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This unit sets out to address several needs of my students in ways that entice, inform, and excite them, as they are recalcitrant readers and learners. First and foremost, it is a carrot that is needed to bring my students to the place where reading becomes a life-long, enjoyable habit. Pedagogically, it will provide me with opportunities to apply a range of strategies so that my students can comprehend, interpret, analyze, and evaluate selected detective stories drawing on their prior knowledge, their understanding of the text, and their personal interactions with others and the stories that they have read. As a teacher of seventh and eighth grade Language Arts at John S. Martinez School in New Haven, Connecticut, I am charged with the responsibility of ensuring that my students want to be and actually become life long learners. Demographically, my students are predominantly Black and Hispanic. Although my students come to school rich with heritage, they lack world experiences and basic language skills. Many of them are bilingual learners. This unit's design is sequential in nature and is another step in getting them to love reading.
This unit combines the use of mystery board games that will grip my students in ways that will really stimulate them and hold their interest, with negotiation of a labyrinth of intrigue found in detective fiction. I have chosen eleven mystery stories, one of which is in film version, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as I feel that these stories are accessible to my students in terms of appropriateness and reading ability. Added to this is a complement of their personal voices expressed in an expository writing (crime) journal. These mystery stories will engage students and produce and reinforced emerging literacy abilities, all while following the detective in the whodunit, what happened world of secrecy and suspense. These stories will help in the development of logic, reasoning, and higher order, critical thinking as they struggle to determine the explanation of the crime. The basic literary elements inherent in any story will also be reinforced. Finally, the invention of group mystery games will provide ample room for innovation and creativity as the students proceed from playing the marketed game of Clue, Master Detective, with their own cast of characters, to then creating their own reading level version of a crime game.
D.I.E. This acronym will be the first in a series of carrots which will grab the attention of my students. It should be placed in a very prominent location where students will immediately question its meaning. The challenges to them will be to list as many possible meanings for D.I.E. as they can and to make up their own acronym for this unit as it draws to an end. Extra credit can be given as an incentive to answer this riddle.
Active student participation begins by using my three section white board as a graphic organizer. My students love to write on the board, so after listing the titles of three of the television crime series shows that they are familiar with, C.S.I., Forensic Files, and Law and Order, I will ask my students to come to any one of the boards and record any information they can about these three shows: actors and their roles in the show, forensic evidence discussed, laws and legal issues mentioned, murder weapons, etc. Having only one student at each board will help in classroom management and is a sure-fire way to get the reluctant participants involved. Once this exercise is completed, we will try to identify similarities and differences among the three series. Guiding them to make fine distinctions and clear descriptions will assist in the development of observational skills. These comparisons should be completed in their crime journals. Using these journals will emphasize the importance of establishing what they already know so as to help clarify what they will have learned at the completion of this unit. They will see their growth in black and white. It is also important to applaud their prior knowledge as often as possible. This is what builds self-esteem. After a discussion listing reasons for their fascination with these shows, they will play the game of "CLUE, Master Detective".
Using this game will definitely draw them into the unit and introduce them to such terminology as deductive reasoning, questioning the suspects, murder weapon, observation, and analysis. The actual object of this game reads something like this:
Miss Peach (or any of the cast of characters) has met with a fatal misfortune. She has been murdered by an unknown person, somewhere in or around the mansion, using an undetermined weapon. It's up to you to exercise your "little gray cells" (Hercule Poirot) and figure out whodunit, where it happened, and with what weapon. It might not be as easy as it appears because there are ten possible suspects, twelve possible crime scenes, and eight possible weapons.
After they have read the rules of play, a copy of which is located on the website: http://www.centralconnector.com/GAMES/clue.html, I will ask them to journal about what strategy they think they will employ as they begin the game. The strategy of movement in Clue is all about going to the right room (or any room if you just need to ask a question, deliberately getting the wrong room) later in the game. Devising a plan of movement from one area or room to another in order to gain information about suspects and weapons used is paramount to success at this game. Prediction is another. It requires that they draw on prior knowledge, organize their ideas into a workable solution or hypothesis, leaving behind those that do not seem to apply in this case, and then testing their theory. This objective is crucial in understanding how to play the game as well as in understanding detective fiction. Another skill that comes into play during this game is that of memory and recall. Having this ability is another piece in the puzzle of prediction mentioned above. These same skills are often tested on standardized tests and are a more effective and enjoyable way of reinforcing these proficiencies.
Half way through the game, using the game's Suspect Sheets as a graphic organizer, I will ask them to revisit their initial plan and make adjustments to their strategy, recording their adjustments in their journal. As each player assumes the identity of one of the ten suspects and uses a graphic organizer, these organizers, in themselves can be used as a game. After the games are completed, we will discuss how deductive and inductive reasoning modes are intertwined in solving crime. It is here that a word wall of detective fiction vocabulary would be set up. Developing and using an extended vocabulary will be essential to their understanding throughout the unit and help them to prepare their crime solving games at the unit's culmination. See Appendix A -Vocabulary Wall.
Conventions of the Genre
The next step, and next objective, of this unit will be to introduce a discourse on the standard conventions/commandments of detective fiction as laid out by the Roman Catholic priest Ronald Knox in the preface to Best Detective Stories of 1928-29. They are often referred to as Father Knox's Decalogue, The Ten Rules of (Golden Age ) Detective Fiction. He regarded the detective novel as an intellectual puzzle that had to obey the rules of logic - a view which was shared by many of his colleagues, but not all. In 1912, Knox became one of the first practitioners of the mock-serious pastime called Sherlockian scholarship with his article 'Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes', which first appeared in Blue Book 1912(Ronald Arbuthnott Knox 1). There were others who laid out conventions but often these were characterized by excessive precision and attention to trivial details. Understanding that this genre is not a philosophical treatise or a stringent social commentary is paramount; rather it is a story where the reader enjoys the opportunity to solve a crime following an investigation of several suspects in an atmosphere of suspense, intrigue, and seduction to the "checkmate" solution using the same inductive/ deductive reasoning powers as the story's investigator. The following list of The Ten Rules of Detective Fiction is from the website www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/triv186.html The original commandment is written in italics. The rest adds clarification and further explanation.
