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Investigating Genre: The Case of the Classic Detective Story

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Investigating Genre: The Case of the Classic Detective Story

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions, plus additional time for reading, listening to, or viewing a mystery.
Lesson Author

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



The mystery genre is in some ways the most stable and recognizable of the genres of fiction, but its popularity has lead to updating, altering, and critiquing its conventions. In this lesson, students examine a somewhat controversial list of conventions for the mystery genre before analyzing The Hound of the Baskervilles for these traits. They then write an original mystery and, after peer feedback, compose a reflective essay that explains their choices within and against the genre conventions.

This lesson was adapted from The Hound of the Baskervilles Teacher's Guide, written by Katherine Shulten and published by WGBH Educational Foundation, (c)2003.  A Sherlock Holmes series, set in modern-day London, is available through PBS's MASTERPIECE.  Go here for more information.

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Mystery Cube: This student interactive is used to help students plan and write a mystery.

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"Because genres are responses to social situations (and situations are always changing)," Deborah Dean asserts in Genre Theory: Teaching, Writing, and Being, "genres cannot be fixed" (10). In this lesson, students interact with a genre that is so predictable as to become formulaic: the classic detective story. Although "a certain amount of stability is essential for genres to carry out action," students can be encouraged experiment with and push the boundaries of a familiar genre since different examples of a genre "are never exactly the same since no two situations are exactly the same" (10).

Further Reading:

Dean, Deborah. Genre Theory: Teaching, Writing, and Being. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2008.

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