These students have extremely high cognitive abilities, most with Intelligent Quotients (IQ) above 130. They need strength-based enrichment activities in addition to what they receive in the mainstream curriculum.

Each student attends the center one day per week. The students have the rare, college-like opportunity to choose the courses they will take each semester. Each course meets for one hour each week over a 16-week semester.


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Writing a Way to the Future
Kim Flurry
Minadeo Elementary School

There is an issue to be addressed and that is the frequent lack of success of children in special education. More specifically, a large number of African-American males reside in special education classrooms for most of their school years. Yes, I said reside there, because the chances of leaving special education are almost none. Through the steps of mini-lessons and adaptations they will learn to research and write about heroes in history. And as they write, they will begin to believe in themselves.


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Collaboratively Crafting A Radio Drama Mystery
Barbara Gamrat
Sterrett Classical Academy

Collaboratively Crafting A Radio Drama Mystery is designed as a six week collaborative writing project in which middle school students research radio dramas and the mystery genre to write and produce an original radio mystery. This unit is designed to introduce students to the concept of exploring the writing process (brainstorming and researching, drafting and/or prewriting, writing, editing, revising, and producing) collaboratively with their peers. As well as incorporating the writing process, this unit has students exploring key story elements such as: setting, character, dialogue, and conflict. Students are introduced to the lost art of audio drama and its key components. Students will be required to read, discuss, and analyze various mystery novels and subsequently, this unit encourages students to study the mystery/suspense genre, the different types of mysteries that can be crafted and all their attributes. The end goal of this unit is to give students the experience of creating a meaningful piece of art (the radio drama) as part of a cooperative group. Students from various experiences and levels will work together to share their own prior knowledge and experiences to develop and acquire new understandings. In particular, all participants are given opportunities to be heard and all assume responsibility and take credit for the finished product. This unit also incorporates eight natural learning styles which makes it particularly attractive.


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Unraveling Mysteries Using Literature Mystery Boxes
Denise M. Handler
Minadeo Elementary School

Unraveling Mysteries is a creative writing curriculum unit that will inspire young writers and celebrate children and their writing. This curriculum unit is intended to serve as a catalyst in building students’ self esteem while improving their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Unraveling Mysteries will immerse children in reading, writing, and literacy learning as they collaborate to read, write, edit, illustrate and publish a retelling. The culminating activity, an Author’s Tea, will provide students with an opportunity to shine, not only by showing off their finished product, but also by highlighting the literary journey by which it was achieved.


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Beautiful Beginnings for Writers
Montique L. Hill
Mifflin

This proposal provides a rationale and a systematic format for teaching a series of first grade writings. These writing assignments will be aligned with the curriculum that Pittsburgh Public Schools have already instituted. The writing projects will provide students with the opportunity to write using different styles and for different purposes. All aspects of this process are designed to improve and enrich their communication skills and each experience will allow the students to present ideas in a way that is focused and purposeful.


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Investigating Literature through Mystery Novels
Kristen Kurzawski
John A. Brashear High School

With my unit I hope to create an independent first semester project for my senior English class. I would like the students to read three mystery novels, do a series of creative writing assignments, read articles about the mystery genre, write two book reviews, and end with an essay analyzing the way a mystery writer creates his/her novel. The high interest level of mystery stories will hopefully encourage students to do the readings outside of class. In addition, I hope to group students together so that at least two students in each class are reading the same author. A learning community will be created within the classroom where students will build relationships with other students based on literature. This project will also allow the students to be very creative.


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Adding Photography to Fiction
Laurel McMahon
Student Achievement Center

This curriculum is to give students a new learning experience to fuel their writing. Writing that is most intriguing occurs when writers are knowledgeable about what they are writing about. When students feel knowledgeable, they allow that energy to bleed into their writing.

This unit is designed ideally to be taught with an art teacher who has access to a darkroom or with an artist whose medium is photography. Students are to shoot and develop their own black and white pictures. Prior to taking these photos, students will learn what makes one photograph better than another. After the photos are developed, students will write a mystery with the photograph as one of the clues. In the mystery students are also to include a description of the developing process to help the writer sound knowledgeable and the story sound more realistic. After several drafts, peer conferences and revisions, the final copy of the mystery and the photograph that fueled the mystery will be published in a literary magazine.

The unit was created for ninth or tenth grade students in conjunction with the Read 180 curriculum due to the length of time necessary to teach this unit.


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Writing A College Essay Using Elements of a Mystery Story
Janelle A. Price
Oliver High School

Many secondary students need to include an essay with their college, associate, and/or trade school applications or for scholarship opportunities. This essay must capture who they are while demonstrating their winning traits, what-I-learned-through-experience lesson, or how-attending-your-school-will-help-me-achieve-my-future-goal. While the assignment is a real world application that should motivate the most recalcitrant student, adding the writing elements of a mystery story will unlock students’ imagination and add excitement to this task. Through this unit, students will learn how to write standout essays by including the mystery story elements of—dialogue, active verbs, voice, pacing, and many more. The exercises in this unit pack the extra bonus of making students better academic writers as well.


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A Multidisciplinary Genre Study of Mystery Writing
Alexis Tuckfelt
Fort Pitt Accelerated Learning Academy

Writing is hard work and teaching children how to write well can be somewhat of a mystery. Clue 1: Life’s a journey, not a destination. If this philosophy suits you, then you have already unlocked one of the clues to the mystery of teaching writing. This also serves as an insight for living a fulfilling life. When teaching writing, the focus should be on the process of writing rather than the final product. Giving students choices and supporting their individual interests allows them to gain ownership of their writing. Students should enjoy the entire process of writing rather than just being satisfied with finishing an assignment. Once children learn to write, they can use writing to empower themselves in all aspects of their lives. It’s an exciting journey for both teacher and student. Solving the mystery is rewarding. Keep your eyes and mind open to discover more clues along the way.

This multidisciplinary unit is geared for 1st grade students. In this unit, concepts of mystery writing are fused into the Writer’s Workshop model as well as the existing Language Arts, Mathematics and Social Studies curriculums of Pittsburgh Public Schools. Clue 2: Don’t mess with success. Having success with the implementation of the current curriculums led me to develop extension activities that compliment the lessons that I’m required to teach. It wasn’t broke; so I didn’t need to fix it, only enhance it. The purpose of this unit is to further advance students’ insight into writing through the introduction of the mystery genre. Connecting reading and writing will improve overall literacy skills, which will in turn, aid in the development of a well-rounded individual.


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Mystery Writing in High School Chemistry
Raymond Zanetti
Schenley High

Mystery Writing in High School Chemistry brings together the discipline of science with the writing of short mystery stories. It is a unit of study created for students taking an introductory level course of chemistry during tenth grade The expectation is that students with two different types of abilities, one the savvy science geek and the other a wordsmith aspiring author, will benefit from a mutual synergism while preparing to write a mystery story. They will collaborate on how to approach, and then write the story after applying scientific disciplines to physical evidence collected by forensic protocols. A collection of five standard protocols are incorporated and presented to students in the form of individual experiments.


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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