The Ten Commandments for Detective Novelists
1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow. The writer must be cautious because an outright authorial deception, one, for example, placing the narrator as the perpetrator, must not be exercised. (Christie, of course, breaks this rule in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.)
2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course and must play no part in the actual solution of the mystery.
3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable and every effort should be made to avoid it as an explanation of the murder method.
4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end, unless you as an author are qualified to justify it.
5. No Chinaman must figure in the story. No "foreigner" or other aliens unless as an author you have an understanding of their culture and their mindset and can show the relevance to the plot beyond exotic mystification. It shouldn't be just be an insignificant character such as a tramp in the park or gypsy in a field.
6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right. These are hardly fair in a story of deduction. He or she should not be shown the truth by accident, having been baffled before, but an accident can easily provide a missing piece of the puzzle. This intuition, a baseless feeling in your bones, is quite different from a plausible hunch based on partial evidence.
7. The detective, himself must not commit the crime, as most often we see the detective as trustworthy and someone we believe in.
8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader. All clues must be revealed, although it is perfectly acceptable to disguise them. Writers in the Christie vein fall suspect here. A question to be asked is whether the clues in the Holmes stories are, in fact, decodable or whether they are the proof of Holmes' omniscience. It is important to note that this rule applies to clues prior to the last few chapters in detective novels but that most writers fall away in the end when it comes to the corroboratory or clinching evidence they need down the stretch. It's in those last chapters that the detective is most maddeningly mystifying. You know that at the last minute he's made a confirmatory phone call or asked Scotland Yard for some facts about someone (often to clear them), and you know that those results will clear the case, but these narrative moments never allow you to move forward. What you need to do is identify the right clues earlier in the novel. In Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for example, the possibility of a breakthrough comes when Poirot deliberately ascertains that Ackroyd is mechanically gifted. The last minute clues are either withheld from you or you can't know what to do with them unless you're already on the right track. Knox needs to distinguish between these two kinds of clues.
9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below the average reader. He sometimes misinterprets the events under investigation.
10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. Do not try to fool the reader with impersonations, wigs, or false whiskers. It is here that Knox directly attacks Conan Doyle. Doyle was biased by his taste much like anyone else (Father Knox's Decalogue 1).
As we begin reading the stories, part of our discussion will center around these conventions. "Are any of these conventions violated in the story?" "How would the story change if one was added or subtracted?" and, of course, the Darwinian question, "Why do the Holmes's story endure?"
An understanding of the morphology or structure of a detective story is another insight necessary for my students and will provide a framework for review as they read the Holmes' stories. Having the Marxist's ability to see this configuration in action, this thread which is capable of leading them through the confused labyrinth of events, of the complex processes of society, of economics, of the struggle of classes, of politics, will provide an additional focus and a deeper understanding of the Doyle story structure. It is through this morphology that my students can discuss plot, characterization, setting, and other basic elements of the short story as well.
1 The introduction or opening: Finds a happy setting that will soon be disrupted or, perhaps, accompanying a victim to his or her death.
2 The crime: The crime is reported or discovered. In the Holmes's stories the crime was not always a murder, in fact, many of them were not. Usually this crime is reported by a victim or interested party.
3 Problem-Solver introduced: Sherlock Holmes usually appears in the opening along with his trusty partner, of lesser wit, of course, Dr. Watson. These first plot steps usually take place at 221B Baker Street, Holmes apartment, where Holmes and Watson are discussing a topic of interest and a client is about to arrive to present them with a mystery to be solved.
4 Interested party appears: This person has been wronged or is in fear for some unknown reason. The mystery is laid out before Holmes and Watson.
5 Successive interviews: Holmes and Watson begin their investigation into the unsolved case.
6 Additional threat of crime: This is where the plot thickens and the suspense builds. Other lives may be threatened or additional crimes may be committed.
7 Clues are gathered: While Holmes is gathering proof through deductive and inductive reasoning, Watson plays a supportive role.
8 Entrapment: Dénouement or the wrap-up where the action leads to the capture or exposure of the criminal, sometimes one outside the human species.
9 Aftermath: This is where Holmes explains how he solved the mystery and where Watson sits with his mouth opened in amazement. At times, it can be a humorous ending.
There should also be mentioned the fact that, in other detective stories, subplots can come into play. There might be a love interest or family home life that gets entwined into the story. There could be tensions that mount within the investigative team. There may be other crimes that divert our attention, intentionally placed, to hide the truth of the story. These sub plots are not found in the Holmes' stories.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I am including a brief biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for two reasons. First, since my students need to establish background knowledge, it is essential that I provide them with this new information; and secondly, as a reminder to myself of the importance of this information and its relevance. Asking my students the question, "Why is it important to examine the life of an author?" would be my starting point. I would also have them underline the aspects of his life that might contribute to his work as a writer. After reading the stories, I will have my students return to this biography and ask them to journal about what aspects of Doyle's life appear in each of the stories. The following is a sample of the graphic organizer I would ask them to set up.
