Detective Academy- Genre Study


Last year we set the stage to assess our students’ understanding of genres using the Genre Mystery Mix-Up. This year, to build excitement as we learned about the different genres, we put the kids through Detective Academy, where they learned the skills and knowledge about genre they would need for the mystery mix-up at the end of the unit. Here is a quick overview of what we did. Everything you will need to complete this, and the mix-up, in your own classroom can be found here: Genre Mix-Up Mystery and Detective Academy.

Detective Academy Recruits Working On Their First Cases  Link for Fun Colored Glasses  Here

Detective Academy Recruits Working On Their First Cases

Link for Fun Colored Glasses Here

Set The Stage

Much like many of my other room transformations, I believe the magic happens when you catch kids off guard. This was only the second week of school, but to set the stage for this lesson, I quickly set up a crime scene in my classroom during recess, turned on some mystery music and then picked the kids up in my detective outfit. Their excitement was contagious as they entered the building and they were instantly hooked from the second they walked into the classroom. I also had an envelope hanging from the ceiling that said- DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 10:05. Just this simple hook had them guessing what was going to happen from the start of the day. Inside were their Detective Academy handbooks, which were quickly snatched up when a student finally got the envelope down and opened it.

After learning the Detective Anthem (included in the resource) the Agents in Training were given their official badges (included) and sent out to work on their first two cases.

Adding black lights sets the stage and creates an engaging atmosphere. I use three black lights in my classroom which can be found  here .

Adding black lights sets the stage and creates an engaging atmosphere. I use three black lights in my classroom which can be found here.

Solving The Cases

In order to introduce and review the different genres, I gathered a variety of objects that represented each genre. Each day, I would label the objects with a case number (Ex. all of the fantasy objects said Case 1), and then I would hide the objects for two cases around the classroom. We turned off the lights, used crime scene tape, mystery music and black lights to make it feel like they were solving a real case. They would search the room for the different objects and then record them in their Detective Academy Handbooks under the correct case.

After they had found all the objects, they had to make inferences as to how all the different objects in a case were related. After giving the kids some time to solve the cases themselves, we brought all the objects to the front of the class, made sure everyone had written down all the clues, discussed our inferences, determined the genre, wrote an explanation for the genre and then thought of books that fit that genre. (There is a place to do all of this in the Detective Academy Handbook)

This was nothing fancy, just random things I gathered from my house. The clues on the left represented fantasy and the ones on the right adventure.

This was nothing fancy, just random things I gathered from my house. The clues on the left represented fantasy and the ones on the right adventure.

Tying It All Together

As mentioned before, each day we solved two different cases in order to the cover the genres that we were addressing. This can be easily adapted to any genres you would like, as the resource is fairly generic when it comes to what the cases represent. Each day as we added more genres and more examples, we added to our knowledge toolkit that would help them with the mystery mix-up at the end of the unit.

As an extra bit of encouragement and informal assessment, I would collect their handbooks and grade them at the end of each day. I then made a “Top Recruit” slide where I listed the kids who had completed their work correctly. This little touch created some positive competition that then had kids working hard all week on the different cases.

After the four days of Detective Academy we had a little graduation ceremony where I made them official Agents. I pretended to wrap up the unit on that day (even though they all wanted more) in order to surprise them the next day with the Mystery Mix-Up where their skills would be put to the test. You can read more about what we did for that here: Genre Mystery Mix-Up, but the resources for that book scavenger hunt are all included in the resource as well. Resource: Genre Mystery Mix-Up and Detective Academy.


We had a blast with this lesson and the kids still talk about this experience and can clearly define the different genres. Room transformations and engaging lessons don’t have to be intimidating. Try it out!

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Toy Story STEAM Mania

After being inspired by the ever creative Hope King and Amy Lemons at Get Your Teach On this past summer, we decided to make Andy’s room come to life in 6th grade this year. On a budget, we created a room transformation that had the kids excited to learn about the engineering and design process.



I know room transformations look scary and expensive, but I’m here to tell you that with a little creativity (and the Dollar Tree) you can make this happen without much cost at all! I tried my best to recreate Andy’s room by creating things out of construction paper and crayons- low cost. I mean, this is a kid’s room after all…it doesn’t have to be perfect! For this reason, I started by creating the large Etch-A-Sketch around my screen with red butcher paper from school, and I traced the logo with my projector. I also created the large dice with old boxes, white butcher paper and black marker. The big legos are made from cereal boxes covered in construction paper, and the army men, martians, monkeys and clouds were all traced and cut from butcher paper and poster board as well. I then used construction paper and crayons to create my own versions of the different characters on poster paper. (Even my husband and two year old got in on the coloring!)


