Engage Learners with Mystery and Intrigue

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Classroom Application
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Agatha Christie was born on September 15, 1890, and is known as one of the world’s foremost mystery novel writers. She wrote 66 novels and 14 short story collections, but perhaps you’ve heard of her most famous character, Miss Marple. Miss Marple isn’t a typical detective—as an elderly, white-haired woman, she uses her ability to blend into the background to pursue truth without being detected.

Most of us enjoy a good mystery, and students love them too. This article discusses how students become engaged in learning through the use of escape and mystery-type content. The accompanying video also shares how mystery projects promote deeper learning by incorporating reflection in the problem-solving process.

There are many other benefits to introducing mystery projects across the curriculum in addition to making learning engaging. As students solve mysteries, they use inference skills to help them become critical thinkers and build awareness of details. Students also learn the process of documenting clues and information as they work toward solving the mystery. 

One of the most popular trends in classrooms is the use of escape rooms and digital escapes. Digital escape rooms use online tools to create a virtual space that contains clues for students to solve before they “break out.” Digital forms use passwords to create virtual locks. Think of these escape rooms as the 21st century update to Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries.

Learn the basics of digital escape rooms by watching this OK2Ask workshop archive that shares tips for creating digital escapes with Google. If you are new to creating and incorporating escape rooms, consider recruiting a partner teacher and working together to design your spaces. Once you understand the basics, it becomes easier to understand each step needed to build a successful activity. However, as with everything else, it is essential to focus on your learning objectives first.

Breakout EDU is a learning platform that includes tools for creating and playing digital breakouts. A considerable portion of Breakout EDU requires a subscription, but they also offer many pre-made breakout rooms for free. As you search, look for games that aren’t locked and include the label for digital use. The digital games don’t require any materials other than a computer and players—they’re perfect for getting your feet wet with digital breakout rooms.

Another breakout room creation tool is Room Escape Maker (reviewed here). Room Escape Maker offers users the ability to create and design four free games. After creating an account, watch the tutorial video to learn how to build your room. Room Escape Maker is not the best option for users new to escape rooms or who aren’t comfortable learning new technologies. It is better suited for users looking for additional opportunities beyond Microsoft or Google Forms or looking to share it with students who enjoy working on computer programs.

If you aren’t ready to tackle breakout rooms yet, there are many options for incorporating mystery activities in other ways. Here are some ideas for use across different grade levels and subjects:


  • Solve Me Puzzles (reviewed here), grades 4—12 – This fabulous site is part of a Transition to Algebra site created by the Education Development Center and the National Science Foundation. Choose from three different activities to explore, deduce, and create. Each activity includes options to play with the pre-made activities or to build your own puzzles. 
  • Math Maven’s Mysteries (reviewed here), grades 3—5 – Scholastic offers a lengthy list of mysteries covering various math concepts. Each activity includes information about the skill and difficulty level. Learn more about the site and correlation to math standards by choosing the link to the Teacher’s Guide.


  • 5 Minute Mystery (reviewed here), grades 4—12 – Read a story and find the clues to solve the mystery. Each week, two new puzzles are added to the site.
  • Inference Riddle Game (reviewed here), grades 1—4 – Try to guess the mystery item one clue at a time with this riddle game.
  • Into the Book (reviewed here), grades K—6 – This excellent reading resource offers bilingual reading activities that teach skills including inference, questioning, and making connections—all valuable tools in solving mysteries.
  • ReadWorks (reviewed here), grades K—12 – Use the filters to find the inference questioning sets.

Social Studies:

  • HSI: Historical Scene Investigation (reviewed here), grades 5—12 – Become a detective as you investigate historical events using guiding questions and primary sources.
  • Reading Like a Historian (reviewed here), grades 6—12 – Choose from 130 lessons based on historical inquiry. Instead of using just facts, these lessons take students through evaluating multiple sources and perspectives to make historical claims.
  • Image Detective (reviewed here), grades 5—12 – Choose a photograph to pose questions, gather clues, get background information, and draw conclusions about various events.


  • Written in Bone: The Secret in the Cellar (reviewed here), grades 5—12 – Enjoy this science webcomic based upon a true story. Use clues, photos, and graphics to solve the mystery of the 17th century body and learn how the person died.
  • Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements (reviewed here), grades 8—12 – Learn about creating the periodic table through video and images based upon an award-winning PBS series.
  • Mystery Science, grades K—6 – Inspire kids to love science with mystery science lessons. Lucky for us, this site is offering free trial memberships that last until June 30, 2022. The activities are perfect for use in both in-person and remote learning settings. 

Although Agatha Christie isn’t around to provide us with new mystery novels, the mystery genre isn’t dead. On the contrary, it is alive in new and exciting ways. Have you tried breakout rooms with your students? Perhaps you have a favorite mystery unit to share. Let us know as we work together to engage all learners.

About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.

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