(table 07.02.04.01 available in print form)
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland to Roman Catholic parents, Charles and Mary Doyle. To supplement their income, Charles painted, drafted book illustrations, and sketched at criminal trials. He was a chronic alcoholic, suffered from epilepsy, and was finally institutionalized. His mother was a highly educated woman and a master storyteller, using her voice as an added dimension when she spoke. As an educated woman, she greatly encouraged Arthur's studies. Because money was tight, she ran a boarding house and it has been suggested that she had a long affair with a boarder, Charles Waller, a pathology student, who sparked Arthur's interest in medicine (Arthur Conan Doyle 1)
Doyle attended a boarding school run by Jesuit priests and several characters in his Holmes' stories are fashioned after fellow classmates, Moriarty to name but one. It is here that he realized his talent for storytelling always enthralling his classmates. It was assumed that he would pursue a career in the arts but instead he turned to medicine, perhaps because of Charles Waller. It was his father's commitment to a home for the insane that provided Arthur with material for his story, The Surgeon of Gaster Fell. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate 2)
As a student at the University of Edinburgh, he met Robert Louis Stevenson and James Barrie, who later became writers like himself. It was here also that Arthur met Dr.
Joseph Bell, whose powers of observation, logic, deduction, and diagnosis are mirrored in
the persona of Sherlock Holmes. Influenced by the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Bret Harte, he continued to write and finally his works were published. In his third year at the University, Doyle had adventure knock on his door when he was offered a position as surgeon on a whaling boat, Hope. He witnessed the brutality of whale hunting and this journey was the impetus of another of his stories. He unenthusiastically returned to Edinburgh and finished his medical degree. In 1885, he married Louisa Hawkins. After a journey to Africa and a brief partnership with a doctor that went wrong, Doyle opened his own practice but continued to write (2)
Surprisingly, he was more widely known in the United States than in England. Joseph Marshall Stoddart, who published the Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in Philadelphia commissioned him to write his first novel, The Sign of Four. Sherlock Holmes made his cameo debut in this piece, along with his partner in crime, Dr. Watson. Two years later, Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet, which catapulted him to fame. His doppelganger, mirror image, and chief nemesis showed himself in the character of Moriarty, who, along with Holmes, was killed off in The Final Problem. Because of pressure from his readers, Doyle was forced to resurrect his dead logician in The Empty House and continued writing short stories about Holmes and Watson (5) "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gained universal fame as one of the greatest writers of detective stories through the criminological feats of his master sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps Holmes himself was even better known than his creator and the fictional address of the formers chambers on Baker Street in London have been sought out by countless visitors to London who were bitterly disappointed when they were informed that Sherlock Holmes had never existed in the flesh."(On This Day, Obituary 1)
In 1906 Doyle ran for Parliament but was not elected. His wife, long ill, died in 1907. Shortly after her death, Doyle married Jean Leckie. Regrettably, World War II took his son's life and this tragedy so greatly affected Doyle that he dedicated the rest of his life to "spiritualist" causes. On July 7, 1930, Doyle died of heart disease.
Holmes' Stories - Deduction, Induction, and Truth
One of the more intriguing questions facing teachers today is whether we can teach higher order or critical thinking skills. How do we, or, for that matter, can we get our students to use logic to arrive at empirical truth? Is hermeneutical understanding possible? Some posit that it is virtually impossible to do so if students lack fundamental background knowledge. It is my contention that this is, at its core, a building process where teachers continually lay more and more ground work, eventually having students arrive at a place where they no longer need the guidance of graphic organizers or guided questions. The process is painstakingly slow but if persistence is a guiding light, the rewards are far reaching. A life long learner emerges. With this in mind, the ten stories and one film that follow will be the bricks in this foundation.
Each of these stories will not only focus on using the graphic organizer to figure out exactly what happened and who or what might be at fault but also to investigate some aspect of interpretation inherit in the story.
"The Red-Headed League"
To begin this section of my unit, we will view the 1985, PBS Sherlock Holmes episode of "The Red-Headed League", starring Jeremy Brett, freeze-framing it right before the crime is actually solved. I begin with the use of film as a way of transitioning my students into the heart of the unit in an agreeable way. They are always eager to watch film! After using the following graphic organizer, we will predict, as detectives, the final outcome - "What We Think Happened", and "Why". In viewing this film, we will talk about the relationship between Holmes and Watson; how Watson provides the banal balance to Holmes' austere, detached, and, at times, robotic personality. We will also begin a character study chart on the description of Holmes, including his physical appearance, his idiosyncrasies, his intellectual prowess, and his social maladies. After watching the ending, we will try to figure out where we went wrong and where we seem to use the facts to nail the truth. Vocabulary will be added to our word wall as we proceed. It is important that a Detective Folder be supplied to help organizer their work
The Red-Headed League
(Changes with Story)
Facts of the Case | Who had Means, Motive, and Opportunity | Clues in the Story
This story is set in London. Pawnbroker Jabez Wilson is being paid very large sums of money for simply coming to an office and copying the Encyclopedia Britannica, after answering an advertisement for a membership in the Red-headed League. This, of course, takes him out of his house for an extended period of time each day. Meanwhile, John Clay, also known as Spaulding throughout the story, is in the process of planning a robbery by digging a tunnel from the cellar of the pawnshop to the vault of the bank next door. Naturally Holmes notices the wear and tear on Clay's knees, indicating that he was digging. He also suspects that the robbery will take place on Saturday night because of the dissolution of the Red-Headed League and because of the fact that the banks are closed on nights and Sundays, giving Spaulding unhindered access to the bank. Holmes alerts the police and goes to the bank to await the burglars' entrance into the vault.
"The Speckled Band"
While reading the "The Speckled Band" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a group, we will keep track of the film questions above, listing all facts and clues on our graphic organizing sheet. The website http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/itl/graphics/apps/scandal.html as well as comments by Rod Mollise found by following the link from http://www.sherlockian.net/canon/stories/scan.html will help in understanding this short story. Again, I will not include the ending until we have decided what really happened. I will also provide them with a crime scene sketch of the country estate found at the website: http://redbirdstudio.com/CrimeScenes/speckled_band.html
There will be two focuses in this story's discourse. One centers on the sociological ramifications of control, women, and money. The second deals with the decoding of the aural and visual images and the interplay between interpretation and imagination.