There were a few items that I purchased, but the costs were minimal. The blue back drops were table cloths from Dollar Tree (but you could also use blue butcher paper). The lego themed table cloths were also purchased from Dollar Tree for just $1 each. The large lego backdrop was from Amazon, and can be found here: Lego Backdrop. I also picked up the large Sharpie pool float on Summer clearance, but it is available on Amazon here: Sharpie Pool Float. Cowboy hats and green army men hats were from the Dollar Tree while they had Halloween costumes- but those were totally a splurge.


Set The Stage

Be sure to set the stage before each challenge to really get the kids excited! You can dress in costume, play Toy Story music and create a story line for each of the challenges that aligns with the movie.

Don’t forget the ever popular, “ANDY’S COMING!” call and response, which was popularized in many Disney theme parks. When you say this, everyone falls to the table and freezes in order to not get caught by Andy. This will give you, as the teacher, a way to get your kids’ attention and keep their hands off the materials.

Dressing up is also a fun way to create excitement around these lessons. You can easily create outfits from clothing you already have, or there are some great costumes on Amazon for fairly cheap. I personally loved my Jessie costume and would wear it to pick my kids up from specials. Walking around the school like that sure did create a buzz with the other kids! “What are you doing?” “Can I come see!” “This looks like fun!” You can find a few of the costumes here: Jessie , Woody, Buzz, Mr Potato Head .


The Challenges

MONEY SAVING TIP: Send out a parent email or ask students to bring in some of the supplies that you will need. Parents are bound to have Legos, Lego baseplates, play-doh, green army men, and Barrel of Monkeys games that they are willing to let you borrow. Get creative and don’t be afraid to ask!

Get Creative

If you’re curious about the challenges we had our students complete, well… here are some pictures to hold you over. But you should definitely attend Get Your Teach On and get the whole experience yourself! They have a whole session on STEAM Mania and you will definitely walk away inspired. For now my advice is, think of challenges you can complete that require easily accessible toys and supplies from a child’s room. This is your time to shine and come up with something meaningful for your class!

Lego Glasses Link  Here

Lego Glasses Link Here

Note: Links are Amazon affiliate links.

This Is Me: Poetry and Photography Project


    As part of our preparations for an assembly at our school where National Geographic photographer Cory Richards was going to speak, we prepared photography projects with our students to present to him. The purpose of these projects was not only to introduce students to the art of photography, but also to work on the use of figurative language and build self-esteem and self-concept. If you are interested in implementing this project with your students, I have included the directions in this post.

Objective: Create a photography project that describes how students see themselves, and how others see them.  


Cameras/Phones/iPads for students to share (my kids did this project completely with their phones)

- Black cardstock to mount photos

- Large white poster paper

Black Sharpies

- Silver Sharpies

- White gel pens

- Mounting squares or glue sticks

The Process

            To begin this project, we started by discussing adjectives. We brainstormed a list of adjectives that could be used to describe people. Both character traits, as well as physical traits, were described.

    How Students See Themselves

           Next, we moved into having students reflect on how they saw themselves. I asked them to think about the following questions and do a quick write:

   Think about how you see yourself. What are you most proud of? What would you like to work on? What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Write 5-10 sentences about how you see yourself. For example: I see myself as a driven student, always willing to go the extra mile.

    I supported their writing by providing the following sentence frames:

I see myself as ____(adj)_____ because _____________.

I am _____(adj) ________ when I _____________.

When I ___________ I am _______(adj)________.

I am as _____(adj) _____ as a ______ when I __________.

How Students See Their Classmates

            The next part of the project involved students reflecting on how they saw their classmates. This task can be a little tricky, as we don’t want any hurt feelings, but with a good discussion about this beforehand, you should be able to avoid that. I gave the students the following questions to think about:

Think about your classmates, how do you see them? It’s important to share with your classmates how we see them, because someone may see something in you that you had never thought of before. What do you admire about your classmates? What do you think they are good at? What character traits do you see in them? 

            I then had each student put a blank piece of paper out on their desk, and we participated in a Gallery Walk to visit each desk for about 30 seconds. While they were at each student’s desk, they wrote down an adjective or two that described that person. I had the list of adjectives that we had brainstormed together up on the board for them to reference. Before they got back to their own desk, I had one student gather all the papers so the kids couldn’t see what had been written yet (I wanted to make sure there was nothing negative). You could give students those papers back, or, I typed up a slip of paper with all of the adjectives that were used about each student on it so it was easier to read. I found this activity to be extremely empowering for the students. They all kept the slips of paper in a safe place, and some even carried them with them for many days after. I would often see them pulling them out to look at them. Major self-esteem booster! This whole process took about two days to complete during a 30-minute block. 

