The Westing Game Activities and Lesson Plans
You can use a novel, such as The Westing Game, to teach reading concepts and skills in a way that keeps students interested.
By Dawn Dodson
My favorite genre to both read and teach is mystery. Everything from the history of the genre to attempting to solve the mystery before the end of the book, are elements I look forward to both as a reader and a teacher. One of my favorite books for teaching the mystery genre is Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game. This book offers great examples of characterization, among other fictional elements, and lends itself to discussion groups and writing instruction. The following are activity ideas I utilize during the unit study.
Introducing the Mystery Genre
The first activity I use to introduce the unit is a brief study on the history of mystery writing. First I have students discover and discuss the basic story elements of mysteries using the general outline of this plan. In order to allow students to practice identifying these elements, each student is assigned a Netbook, and with a partner, we visit the website Mysterynet. Students can read online mysteries, identify the story elements, and click to solve the mystery or find the solution. These short examples allow students to better understand the genre. I conclude this lesson with a mystery writing assignment. Students are given a graphic organizer and rubric to guide them through creating and drafting a short mystery. They share the final copy with the rest of the class. As the class gets toward the end of the novel, I assign a writing project titled On Trial. We discuss persuasive writing in the context of courtroom closing arguments. As an outside example, I use the court scene from the movie Miracle on 34th Street. Students choose who they think the guilty party is from the novel, and write a closing argument incorporating persuasive writing techniques discussed in class. The final copy is presented to the rest of the class, and after everyone has presented, the class votes on the most persuasive closing argument.
Introducing The Westing Game
Once students have written and read examples of mysteries, we begin the novel The Westing Game. Depending on how much time I have, I like to include some of these activities: discussion questions, literature circle cards, student-created questions and quizzes, and character and clue charts. After they read an assigned group of chapters, pupils are given a set of discussion questions to answer with a partner or small group. As each group answers the questions, they discuss the structure of each question. The purpose of this activity is to guide students in structuring their own critical thinking questions, which can help them evaluate their thinking about the literature and their reading skills. Once learners begin creating their own questions, I incorporate them into literature discussions and quizzes. This has been a beneficial activity that I use throughout the year and during other unit studies as well. In my teaching experience, I have seen my pupils thrive when they are given a sense of ownership in their learning. This activity is one way in which I construct that type of learning environment.
Introducing Character Development
The Westing Game offers a great example of characterization. So, in addition to answering the discussion questions, students keep character and clue charts as they read the novel. Information and clues that are given about each character are an important part of solving the mystery, and these tools help students learn how to analyze characters. As they discover information about the characters, they record it on a chart. At the conclusion of the book, pupils present their charts to their literature circle group in order to discuss their thinking throughout the book. It is interesting to hear individuals compare their thinking and which character(s) they assumed were guilty of the murder. Another group activity students participate in during this novel unit is the literature circle cards. I like to divide the class into five groups. Each group receives one card. Each card has an activity to complete. The activities include: analyzing a character, drawing a map of the setting, illustrating the problem/solution, identifying and explaining the climax, and discussing the theme of the novel. Students are given ten minutes to complete each card, and then the cards are rotated until each group has completed all five activities. These are only a few activities that can be incorporated into this particular novel study. Look below for some Lesson Planet resources.
The Westing Game Activities:
Newbery Award Reading Project: Students read a Newbery Award winning book and complete individual book projects chosen from a list of activities. Activities include each learning modality. An outline of expectations for the activities are included.
The Westing Game-Vocabulary Time: Students master 29 vocabulary words from the novel The Westing Game. A variety of activities designed for students at all learning levels include crossword puzzles, word searches, and a vocabulary bee. Opportunities for practice include both individual and whole class instruction.
The Westing Game - Who Am I? : After students have finished reading chapters nine or ten, basic characterization can be reviewed. Students are provided with a worksheet to identify each character, and help in defining their roles in the novel. Through matching descriptions to characters, students are required to provide evidence to support their thinking.