In the story, Dr. Grimesby Roylott gains and maintains control over his stepdaughters by controlling the purse strings of the family wealth. This was a prevalent practice during this time period and I am sure that my students will engage in a lively debate centering on this issue. Does the saying, "He who holds the purse strings, rules the roost" still hold true today? Intertwined with this, of course, is the issue of male aggression toward and control over females. The second focus will have my students looking at the "sounds" and "images" of the story and the impact of these on our overall reading of the text. Recognizing the low whistling sound heard late at night and the strange metallic clank will heighten their awareness of the language of sound. Decoding the meaning of the visual title, "The Speckled Band," from the apparent reference to the gypsy band that lives on the property to the actual image of the swamp adder will hopefully surprise and delight my students. I shall have them understand how imagination leads us to empathic feelings for Helen while interpretation brings us in a separate direction of analysis and decoding for correct meaning. The fact that the serpent is used as the murderer is also significant. It represents the animality inherit in Roylott and, perhaps, in all of us. In this rough-edged prototype for the genteel country mystery, we see how the idyllic country manor is the setting where guilt needs to be purged, where the serpent needs to be exterminated, and where peace in the region needs to be restored. What the genteel mystery accomplishes is to rid the mystery of its gothic elements.
Helen Stoner seeks Holmes' advice as she explains that her twin sister, Julia, dies of mysterious circumstances. Now her stepfather has requested that she sleep in the same room. Suspecting that something is amiss, Holmes and Watson pay a nocturnal visit to the ancestral home and discover that a snake, a swamp adder, owned by the stepfather, was responsible for Julia's death. As Holmes attacks the snake, it retreats through the ventilator and into Dr. Roylott's room, where he is attacked and killed.
"A Case of Identity"
We now understand that Holmes is an egotistical protagonist whom we should partially dislike. Unfortunately, just like Hugh Laurie's character, Dr. Gregory House, in the Fox TV show, House, you can't dislike him all that much. There is something that draws you to him. In the show, Dr. House has a lone friend, Dr. James Wilson, the "Dr. Watson" of the show. This show was directly inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, the doctor who taught and inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Having my students see the connections between real life and fiction will be another one of those "cool "moments. It is remarkable that Holmes is a genius loner, so too is House; Holmes's lone sidekick is Watson, House's is Wilson; Holmes uses drugs, so too does House, etc. It is for this reason that I will use this comparison in my class. The article, "The Connection Between House and Holmes" found at the website:
http://www.housemd-guide.com/holmesian.php will provide a wonderful comparison for my students. I will assign the viewing of the television show before we complete this chart, then read the article.
Here, again, we will maintain our use the graphic organizer above, listing all the facts of the case as well as the means, motive, and opportunity. Before we begin, I will let the students know that Holmes solves this case almost immediately, challenging them to figure out why he knew the solution so soon into the case. Here we will remind ourselves to beware of a character who leaves the scene during the investigation as is the case with Mary's father. Added to this is the use of disguise. How is it used? Why does it work? A discussion should also ensue about our emotional/imaginative interpretation of Holmes and Watson. We should try to place ownership of this interpretation with a character and, of course, this would be Watson. Holmes is not emotional. He is our encyclopedia, our genius who we look to for the answer. We respect him and want him to solve the problem, but we would hardly attach the word emotional to a sentence spoken by or with Holmes in it.
Turning to our story we find that Miss Mary Sutherland is engaged to a quiet, secretive, and rather peculiar Londoner who has recently disappeared, leaving her at the altar as it were. Her father is not happy with this situation. She is quite well situated financially and comes to Holmes to figure out exactly what happened. Hosmer Angel works in an office in Leadenhall and only communicates with her through typewritten letters. After hearing that her father leaves town at the same time that she is to meet Hosmer, Holmes knows instantly what happens.The interesting part about this story is that Holmes does not tell Mary what really happened, that Hosmer was really her father in disguise. Is this morally or ethically appropriate? Is he obligated to tell the whole truth? What is truth? Protecting the damsel in distress is part of the genteel country mystery.
The Greek Interpreter
This story deals with the ying and yang, the give and take, the black and white, the good son and the bad son; binaries, dichotomies. We are introduced to Holmes' brother, Mycroft who, like Sherlock, is endowed with remarkable intellectual powers. It is in this story that we find out that Mycroft may be Holmes' deductive superior and yet Mycroft is lazy and apathetic, rarely using his talents. Holmes is thin and gawky, Mycroft is much larger, stouter, and corpulent. It is a story where part of the intrigue comes from the fact that Melas, the interpreter, can manipulate the scene because he speaks in two languages.
He is kidnapped and brought to a house that is poorly lit but quite big. In the carriage he is threatened with a bludgeon but is promised "I will make it up to you." There are brother and sister victims. It is my hope that, along with continuing to complete the graphic organizer, my students will be able to identify all the dichotomies that are evidenced in the story.
Mr Melas, a Greek interpreter, approaches Mycroft Holmes and tells him a story about Harold Latimer and his business matters. Soon Melas realizes that he is being kidnapped. Arriving at the house, Melas is placed in a room where another man is brought in bound. The differences in languages present both an obstacle and advantage as Latimer tries to get Kratides to sign over his sister's property. In the end, as Melas and Kratides are bound in a closed room, Holmes and Watson come to save the day. The dichotomy is again evident as we find Kratides dead and Melas able to recover. In an epilogistic paragraph, we discover that the dichotomy ends. Apparently the two villains had been stabbed to death.
