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February is the month of love, and you may be wondering how you can incorporate Valentine’s Day into your ELA classroom this year. Finding the right Valentine’s Day activity for your middle school students can be deceivingly difficult. Some groan at the very idea of Valentine’s Day, while other students are already dipping their toes into the world of dating! In my experience, it can sometimes be tricky to find activities that help you incorporate that Valentine’s Day spirit while also improving students’ ELA skills in a meaningful way. This is where my favorite Valentine’s Day lesson for middle school ELA comes in: the Love Letter Reading Mystery!
Reading mysteries are perfect at any time of year, but I especially love to incorporate them around holidays. These ELA skill-building activities challenge students to comb through a variety of different engaging readings, make inferences, read (and re-read!) closely, and support their thinking with evidence. In the end, students will need to put their heads together and figure out who stole the love letter! Best of all, with no specific references to Valentine’s Day, you can use this reading mystery all year round!
Before you jump right into this Valentine’s Day lesson, it’s important to get familiar with the process of running a reading mystery for your middle school ELA students. These low-prep activities are highly engaging – perfect for times (report card season, anyone?) when you need a bit of a break from planning.
To begin, you’ll want to make sure you print enough resources for your class. If you have access to a color printer, you might also want to prepare the poster for your door (I like to laminate them so they can be reused over and over again).
This engaging Valentine’s Day ELA activity is ideal if you’re looking to simply print and go. However, I love to make things a little “extra,” as the kids say. For example, I like to grab a couple of seasonal props from the dollar store – think heart-shaped decorations on the windows, or a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses! Then, all you need is an attention-grabbing activity. It doesn’t take much to create a lively Valentine’s Day atmosphere for your ELA lesson.
I like to begin by putting a poster on the door saying Who has the love letter? This usually gets students chatting to each other and wondering what will happen next!
Kick-off this Valentine’s Day ELA activity by sharing the story of poor Amanda! She is totally unable to focus on anything in math class except for Jack, her secret crush. Up until now, they don’t interact very often – unless Jack needs to borrow a pencil. But Amanda’s attention has been captured by Jack, and she knows she won’t be able to focus on anything else until she gets her thoughts out on paper!
Once Amanda has scribbled down her deepest feelings on a piece of paper torn from her notebook, she has second thoughts. If Jack really saw her love letter, she would be mortified! She is just about to put the letter away when she is interrupted by her teacher. Later, when she is at home, she is horrified to discover that the love letter is gone!
As you share the story of Amanda with your students, you might like to display it on a large screen to the entire class and read it out loud. Alternatively, split your middle school students into smaller groups (I find groups of four tend to work well) and carefully read the backstory together. Either way, you’ll want your students to be in small groups for the next stage of the task – solving the mystery! Who could have the love letter? Mrs. Langley, the algebra teacher? Amanda’s friend Sarah? Surely not Jack?! It’s up to your class to solve the mystery and save Amanda from certain embarrassment!
Here is where the fun (and learning!) really begins: it is time for your students to solve the mystery! To determine who has Amanda’s secret love letter, they will need to comb through the provided evidence. This includes:
… and more!
I truly believe that a Valentine’s Day-themed activity for middle school ELA doesn’t need to be just “for fun.” Learning tasks like the Love Letter Reading Mystery are an engaging way for students to practice many different literacy skills, including critical thinking, close reading, text evidence, and inference skills – all of which are essential in supporting a strong reading foundation.
While they complete the reading portion of the task, each group should appoint a recorder to jot down key information and discoveries. This person can use the provided graphic organizer to keep track of what they learn about each potential suspect, and whether or not they could have taken Amanda’s love note!
In this part of my Valentine’s Day ELA activity, I like to emphasize the importance of collecting detailed evidence. This way, middle schoolers are prepared to defend (or refute) their final theories with support from the provided clues. In other words, they have to be able to back up their ideas! To create even more of an incentive for students to justify their thinking, I sometimes offer a Valentine’s Day-themed sticker, eraser, or sweet treat for the members of the group with the most detailed graphic organizer. (Sometimes a little bribery goes a long way, and everyone likes those little conversation heart candies!)
Once all your middle school students finish their graphic organizers, it’s time to wrap up your Valentine’s Day ELA lesson. I like to do this with an informal poll – who could have taken the love note from Amanda’s pencil case? For a different take on this wrap-up conversation, you could ask one representative from each group to share their theories
Now that the group has had a chance to name their suspect and defend their thinking, it’s time to review each of the potential suspects and reveal the culprit! This is a great opportunity to model critical thinking skills by showing how each piece of evidence could be used to rule out (or confirm) the suspects.
Finally, you may wish to have students complete a brief reflection on their learning. This can help identify areas of strength and growth for next time and can be used to measure progress toward each student’s literacy goals.
There you have it! I hope the Love Letter Reading Mystery inspires you to give your middle school ELA activities a Valentine’s Day twist this week! Click below to grab this print-and-go lesson!
Did you know that the Love Letter Reading Mystery is also part of the Presto Plans Reading Mysteries Program? This full-year program contains 40 engaging reading mysteries – one for every week of the school year!
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