Writing Poetry

            Now that students had their own perspective and that of their classmates, we moved into writing poetry that would eventually accompany their photos on their finished project. For this poem, we focused on figurative language and using similes and metaphors. After teaching about these two literary devices, I had students work on writing their poem. I encouraged them to create two stanzas, with at least two examples in each stanza. The first stanza being their perspective of themselves, and the second the perspective of their classmates. For those students needed a little extra language support I provided the following sentence frames.

I see myself as  _____(adj)________ as a __________________.

I am a ________________________,


Others see me as a  _______________________,


Others see me as ________(adj)__________ as a ________________________,



Example Poem

I am a scholar,

Learning and teaching those around me every day.

I see myself as an owl,

Silently sitting back and watching from afar sometimes afraid to put myself out there.

Others see me as a leader,

Inspiring those around me to try new things and push the boundaries.

Yet others say I am as busy as a bee,

Working tirelessly for others and getting little rest.

Photography Introduction

            The next day, we introduced the basics of photography and looked at a variety of different photos to determine what the photographer may have been trying to convey in their photographs.

    We then discussed the vocabulary word of perspective: a point of view or way of looking at a situation. I found a variety of professional photos that were taken from different perspectives and asked students to observe what they noticed about the photos. How does the message change when the perspective is changed?  We discussed the following three perspectives that are often used when taking photos to add to the composition of the photo.

            Bird’s Eye View: a picture taken from up above the subject

            Dog’s View: a picture taken from the level of the subject

            Snake’s View: a picture taken lower than the subject

     Since this project doubled as an ELD unit as well, we also discussed prepositions. In our class we specifically focused on over, under, around and through. We demonstrated each of these prepositions using TPR (Total Physical Response) and then I challenged the kids to think about how they could find an object to frame their subject and add another dimension to their photo.           


Taking the Photos

            After a day of learning about perspective and photography, I let students actually begin taking pictures. Each student used what they had written in their poem to try and pose for a picture that showcased that description.  The goal was to end with two different pictures that embodied these two different perspectives. For example, maybe a student thinks of themselves as shy and quiet, so they take a picture of themselves almost hiding behind a tree. However, maybe they found out their classmates actually look up to them as a silent leader, so their second picture shows them standing tall and confident on top of the jungle gym. Students should pair up to take pictures of each other and you should encourage them to take as many pictures as needed so they can later choose the best one.

            As far as actually taking the pictures, I decided to utilize the tools that my students already had. I allowed students to use their own cell phones or the school iPads. The cameras on these devices are quite excellent and they are able to do all of the editing right on their device. Once they had chosen the pictures they wanted, I had them work on editing them and changing them to black and white. If you wanted to get more complex, students could explore the other editing settings and work with the light and composition of their photos.

            When they had finished editing their photos, I simply had them AirDrop or email me their pictures. I compiled all of them and sent them off to Costco to be printed. They have a nice option where you can get a thin white border around the outside which made the pictures look professional. I was completely impressed with the quality of pictures that the students took with their phones and how the printed versions worked out.  


Final Project

            Once the pictures had been printed and the students had a rough draft of their poems that had been edited, we worked to complete the final project. We used nice white poster board as our background and black cardstock (purchase here) as a matte to mount our photos. I allowed the students to creatively place their pictures and decide where they wanted to write their poem. To keep some consistency, I told them they could use black or silver Sharpie (purchase here) to write their title, but that their poem needed to be written in black Sharpie (purchase here). In my class, we wrote our poem in pencil first, then traced over it with the black Sharpie and then went back and erased the pencil AFTER the black was dried. Another fun touch is to use white gel pens (purchase here) to outline specific details on the picture or to write a line from their poem on the photo itself for emphasis. This is where your students can get creative.

            Be sure to find a place to display these so that as many people in your school can read them as possible. At our school parents, teachers and students are constantly stopping to read them and discover new things about our students that they didn’t know before. This activity is an amazingly engaging activity to incorporate language development, writing, figurative language, photography and a lesson on self-esteem. Please let me know if you have any questions about implementing this project in your school. 


Genre Mix-Up Mystery

   If you’re looking for an engaging and rigorous way to check your students’ understanding of genre, you’ve come to the right place! I created the Genre Mix-Up Mystery as a fun way to check my students' understanding of genre. I once again set the stage to engage and watched them have fun learning!