"A Scandal in Bohemia"
As we begin this next Holmes story, I will focus on three concepts. The first is Holmes' powers of observation. These powers are truly illuminated as the story begins. At the onset, I will tell my students that Holmes realizes that Watson has gained weight and has begun practicing medicine again. Before we read, I will ask my class to speculate on what clues Holmes might have observed in order to make these deductions. This information will be placed on our graphic organizer for this story. We will then read to actually hear Holmes's shrewd explanation. It is also in the first section that Holmes expresses a warning, one that normally guide his thoughts. Conan has Holmes falter in this story and the question is, "Why?"
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts"
The second focus centers around the King, disguised as Count Von Kramm. Here, the costume is used to cloak the truth, yet Doyle exposes it through a thorough description of his attire. Decoding of Doyle's visual language will be emphasized as we read. Holmes also uncovers the secret to the note because of his astute observation and knowledge of paper. The paper is expensive, holds a monogram woven into the texture of the paper, and due to his knowledge of such matters, he is able to say with certainty that the paper was made in Bohemia. All this before he even sets his eyes on the King. Again we see how detection is our selection of visual perceptions. Holmes sees the Gestalt, the total picture. Watson is not good at this at all. We call him the stupid friend. A reminder of the connection between Dr. Joseph Bell and Doyle as seen through the eyes of Holmes should be mentioned. The "scandal" is being masked within a photo. It is a cabinet photograph that stands in the way of the King's happiness and a scandal that would ruin his life- just one thin piece of paper, a deadly picture of a woman. How thinly it is veiled. It is in this part of the story that we also see a most interesting incident. Holmes breaks the law and Watson aids and abets him in order to obtain that crucial piece of evidence. Does Holmes risk everything because he is blinded by love? Hopefully my students will recognize its significance.
The last and most important focus is on the female character, Irene Adler. In general, there is a somewhat condescending attitude toward women in the Holmes stories but this is one of the few instances where Holmes is outwitted, and by a woman! Coincidentally, it is at this time in Doyle's life that people noticed an incomprehensible schism in his personality (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate 8). This is not just any woman. The story starts with the line, "To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman" and ends with "Your Majesty has something which I value even more highly," said Holmes. "You have but to name it." "This photograph!"(of Irene Adler). . . "And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honorable title of the woman."
In the beginning, Holmes is visited by a masked gentleman who turns out to be the King of Bohemia. He wants Holmes to recover a photo that, if revealed, would ruin him. Holmes and Watson go to her house and attempt to recover the photo by setting up a false alarm fire. Holmes discovers the hiding place and vows to return in the morning. Going home, Holmes hears a voice say, "Good Night, Mr. Holmes." Had he been on his game he would have realized that Miss Adler and Godfrey Norton were taking the photo and leaving town. She leaves Holmes a note saying that she wasn't fooled by him, that she really loves Godfrey so the king needn't worry, and that it was she who bid him goodnight.
"The Final Problem"
Moriarty, the nemesis of Holmes, and his gang are near capture. Holmes asks Watson to hide his tracks to Victoria Station as they prepare to travel to the Continent. Holmes shows up disguised as an Italian priest. As we read this story, I will introduce the idea that a clue might be seen as a little oddity or a misplaced action in the story. This action doesn't seem to fit and may be so insignificant that it fails to matter at the moment. It may be so small, in fact, that it may be hidden in the flurry of actions, or juxtaposed with other seemingly more important facts, that you totally disregard or overlook it. Watson finds the circumstances of this journey odd. This is just the kind of clue my students should be looking for. Also in this story are many of the conventions or the exceptions to the conventions listed above. I will use this opportunity to have my students find these conventions, keeping in mind the use of the graphic organizer of facts and clues.
After asking Watson to travel to the Continent, Holmes climbs over Watson's garden wall. (Oddity- foreshadowing fear and doom on Holmes' part?) The next day Holmes shows up disguised as a priest and watches Moriarty on the platform as they leave the station. (Fear builds.) Watson has been shadowed so a change in route is necessary. As they wait for a train to Newhaven, Moriarty shows up. (Holmes is on the run.) They hide behind some luggage. A letter is received by Holmes informing him that most of Moriarty's gang has been arrested. (A slight sense of reprieve.) From here they travel to Switzerland and decide to visit Reichenbach Falls. On this excursion a young boy arrives with an urgent message requesting that Dr. Watson return to the hotel to attend to a sick patient, leaving Holmes at the falls alone. Watson returns to the hotel only to find that no such patient exists. By the time he makes the return trip to the Falls, Holmes and Moriarty have fallen to their death. You are left to imagine the battle that ensues between Holmes and his archetypal villain, Moriarty. Thus the FINAL problem! The letter left by Holmes could actually be seen as a suicide letter. The odd thing is that we aren't really sure that he is dead because the bodies were never recovered. Although, at the time, Doyle wants nothing more to do with Holmes, this is the opening he needs to bring Holmes back.
"The Adventure of the Empty House"
Although the story is well crafted, I am going to ask my students to be especially critical of the plausibility of Holmes return. It's my intention to start this story by first prompting by students to suggest different ways in which they would explain the return of Holmes. How could he have possibly made it out of the last story alive? This would be a journaling exercise. We will then read to discover how Doyle decides to accomplish it. As the story begins, we find that the Honorable Ronald Adair, who doesn't appear to have an enemy in the world, is dead. Ronald was sitting in his room, working on accounts of some kind when this seemingly motiveless murder occurred. Robbery was ruled out as nothing was stolen. It would be here that I would remind my students to look for the anomaly. What are the things that are a little off? Again we will record the facts, the clues, and our hypothesis. Outside the Adair house, a deformed book collector bumps into Watson and drops his books. A clue appears here. One of the books that Watson picks up was called The Origin of Tree Worship, an obscure book. He mentions that only a bibliophile would be interested in it. This, of course, is a hobby of Holmes. We learn later that this is indeed Holmes. As we listen to his account of what happened that fateful day, we can return to our predictions and check to see who was correct. Since we find out that only two people knew that Holmes was still alive, one of them Moran, the guilty party in Adair's death, and Mycroft, Holmes' brother, we are left to wonder about the rationale of his purported death. His statement, "It was all-important that it should be thought I was dead," makes little sense. The gang would have to continued to seek him out. The scene where Doyle describes the empty house and the bust across the street should be read with care. I would question whether my students believed that Holmes and the would-be murderer could be in the same room trying to carry out the nefarious deed.
