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Winter Lesson for Middle School ELA – Snowman Reading Mystery

Where I live, winter can sometimes feel long. Don’t get me wrong – I love a lot of things about wintertime! But chilly temperatures, dark mornings and evenings, and heavy snowfall can have a chilling effect on the energy in a classroom. You might be looking for a lesson for middle school ELA that can get students into the winter spirit!

This is where reading mysteries can really come in handy. While they make great stand-alone lessons at any time of the year, a reading mystery is a great low-prep way to breathe new energy into a classroom when I have a case of the winter blahs!

This week, I’m sharing a winter ELA activity that always seems to be a hit with middle schoolers. The Snowman Reading Mystery challenges students to read closely, examine a piece of text for evidence, make inferences, and work collaboratively. Best of all, it’s ready to simply print and go!

The Snowman Reading Mystery is a great winter lesson for middle school ELA - especially on a chilly day!

How the Activity Works

Before your students jump right into this winter lesson for middle school ELA, it’s important to get everything set up. Reading mysteries are really low-prep, which is why I especially love them for those dark and chilly winter days! All you need to do ahead of time is review the activity, ensure you have enough copies for your class (I like to create a “case file” folder of evidence for each group), and organize any other details – like the poster on your door!

1. Build Anticipation

I really love to lean into seasonal activities. I find that when I get excited about a learning task, students are excited, too! With this in mind, the Snowman Reading Mystery is one of those winter lessons for middle school ELA that I like to save for a snowy day, especially if you live in a part of the world where winter weather can dictate attendance and cause recess to be indoors!

On snowy days (especially those where students were maybe hoping for a snow day), I think it’s great to have a few special treats up your sleeve to make things extra fun. You might also want to use this activity on the opposite type of day—where it feels like there should be snow but there isn’t, such as in the days leading up to winter break. This makes for the perfect pre-break winter lesson for middle school ELA!

Begin by putting a poster on the door. Who destroyed the snowman? Then, hand out small cups of hot chocolate to students as they come in! 

2. Set the Scene

Once everyone is settled with their hot drinks, it’s time to share the background story for this winter ELA activity – the plight of poor Mia Johnson and her ruined snowman.

It’s winter carnival time in the small town of Northchill, and all the neighborhood kids are buzzing about the snowman-building contest, which has especially high stakes in its 30th anniversary year (the prizes include three snowmobiles!). With her eyes on one of the major prizes, Mia and her dad work hard to create a massive snowman on her front lawn.

But when Mia wakes up on the day of the carnival, she is devastated to find that her snowman, affectionately named Brutus, has been destroyed! Who could have committed such a terrible act? Was it her younger brother, a known prankster? Or perhaps sabotage from another contestant? Maybe it was a local senior citizen, out for revenge?

To make sure everyone begins with the same information, I like to read the background story out to the whole class. Alternatively, you can have your middle school ELA students break out into small groups and carefully read the backstory together. Either way, you’ll want your students to be in small groups (I find four is a number that usually works well) for the next stage of the activity.

Set the scene for the Snowman Reading Mystery by sharing the backstory with your middle school ELA students

3. Comb through the Evidence

From here, it’s time for your students to carefully examine all the evidence to determine who destroyed Mia’s snowman! This evidence, which I like to give to each group in a “case file” (AKA a spare file folder!), includes a variety of different information, such as:

  • Posts on a community notice board
  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Work orders
  • A list of potential prank plans made by Mia’s brother
  • Posts from an online forum for local senior citizens

I find middle school students really get into the spirit of this winter ELA activity when they discuss their theories with their group. As they comb through the evidence, students will find clues that will help them solve the mystery. 

Engaging reading activities, like this Snowman Reading Mystery, support the development of essential literacy skills. These include close reading, critical thinking, text evidence, and inference skills – all important elements of a strong reading foundation.

This winter ELA lesson for middle school contains a number of different sources to read, including text messages, emails, and many more!

4. Record the Evidence

During the reading portion of this winter lesson for middle school ELA, each group can appoint a recorder. This person can use a provided graphic organizer to keep track of what they learn about each potential suspect.

It is important that students collect detailed evidence during the recording task. This way, they are prepared to justify their final theories with support (and rule out some suspects altogether). I like to stress to middle schoolers that it’s not OK to just make a random prediction – they have to be able to back up their ideas! 

A provided graphic organizer helps to keep middle school ELA students organized during this winter lesson

5. Group Sharing, Review, and Reflection

Finally, you can wrap up this winter ELA lesson by asking your middle school students to share their theories about who destroyed Mia’s snowman, supported by specific evidence from the readings, of course. Once each group has had a chance to share and defend their final suspect, it’s time to review each of the potential suspects, and identify the correct answer! 

There you go! I hope the Snowman Reading Mystery inspires you to give your middle school ELA lessons a Thanksgiving twist this week! Click below to grab this ready-to-use lesson!

If you want to make reading mysteries part of your regular classroom routine, you might also want to check out the full-year Presto Plans Reading Mysteries program! It offers 40 engaging reading mysteries that can be used all year long, including the Snowman Reading Mystery.

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