   This activity is a great follow up to a study of genres or a quick brush up to review. This format can be used with any level because you will be choosing the books that students will be investigating and classifying. Anything from picture books to chapter books works! 

   At my school, we used this as a culminating activity and as an informal assessment of their knowledge they had gained through our genre study.

     Set Up:

   To begin, I gathered approximately 4-6 books of each genre that we had studied. We had a variety of levels in each group so student could select a book at their level. I then made copies of the Genre Mix-Up Mystery booklets for students, which can be found here! On the inside of the booklet you will find  “Detective Evidence Based Terms” sentence frames that the students used for quick reference to be sure they were not only naming the genre, but providing evidence to support their answer as well. 

     I then posted the clues around the school and left a pile of books (all of the same genre) at each clue. At every clue, I once again set the stage and left the books thrown around with yellow caution tape all over the area. If you're looking for caution tape, click here

    In my classroom, I went a step further and really tried to play up the crime scene. I threw the books around the floor, used the caution tape to barricade off the library area, and even turned off the lights and used black lights to make it look as if we were searching for evidence. You can put out hats for students and even little magnifying glasses so that they can become detectives and fully immerse themselves in the experience. 

The Main Event: 

     After my room had been turned into a crime scene, I grabbed an outfit that made me look like a detective (a black hat and a black jacket) and got ready for the kids! I turned on mystery music from YouTube, turned off the lights and sat at my desk with my back toward the students when they walked. I then let the excitement build! It was so much fun to hear them come in and have no idea what was going on, but start looking around and trying to figure out what we were doing. 

     Once the students were in the classroom, I let them know that while they were gone someone came in and messed up all the books in our classroom library. It was up to them, the detectives in our class, to solve the mystery! They had to follow the clues around the school and identify the genres of books that the culprit had left at each crime scene. For each correct genre they identified, I gave them a letter. They then had to unscramble the letters to determine who the culprit was. Next to each clue number students had to write a complete sentence using the “Evidence Based Terms” to identify the genre. 

Example of student packet

Example of student packet

      For those students that finished early, I put out a variety of books from all different genres on the floor and desks (as part of the original crime scene) and let them sort them back into correct genres for our library.

     We had a great time and really caused a buzz around the school. The students were having so much fun and were so determined to figure out the mastery, that they didn't even realize they were reading book summaries and writing. 

    If you're interested in trying this in your own classroom, please check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store: Mrs Dessert- Sweetest Teacher for a free download. Be sure to click on the star and follow my store for all the latest freebies and resources to keep your students engaged and having fun while they are learning! 

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Shark Tank Junior

   How do you get kids excited about learning? Give them something to be excited about!

   This idea has been in the works for a few years, and it all started when my entrepreneur brother, owner of Portland Gear, lived with me. During his time with me we spent endless hours on the couch listening to his business ideas, talking about his business plan, and watching Shark Tank. We would be mesmerized by the inventions the entrepreneurs would pitch to the Sharks and I’d find myself saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” With that question in mind, I started thinking about the most creative people I knew. Well that’s easy, KIDS!

   In my quest to make learning fun and meaningful for my students, I decided I had to find a way to bring this to life in my classroom. Enter the idea: Shark Tank Jr. To make this project rigorous and aligned with Common Core, I decided we would naturally link this to persuasive writing and speaking.

  Luckily right around the time this idea came to me, it happened to be Super Bowl Sunday, the largest marketing day on television. To kick off the idea of Shark Tank Jr, I first introduced the idea of marketing with lessons on ethos, pathos, and logos, followed by an introduction of popular marketing strategies. You can find a FREEBIE in my store here. After teaching the kids these, we then watched a few examples of Super Bowl commercials from the most recent game. We had small group and whole group discussions about the marketing and got kids thinking about ways advertisers get their products noticed.

   Following our lessons and discussion, we then created songs about ethos, pathos, and logos in small groups. To make things a little more engaging, we then had a Lipsync Battle between groups with the final four performing in front of judges such as the principal and counselor. The kids loved it and can still sing their songs to do this day, which means the kids retained the information.

   After introducing marketing strategies, the idea of Shark Tank Jr. was introduced. I told the students they would be coming up with an idea or product that they would then present to a panel of judges in the most persuasive way possible. We had my brother come in and present about his very successful business and how he came up with the idea and markets his products. The kids thought he was just about the coolest person ever and this really set the stage for the project. The kids were SOLD!