As the story begins, we are told by Doyle that the murder room was locked from the inside. Ronald Adair is dead. A special air-gun was used in the murder. We are next surprised to learn that Holmes is still alive and that Watson will accompany him on a dangerous mission. We are also brought back to 221B Baker Street, nostalgia and the sense of balance during the good old days is felt. Moran, who threw rocks at Holmes before he escapes the falls, is given one last chance to kill Holmes. He attempts this with an air-gun, the exact gun that killed Ronald Adair. The "Holmes" he kills is actually a perfectly formed bust of Holmes that was placed strategically near the window at the Baker Street apartment. The motive for killing Adair is left unclear, although Holmes believes Adair caught Moran cheating at cards and had threatened to expose him.
"The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
This story will be freeze-framed several times during our reading; as usual, right before the "cards are laid out on the table" and we are left to use our organizers to figure out exactly what happened, but also after Doyle lets us in on the fact that Holmes's deduction that the figures represent a one-to one codified relationship and not merely a child's stick figure drawing. Kids love puzzles, so I think this encrypted story will be especially fun. Its placement at this period in the unit is important because the deciphering hook will re-energize them as we go into the home stretch. It's a story that reaches across the pond for its scoundrel.
Mr. Hilton Cubitt presents Holmes with an interesting case about his American wife and her fright at the introduction of a childish prank. They have been married for only a year but the condition of their marriage is that he will not ask about her past. Cubitt swears he won't and being an honorable Englishman, he doesn't. At first, she receives a letter from an American, which she promptly throws into the fire. With each occurrence, she becomes more and more terrified. Holmes asks that Cubitt save all future communiqués. Holmes uses his logician's mind and realizes it is a substitution cipher. He quickly goes to the manor to find Cubitt dead and his wife gravely wounded. It appears to be an attempted murder-suicide. Holmes makes mental notes of all the clues: a large sum of money, a bullet hole in the windowsill, making it three bullets used in the crime, yet only two bullets dislodged from the revolver's chamber, and a trampled flowerbed with a bullet case on the ground. Naturally, Holmes's view of the case is different from that of the local inspector, who believes Mrs. Cubitt is the prime suspect. Holmes understands that there is a third party involved and has been able to decipher enough of some messages to figure out the next locale he needs to visit. Holmes sends a message, of course written in dancing men, to the Elrige Farm with Cubitt's stable boy. While Holmes is explaining how he cracked the code, the murderer, Abe Slaney, shows up and is seized at the door. Slaney gives a full confession and all the missing pieces of the love affair come to bear.
"The Solitary Cyclist"
Dualities will be featured of The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, beginning with the introduction of Miss Violet Smith and her mother. Very quickly we find that two of the scoundrels are Mr. Carruthers and Mr. Woodley, one being a very pleasant man, the other a churl and a bully. There are two men who take care of them- the husband who just passed away and the uncle from Africa who is supposedly looking to step into the role. There are two people riding bikes on the country road, the two love interests Carruthers and Cyril Morton, Woodley and Williamson living at Charlington Hall, and, of course, there are Holmes and Watson. When my students take a look at the violence and aggression mentioned in the story they will also find duality. The violence in the pub is real but, in the scene on the path where Carruthers (the strange cyclists who follows 200 yards behind) approaches with the gun, they soon realize that they are on the same side, another ying/yang observation. A final act of violence is presented at the forced wedding scene, where two people are being united but one is clearly an unwilling participant. My students will have fun trying to locate these dualities.
The Smiths have just lost a father and husband. Shockingly an advertisement is placed in the paper looking for relatives of a Ralph Smith. This was odd because Ralph has been in Africa and has not been heard from in 25 years. Upon answering the ad, Violet and her mother discover that Ralph, a long lost uncle, has learned of his brother's death and feels compelled to take care of his family. Carruthers offers Violet a music position in the country and she agrees to take it because it is double the salary and she will have the opportunity to visit mom on the weekends.
We soon discover that Carruthers is in love with her, that someone follows her on the country road, and that there are more people involved in this plot then first meets the eye. This is the organized crime of a gang of men trying to swindle an inheritance from unsuspecting women.
"The Six Napoleons"
The number six played a central role in the life of Napoleon Bonparte. It would be
somewhat interesting to give a little historical background especially about the
significance of the number six. Napoleon's crest displayed a gold number 6 surrounded
with laurels and crown. In 1813, the sixth coalition defeated his military forces at
Leipzig. The Second Napoleonic rule, now known as the Hundred Days, was cut short by his defeat at Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Napoleon spent the remaining six years of his life on the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean under British supervision. Finally, in the British television series, The Prisoner, a character named Number Six was said to have a Napoleon Complex (The Girl Who Was Death 1). My students will love these tidbits of information.
In the story, Chief Inspector Lestrade of Scoltland Yard focuses all his attention on a murder while Holmes is off trying to discover who is going around smashing busts of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Whom do we follow? Who is right? We have already seen a story where Holmes gets outsmarted by Irene Adler in "A Scandal in Bohemia." Was it a dangerous homicidal lunatic with Napoleonic delusions or was it a member of the Italian Mafia? A discussion of what the Italian Mafia represents should be addressed. I believe my students will be able to solve this case early on in the story, in terms of knowing what happened, but as to who did it and why, that might be another story. They will have to read to the end. Our focus for this story will be finding the evidence of violence as we read about organized crime. We will continue to fill in our graphic organizer.
