Mystery Word | EL Education Curriculum

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Daily Learning Targets

  • Opening A: I can identify the name and sound for the letters "z," "e," and "j."
    • I can identify the name of each lowercase letter.
    • I can identify the name of each uppercase letter.
    • I can look at each consonant and say its sound.
  • Work Time A: I can search in a text (poem) and find a word with one letter in it.
    • I can count the number of letters in a word.
  • Work Time B: I can use clues from the text (poem) to identify a mystery word.
    • I can count the number of letters in a word.
    • I can point to words in the poem.
    • I can recognize and read many high-frequency words in a text and in isolation (alone).

Ongoing Assessment

  • Observe students during Opening.
    • Determine whether they can say the sounds for each letter correctly. Refer to the Articulatory Gestures chart as needed.
    • Also determine whether they can demonstrate one-to-one correspondence with words.
  • Record students' progress on the Snapshot Assessment.



1. Opening (5 minutes)

A. Poem: Articulatory Gestures

2. Work Time (10-15 minutes)

A. Clues to the Mystery Word

B. Mystery Word: "see"

3. Closing and Assessment (2 minutes)

A. Reflecting on Learning

4. Differentiated Small Group Instruction and Rotations (40-45 minutes)

In Advance

  • Prepare:
    • Enlarged poem: "My Camera" (or write on chart paper/poster)
    • Poetry notebooks: Each student needs a spiral or composition book with a copy of the poem glued or taped inside, or else a loose copy of the poem in a plastic sleeve
    • Hand mirrors (optional; one per student or pair to see mouth movements)
    • Snapshot Assessment (optional; one per student)
  • Gather materials for differentiated small group instruction (see Differentiated Small Groups: Work with Teacher).


Key: Lesson-Specific Vocabulary (L); Text-Specific Vocabulary (T)

  • clues, frequently, mystery word (L)


  • Enlarged poem: "My Camera" (or handwritten on chart paper to display; from Lesson 57)
  • Large pointer (optional; for teacher to point to words in poem as the class recites)
  • Articulatory Gestures chart (enlarged version to post; from Lesson 56)
  • Hand mirrors (optional; one per student or pair to see mouth movements)
  • Poetry notebooks (one per student; see Teaching Notes)
  • Poem: "My Camera" (from Lesson 57; one per student in poetry notebooks)
  • Snapshot Assessment (optional; one per student)


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Poem: Articulatory Gestures

  • (Suggested transition song, sung to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot"):

"Now let's say the letters that we know. Think of the sounds and go, go, go. Open up your mouth big and wide. Sometimes your breath comes from deep inside. As we say the letters, we will know. Our letter sound skills will grow, grow, grow!"

  • Begin the Poem: Articulatory Gestures instructional practice:

1. Teacher reads the Enlarged poem: "My Camera" once or twice, pointing to each word as he or she reads it (with a finger or pointer).

2. Teacher invites students to watch his or her mouth when he or she says the sound for the keyword from the poem: "/z/ for zebra."

3. Teacher models the articulatory gesture for /z/, referencing the Articulatory Gestures chart.

4. Teacher asks:

"What do you notice about the way my mouth looks when I say the sound /z/?" (The tip of my tongue is behind my teeth, very close to the roof of my mouth without touching it.)

5. Students make the sound, noticing how it feels in their mouths (and how it looks in hand mirrors, if using).

6. Student volunteers share with an elbow partner or whisper into their hands what they noticed when they said the /z/ sound. (My mouth feels like it's beginning to smile; I can feel the vibration of sound on my tongue.)

7. Repeat steps 2-6 with /j/ for "jellyfish."

8. Repeat steps 2-6 with /e/ for "elephant."

9. Teacher reminds students of the other four vowels and their sounds learned to this point: "a" (/a/), "i" (/i/), "u" (/u/), and "o" (/o/), and invites students to feel the difference between the way their mouths and tongues move when making each of those sounds.

  • To provide support or practice with left-to-right directionality and one-to-one matching, consider inviting individual students to approach the enlarged poem and point to the words as the class chorally recites.
  • Consider showing students how to "feel" the /j/ sound by placing the thumb in one corner of the mouth and the index finger in the other corner. Gently pinch the cheeks together, feeling the vibration in the mouth.
  • Consider providing students with hand mirrors to watch their mouths as they make each sound.
  • Observe students as they make each articulatory gesture. If needed, provide feedback to help shape their mouths correctly.

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Clues to the Mystery Word

  • Begin the Clues to the Mystery Word instructional practice:

1. Teacher says: "The mystery word has three letters in it. I see 'did' has three letters."

2. Teacher points underneath each "did" and counts the number of letters aloud.

3. Teacher asks:

"Can you find any other words with three letters in it?"

