Lesson: Welcome to Mystery

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Lesson Objective

Spark interest in The Westing Game, establish reading and vocabulary expectations, and introduce critical thinking applications.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Name:  Welcome to Mystery                        Course: High School Language Arts by Anke al-Bataineh


Objective:   Spark interest in The Westing Game, establish reading and vocabulary expectations, and introduce critical thinking applications.


Essential Questions:            (write on board)

How will we go about reading this book?

What words will be new to us?

Can we visualize where this book takes place?



The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (personally, I run photocopies and leave out parts I will skip. This is helpful if your school is broke and it allows kids to write on the books. I tell the kids why I skip some parts.)

Personal White Boards and Erasable Markers

Drawing paper and colored pencils

Vocabulary Builders

Vocab. template (for teacher to fill out and distribute once enough words are gathered)


Anticipatory Set:         (5 min.)

You might want to write “Welcome to Westingtown” on the board to spark curiosity when students arrive. I don’t explain, I just say “you will know a LOT about Westingtown once we get into this book!”


I tell students that I want them to read this mystery, but that it will be very complicated to solve. We will work it through together so they don’t miss important clues. There are clues all through the story, from the very, very beginning! If readers are so reluctant that they are not yet grabbing for the book, I let a power-player in the classroom read the back of the book. At this point, they are usually sold. I further assuage anxiety by assuring them that we will read and answer questions together and that they will not be left without understanding. Anyone can get confused in this book, and all questions are important, so I encourage them to always ask their questions, even if I can’t answer them without giving it away.


Handout books or photocopied packets. Establish any expectations around damage, sharing, taking home, etc.


Input:         (15 min)

Tell students the procedures for reading this book. Write them on the board and leave them for a day or two, to establish that they are official guidelines. You might choose any one of these procedures, depending on your sense of your class:




Procedure A: Read-aloud

I love nothing more than the relaxing and comforting act of reading aloud to the class. It also eliminates all anxiety for insecure readers. I set an established number of minutes (between 10 and 20) for which I will read aloud. I mark my place each time and start by asking a student to remind us what was happening when we left off. If I use this, it is non-negotiable that students follow along (by tracking with their finger) as I read. If I see someone not tracking I stand beside them and nonverbally indicate where we are. If they refuse to track or keep losing track, I stop until everyone is ready to follow expectations. I am super strict about this because with intervention readers, the connection between decoding and pronunciation and comprehension needs to happen quickly. It is rare that I would allow students to take the book home if I’ve chosen this method, because it ruins the suspense if they read ahead.


Procedure B: We Read

This works if almost all students are capable of reading aloud without embarrassment for at least a short time. There are several choices: everyone reads one page and we go in a circle, everyone reads 1-2 paragraphs and we go in a circle, or I start with strong readers and, once they have read a few pages, I “randomly” call another student from a deck of cards. Generally, I would advise starting this list backwards and progressing. Be careful about embarrassment or kids who speak so unclearly that other kids can’t track.


Procedure C:

Students are paired with different reading levels and read an assigned number of pages to each other, taking turns at established intervals (each page, each 5 pages, etc). Groups will finish at slightly different times and need to be able to stay on task.


Procedure D:

Independent, silent reading. I wouldn’t use this because if my kids could handle this level of reading independently, I would be teaching something else. But, in a behaviorally volatile situation where you have enough adults to circulate and help, you may choose for each student to work at their own pace.


Also explain to students the initial vocab. procedure. I haven’t laid out the vocab. for the first 4 chapters, because I use this as a time to gauge my students’ grade level in vocabulary. If they are low and asking about words like “beige”, I won’t ask them to learn words like “trifle.” I am trying to eyeball their zone of proximal development, at this point.


I ask students to keep a white board beside them while we read chapters 1-4 and to scribble down any words they didn’t understand as we read. There aren’t too many that would block their access to the meaning here, but when I find one I stop and explain it to the class, writing it on the board.