The story begins with information that busts of Napoleon are discovered stolen from various locations in town then smashed, usually elsewhere. There appears to be nothing else taken so robbery isn't considered a motive. The busts were crafted from one mould, so a monomaniac seems to be responsible and on the loose. But smashing is not enough. The next destruction is accompanied by the murder of Pietro Venucci, a member of the Mafia, whose window seems to be the entry point for the burglar. A picture of an apish-looking man is found in his pocket. Venucci's bust is found up the street under a street lamp, so Holmes believes the murderer wanted to see what was inside. Harker, a local journalist, is asked by Holmes to print that the culprit is a luniatic. Holmes goes on a mission to find out all he can about the busts. After tracking down all leads, they catch and arrest Beppo, an Italian who worked in the shop where the busts were crafted. Holmes purchases the last remaining bust, smashes it, and finds the Black Pearl of the Borgias inside. He learns that Beppo has gotten the pearl from Venucci and was forced to hide it inside one of the busts as he worked.
"The Problem of Thor Bridge" - Inspiration from a real life German case?
As I begin this story it is my intention to show my students a brief excerpt about Richard Green. Stories like these from the recent past help my students connect to our readings. Making these connections is crucial. In 2004 the rediscovered papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were put up for auction. In the weeks before the auction, Richard Lancelyn Green, a notable authority on Holmes, began acting very strangely. He believed that Jean Conan, Arthur's daughter, really wanted the British Library to have these papers so he tried to stop the auction. Green really felt that an American was following him. He was discovered dead, victim of from an elaborate suicide that was intended to look like a murder (Richard Lancelyn Green 1) Many say that the evidence in this death has the overtones of "The Problem of Thor Bridge."
A focus of this story will be the creation of a map of the grand old manor and the Thor Bridge using the descriptions from the story as a guide. This, of course, is another type of exercise in reading for information. The website http://redbirdstudio.com/CrimeScenes/thor_bridge.html has an exact map of the area which can be shown to my students once they have drawn their own. This coupled with our graphic organizer will really be important as we try to figure out what happened. This is a story where the ending is so bizarre that I do not feel my students will be able to deduce what happened. This is a case where the purported facts are stranger than fiction.
Former Senator Neil Gibson, the Gold King from "some Western State" in the United States, sends a note to Holmes asking him to help clear the name of a Miss Dunbar in the case of his wife's murder. He implores Holmes saying that it is making him crazy. Holmes realizes that Gibson is in love with Maria Dunbar. Again, in this story, my students should realize that the oddities are what lead to the resolution. How and why would a person who just committed a murder so blatantly and rationally, then take the murder weapon and place it in her wardrobe? If there were two identical pistols, why didn't Mr. Gibson have the second one? Was the note important and why does Holmes find a chip in the bridge so important? The solution is astounding and I know my students my students will boo the ending. We will then revisit the case of Richard Green for comparison.
The culminating activity will be the creation of a game based on three reading abilities:
- - Game A. (knowledge/comprehension based) Less proficient readers
- Students will create a "Go to the Head of the Class" style game where factual questions, using information from the Holmes stories, are asked and players move along the board, the first to reach the head of the class being the winner My students will be asked to write a series of 100 questions to be word processed and placed in a book. In a separate prepared booklet, they will have to supply the answers to these same
- questions. The rules for this game can be found at:
- - Game B. (application/analysis) Grade level readers
- My students, as a group, will develop a cast of ten characters, similar to those in the game of "Clue, Master Detective" They will then each develop three crime episodes, placing the solution on a separate card. These episodes need to contain as many facts as possible in order to formulate an accusation after reading. A sample should be supplied to the students. (This is basically a complete plot summary) Playing the game consists of a judge reading the crime episode to the players, having them write down who they think is guilty, with the reasons for their accusation.
- - Game C. (Synthesis/Evaluation) Advanced readers
- After independently playing the Game CSI: Senses Game and using it as a model, my students will create a game where stories by Doyle are used to fashion six new cases of deductive /inductive reasoning. They will have to create evidence cards, interrogation cards, crime scene sketch cards, audio/visual lab cards, etc. The rules can be found at:
Finally, for those students who might be excited by these stories, extra credit could be given for:
- - The invention of a piece of detective fiction.
- - Reading additional stories, perhaps from The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories and providing proof of analysis.
- - Changing the ending of one or more of the stories we read.
Appendix A -Vocabulary Word Wall
The following is a comprehensive list of the word wall at it completion. This word wall will be an ongoing activity throughout the unit.
Accusation: a formal charge of wrongdoing brought against a person; an assertion that
someone is guilty of a fault or offence
Alibi: An excuse or a reason that an accused person or a person of interest uses to show
that he or she was not at the scene of the crime
Analyze: To examine methodically by separating into parts and studying their
Anthropology: The study of people and their culture
Breakthrough: A discovery that helps solve the crime
Clue: A fact or object that gives information toward solving the crime
Contaminate: To change something so that it can no longer be used
Crime: An action that breaks the law
Deduction: The process of using a general rule to make a prediction about he future
Detective: An investigator looking for and gathering clues
Evidence: A thing or statement that helps to prove who committed the crime
Footprints: Foot impressions left behind by a person walking.
Forensic Science: the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer questions of
interest to the legal system
Forgery: A fake
Guilt: The fact of being responsible for the commission of an offense.