   We used the Shark Tank Jr editable Google Slides to help the students plan out their products and presentations. Through this project, and using this product, students will brainstorm ideas, pick an idea, decide on marketing strategies, create a logo, use math to determine the worth of their company, percentage of their company they are willing to give up for an investment and how much money they are seeking, and then write a speech. The students were so invested in the activity that they spent about three weeks working on their projects to prepare for the big event.

The Big Event

   My teammate and I are all about creating engaging and meaningful experiences for our students, so when it came time to present our projects we went all out. We contacted local business owners, middle school and high school teachers, parents, and community members to be our Sharks. We transformed our stage into the “Shark Tank” by renting a black backdrop, blacking out the stairs leading to the stage and using black lights to make the tunnel into the tank. We set up official Shark chairs and played the Shark Tank themed music as the kids entered the tank and received deals. The stage was set, so when the big day came the kids were pumped.

Even an old rundown stage can be turned into something special with some decorations and the right music! 

Even an old rundown stage can be turned into something special with some decorations and the right music! 

   The kids were absolutely 100% invested in their projects and were so excited to present. Many of them dressed up, created giant logos, and even made real working prototypes (which was not a requirement). The Sharks listened to their presentations and then asked them a variety of questions which put the kids on the spot and had them do a little impromptu speaking as well. After questioning, the Sharks competed to make deals with the students. The smiles on their faces were PRICELESS! Once a deal was made, the Shark Tank music played and an extra-large check was written! Even though it wasn’t real money, the kids felt as if it was.

Spotlight on, models for their product, the Sharks listening intently....Lights, Camera, Action! 

Spotlight on, models for their product, the Sharks listening intently....Lights, Camera, Action! 

    It’s been a few months since the project, and the kids still refer to this experience as one of their favorite things we did this year. One student had very inconsistent attendance, but was there every day we were working on this project. Afterward he wrote in his yearbook memory that, “Shark Tank changed my school life!” (He’s been at school every day since!)

    Be sure to check this product out in my store here! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need any help implementing this in your classroom. 

Click on the picture to check out this resource in my store!

Click on the picture to check out this resource in my store!

S.T.E.A.M. Themed Breakout

YOUR MISSION, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT: Use the clues and supplies given to you to successfully break out of the locked boxes using teamwork and engineering!

  This breakout activity is a fun and engaging way to get both students and parents working together to solve riddles, clues, and puzzles, to successfully break out of the locked boxes. Keep reading for a FREEBIE of the entire breakout for you to use!

 Currently, our school is a designated STEAM school. This means that as a staff, we strive to incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics into our lessons to encourage the study of those fields, as well as engaging all learners and learning styles in their learning. 

  Each year our school holds a STEAM Night, where students can bring their families to school to experience a snapshot of what we have been doing throughout the year. This year my amazing teammate, @elementaryescapades (Instagram), put on a fabulous STEAM Night in which families had passports, and traveled to different grade levels to participate in STEAM activities together. They were also able to check out displays about different STEAM related careers, experience live demonstrations of technology in use and cooking demonstrations, and meet community members who have jobs in these fields. This is a great opportunity for parents to not just come and “see” what is being done in the classroom, but actually experience it firsthand.

  In sixth grade we have been experimenting with using breakout boxes in our classes. We currently own a BreakoutEDU kit, but found that it can be quite expensive to buy enough of those kits to complete breakouts with classes of thirty. Instead, we gathered all the things that come in a kit and made our own homemade version. We were able to purchase toolboxes that have a spot for a lock as well as padlocks with keys at the Dollar Tree. We then ordered invisible ink pens, keychain black lights, directional locks, and word locks from Amazon. Then, for a fraction of the price, we had enough kits to run multiple breakouts at once!

   For our class’ STEAM Night activity, I put together a STEAM themed breakout activity for the kids and families to participate in together. I had five different sets going at once, so small groups were able to come in and start whenever they made it to my room. I could also easily refill and reset the boxes when a group was done for the next group. 

   Parents and students had a great time working on this activity together, and I saw great perseverance from all teams. It was great to see the bonding taking place between families while completing the tasks and the big smiles stretching across their faces as they broke out. 

   We even had signs and certificates to use to pose for pictures after. If your school has a Twitter or Instagram account, this a great thing to use to have parents post pictures and tag the school to tell your school’s story. 

   If you are interested in the breakout I created, I have posted it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, Mrs. Dessert, as a freebie for you to use! All the directions for where to buy the materials, set up the breakout, and celebrate at the end are included. This activity is not just for STEAM Nights, but could also be used in your classroom as a team bonding activity at any point in the year. Although the theme is based around STEAM, there is no specific knowledge set needed to enjoy this breakout. So check it out here