A Sixth-Grade Mystery Genre Whodunit

MICDS sixth graders designed a thrilling murder mystery adventure for their classmates after reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. The whodunit was part of a more extensive exploration of literary genres: realistic fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery. At the end of the exploration, students had to teach the elements of one genre to the rest of their classmates through a mini-lesson, a reading, and an activity.

To set the scene, Detective Mileusnic and her colleagues Detective Westre and Detective Wagner gathered their classmates together due to an unfortunate incident on campus the previous night. Detective Mileusnic shared, “After school yesterday, Mr. Duvall—history teacher, dean of sixth grade, and ASAP supervisor—was mysteriously pushed down the stairs near the Library staircase and murdered. Mr. Duvall was still conscious when the ambulance arrived and was able to talk to all three of us about what had happened. He didn’t see who pushed him since it was done from behind, but he knew a few people who may have wanted to hurt him…and he gave those names to us! Then he was taken away by ambulance and died shortly after.”

Everyone in the room was assigned a character in the mystery and was also suddenly a suspect. They had to study their given role very carefully and detail their whereabouts after school, how they know Mr. Duvall (if at all), and their general background that may or may not be relevant to the case. After memorizing their character details, students had five minutes to talk to as many suspects as possible. They were also questioned by others intent on figuring out the murderer’s identity.

Once students had sufficiently examined the suspects, timelines, motives, alibis, and whereabouts, it was time to reveal the mystery.

Caroline “Detective” Westre ’29 said, “We read the book The Westing Game and had to do a project on it. We were going to do an escape room but at the last minute decided that we should make clues and have a murder mystery. We all really liked making up stories and presenting them to the class. It was hard, but the hardest part was deciding on the murderer. It ended with about 10 out of the 15 people in our class guessing that the character played by Noha was the murderer, and they were RIGHT!”

Noha “The Murderer” Bouchellih ’29 loved the level of creativity that elevated the project. She said, “It was very, very hard to keep a straight face, and a lot of people came up and interviewed me and were very certain that the murderer was me. Our cards gave a lot of hints about who the murderer was. But, overall, I am very proud of how The Westing Game group designed their project, and it was very fun!”

Cecelia “Detective” Mileusnic ’29 added, “What really inspired me was that I remember doing little escape rooms digitally, and they were tons of fun. I really enjoyed planning out the mystery, it was like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle, but at the same time, it was challenging putting all those little pieces of info together to make what we came up with!”

Middle School English Teacher Kelly Walsh echoed the creative excitement of the group activity. She said, “This group went far above and beyond in terms of effort and creativity for this project. Not only did they create a memorable experience for their classmates, but they also showed incredible depth in their understanding of the unit. I am SO proud of them!”

Case closed on this whodunit, and the investigations continue as students open their books to new and intriguing genres!