Distribute white boards and erasable markers.


I compile the words they write on the white boards, prioritize them by usefulness, and then build the vocab. sheet and test for these chapters.


Guided Practice:         (15 min)

Begin reading with Chapter 1, using the procedure you have chosen. Since I usually use the Read-Aloud procedure, I will assume that throughout these lesson plans. Stop at the end of Chapter 1 for today.


Independent Work:         (20 min)

Ask students to employ visualizing. This means they have to look back at the words we have read and find “hints” about how the place looks. Using those words, they have to draw what is being described. Assign them to draw Sunset Towers with as much color and detail as possible. You might invite them to choose the inside or the outside.


Distribute drawing paper and colored pencils.


Conclusion/Assessment:         (10 min)

Explain that, for each chapter, there will be a thought-provoking short-response question for them to answer. Explain that there may be many right answers or it may have to be their best guess, but they should use evidence from the story to support what they write.


You may choose for them to keep these in a literature journal that spans all aspects of this unit, or to turn them in as formative assessments.


Write Ch. 1’s question on the board or overhead:

            There is no such person as Barney Northrup, but Barney Northrup signed all the letters to the tenants and showed them around Sunset Towers. What is your best explanation for how all of these things can be true at the same time?


Vocab to Watch Out For:













Lesson Reflection:

What went well?

What would you change?

What needs explanation?

Kids were really intrigued by the book and took care to draw Sunset Towers well, although some missed details in their excitement.

Depending on the level and dynamic of the group, I would change the reading procedures to encourage more independence.

Please see the notes about the choice of book in the Unit Description. I am totally in love with this book, but teachers should be sure they want to commit to it before starting.


Subsequent Days:

As you read Chapter 2, teach a short lesson on “perspective” (or “point of view” if you prefer). Use the details of the Westing Mansion and Chris’ experiences to illustrate how, in the same situation, each person has only part of the facts. Use the Perspective Graphic Organizer to illustrate this very literal, and continue to bring students back to this problem throughout the novel.


As you read Chapter 3, supplement the QAR procedures with a quick review. Then ask students to keep a QAR worksheet beside them and think of questions either while reading or during a silent period afterwards. Challenge them to categorize their own questions as much as possible.


As you read Chapter 4, engage students in reviews of vocabulary, which starts to prepare them for the words you will test them on. My favorite way to do this is to have them take our their relevant Vocabulary Builders, then call on students at random using randomizer cards, and ask them to choose a word and provide a good sentence to illustrate its meaning. I correct the sentence if need be, and the class writes it down. If students are capable, you might take time to explain “literal” versus “figurative” meanings and ask them to differentiate in relevant cases. This is more fun than the alternative, assigning them to think of their own sentences and fill in the Vocab. Builder. For behaviorally volatile classes, the independent option may be necessary.


When students are ready, administer the first test. Explain that this is just a practice for how these tests will go and so we will do the first few together. Think aloud and ask for student guesses while writing in answers on a projected test for all to see. Once confidence increases, ask students to finish the rest of the test. I grade them on the whole thing to pad their grades. My rationale being that this is the first test and that some students are so oblivious that they will not even copy correctly, and they need to see how costly this is.


Hypothesis Questions:

Ch. 2: Who do you think it was that Chris saw at the Westing house? What evidence supports your hypothesis?

Ch. 3: Who do you think is the “mistake” in Sunset Towers? What evidence leads you to think this?

Ch. 4: Why, do you think, did Sam Westing name all the tenants in Sunset Towers heirs to his estate? Is there evidence to support your hypothesis? 

Lesson Resources

Vocabulary Builder   Vocabulary
QARworksheet   Notes
QAR   Exemplar
westing game test 1 5   Assessment
westing game test 1   Assessment
Westing 1 4 open vocab   Vocabulary
WelcometoMystery   Lesson Plan
Perspective Organizer   Classwork


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