Hunch: A guess or feeling not based on facts
Inductive reasoning: reasoning from detailed facts to general principles
Inference: formation of a logical conclusion based upon an observation of fact
Magnifying glass: A hand microscope consisting of a single convex lens that is used to
produce an enlarged image
Means: To have as a purpose or an intention
Milieu: Location, timing, and unusual details of the crime
Motive: A reason explaining someone's action— can include anger, hatred, love,
Mystery: something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained
Prediction: A statement at the onset about what may happen in the future
Private Investigator: A person hired to unravel and solve a mystery
Observation: Scrutinizing or paying close attention to details and everything that happens
Opportunity: A favorable or advantageous circumstance or combination of circumstances
Red herring: A false clue that throws the investigator off track
Sidekick: A partner of the detective who usually is not as bright
Sleuth: An investigator
Suspect: Person who has a motive to have committed a crime
Theory: An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture
Whodunit: Term used to describe a story about a crime
Witness: Person who has knowledge about a crime
Appendix B- Content and Performance Goals and Standards
One of the most important goals of the Language Arts program is for students to learn to read and write so as to decipher meaning of the written, visual, and oral texts used in the classroom and in life. They should be able to read and respond to questioning, communicate ideas clearly, and apply strategies that enhance the fluency and proficiency of their language so as to become life long learners. These are the stated goals of the Connecticut Language Arts Program. These goals provide the framework for such learning. The unit I present contains exercises in the following areas:
Content Standard One — Reading and Responding
- generate questions before, during, and after reading, writing , listening and
- reflect on the text to make judgments about its meaning and quality
- select and apply efficient and effective word recognition strategies, including
- ontextual clues, phonics, and structural analysis.
- make inferences about ideas implicit in narrative
- interact with others in creating, interpreting, and evaluating written texts.
Content Standard Two — Producing Texts
- engage in writing, speaking, and developing written texts through frequent
- eflection, reevaluation, and revision.
- gather, select, organize, and analyze information from written texts.
Content Standard Three - Applying English Conventions
- 1. proofread and edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization.
- 2. develop fluency and competency in the English language arts by using and
- building upon the strengths of the learner's language and culture.
- 1. examine the ways readers and writers are influenced by individual,
- social, cultural, and historical context.
- 2. recognize literary conventions and devices and understand how they convey
- 3. demonstrating an understanding that literature represents, recreates, shapes
- and explores human experience through language, interpretation, and
Detective Reference Page
Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell H. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.
An indispensable guide to reading detective fiction with a section on Sherlock Holmes.
Benstock, Bernard. Art in Crime Writing : Essays on Detective Fiction New York : St. Martin's Press, 1983.
Interesting essays on detective fiction.
Doyle, Sir Arthur C. Sherlock Holmes the Long Stories. Leicester: Gallery Press, 1987
A compilation of six long stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, stories ranging from 75- to 150 pages long.
Doyle, Sir Arthur C. The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes II. New York: Doubleday, 1920.
This book has both long stories and stories in Doyle's Holmes stories.
Doyle, Sir Arthur C. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Reader's Digest, 1988.
This book contains 12 short stories by Doyle with some excellent illustrations.
Haycraft, Howard. Murder for Pleasure / The Life and Times of the Detective Story. New York: Appleton-Century, 1941
Great studies on the masters of detective fiction.
Hillerman, Tony and Rosemary Herbert, eds. The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories. Oxford University Press, USA, 1996. A compilation of some of the best short stories by American authors
Farrell, Tish. Write Your Own Mystery Story. New York: Compass Point, 2006
A step by step book explaining the process of writing a mystery story from development of writing habits, to generating ideas, to planning the plot, to writing the story (considering grammar and mechanics), and finally to publishing.
Introduction to the game Clue Master Detective. Explanation of suspects, rooms, and weapons.
A history of hard-boiled detective fiction through the biography of individual authors. Very informative site.
Explanation of deductive reasoning
An academic internet site exploring different critical approaches to crime fiction. Great site.
Site to help students complete reference pages
Brief information on Napoleon background
Women mystery and detective fiction and the rise of feminism. A list of women in Detective fiction with additional links.
Great link to copies of Sherlock Holmes stories
A DNA fingerprinting exercise for any type of class
This website shows a side-by side comparison of Holmes and Dr. Gregory House on Fox 5. Great for a 2007 look at a "Holmes" character.
Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A complete copy of Ronald Knox's essay of the virtues of studying Holmes. Good text to use side by side with Edmund Wilson's, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd."
http://members.aol.com/stannum/puzzle/main.htm deductive puzzles for kids to solve
This site lists the commandments of detective fiction through the eyes of various authors from various time periods.
Uses Parker Brother's game CLUE to learn about DNA Fingerprinting
The Game rules for CSI: Senses Game
Quiz on Holmes. Good for pictures of items from Victorian Age.
This web portal has some wonderful information on Sherlock Holmes. Great links to helpful sites.
Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Great pictures of Basil Rathbone as Holmes. At first seem a just OK site but some of the links provide valuable information.
Explanation of inductive and deductive reasoning with examples
Detective fiction on stamps. Might be interesting for students to view these stamps.
A variety of Yale New Haven Teachers Institute teaching units on detective fiction. Excellent resource
Great site to have students submit detective stories for publication.
A pathfinder on the evolution of the English detective novel.
Sobol, Donald J. Two Minuet Mysteries. New York: Scholastic Inc.1967
Excellent source for short, (one-two page stories) to help students with crime scene plots.
Sukach, Jim. Crime Scene Whodunits. New York:Sterling Publishing Co. 2003.
Excellent source for less proficient readers who want to read quick mysteries.
Acme mystery and detective fiction portal. Excellent site for magazines, games, novels, authors, shopping, TV stories, all dealing with mystery and detective fiction.
Site to help students complete reference pages
Site to help students complete reference pages
Great link to copies of Sherlock Holmes stories
Kids site for discovery of the CSI techniques. Clear and understandable.
Great site to have students submit detective stories for publication.
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