4. Students refer to their poetry notebooks to search their copies of the poem: "My Camera" individually or with a partner. Students point to a word that they think has three letters in it.

5. Teacher chooses a student volunteer to say or point to which word has three letters in it. (Examples: "and," "two," "see," "the," "not," "did.")

6. Teacher points underneath the selected word and counts the number of letters aloud.

7. Teacher reads the poem again and says: "Clap your hands each time I say a word with three letters in it."

8. Teacher reads poem as students clap.

9. Teacher says: "Wow! You clapped 21 times. There are 21 words that have three letters in them. I wonder which word is the mystery word. Now we will find out."

B. Mystery Word: “see”

  • (Suggested transition song, sung to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”):

“Let’s solve the mystery, let’s solve the mystery. Clue by clue, clue by clue. The clues will tell you what to do. To make the word become clearer to you. We’ll know the word; we’ll figure it out. Clue by clue, clue by clue.”

  • Begin the Mystery Word instructional practice:

1. Teacher says: “Now we are going to use more clues to find out what the mystery word is. This mystery word has two vowels in a row.”

2. Teacher asks:

“Can you see any words with two vowels in a row?”

3. Students look through their copies of the poem individually or with a partner, then turn to an elbow partner and point to what they think is the mystery word.

4. Teacher calls on a student to share an idea.

5. Teacher says: “You think the mystery word is ‘see’? Let’s check.”

6. Teacher points to the word and checks to see if it has two vowels in it.

7. Teacher and students count the word in the poem. Teacher circles the word each time it’s counted.

8. Teacher says: “Yes! ‘see’ is the mystery word because it’s used a lot in the poem, has three letters, and has two ‘e’ letters in a row.”

9. Teacher says: “This is an important word you are going to practice. Whenever you see the word ‘see,’ remember that ‘e’ says its name: /ē/.”

  • Observe students as they search the poem. Make sure they practice the left-to-right sweep. Encourage them to use their pointer fingers to underline words as they search.

Closing & Assessments

ClosingMeeting Students' Needs

A. Reflecting on Learning

  • Emphasize that successful learners think about what they've learned and why it's important. Consider using a metaphor, such as a baseball player learning to keep his or her eye on the ball to know exactly when to hit it.
  • Ask:

"When we see the letter 'z,' how can we remember the sound it makes?" (Remember to "buzz" like a bee.)

"How will that help us with reading or writing?" (Responses will vary.)

  • For students who need additional support organizing their ideas: Provide sentence frames. Example:
    • "When I said the word 'zebra,' I _____."

Differentiated Small Groups: Work with Teacher

Suggested Plan: Teacher works with the Pre-Alphabetic and Early Partial Alphabetic groups. Teacher may meet briefly with the Late Partial and Early Full Alphabetic groups to get them started on independent work.

Note: Groups not working with the teacher at a given time should be engaged in purposeful independent rotation work. Refer to the Independent and Small Group Work guidance document (see K-2 Skills Resource Manual) for more details.


  • Practice activity: Teacher leads students in a Letter-Picture Sound Identification Matching Memory game.
    • Teacher cuts apart Letter-Picture Match Cards.
    • Teacher places all cards facedown on a flat surface.
    • Students turn over two cards at a time, looking for a match (letter matching a picture with that beginning sound).
    • Teacher encourages the student to say the name of the letter each time and the name of the picture, identifying the first sound.
    • Student tells the teacher if the picture and letter match. If they match, the student keeps the pair of cards.
    • Repeat until all cards have been matched.
  • Alternative practice activity: Teacher leads students in a Letter/Name Matching activity.
    • Students are given a stack of Student Name Cards with their classmates' names and Alphabet Cards.
    • Students match the beginning letter of each name to the matching Letter Card. Repeat until all names and letters are matched.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Letter-Picture Match Cards (one set)
    • Student Name Cards (teacher-created)

Early Partial Alphabetic:

  • Practice activity: Teacher guides students in a Mystery Word Search and Rainbow Write.
    • Students find the word "see" in their copies of the poem: "My Camera."
    • Students circle the word every time they see it.
    • Students practice writing the word with different-colored markers, crayons, or colored pencils.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Poetry notebook or poem: "My Camera"
    • Writing tools (for Rainbow Write; colored pencils, crayons, and markers)
    • Lined writing paper (for Rainbow Write)

Late Partial and Early Full Alphabetic:

  • Practice activity: Students complete a Mystery Word Write.
    • Students count all the instances of "see" they find in the poem and record them.
    • Students write a story using the word "see" as many times as they can, reinforcing the idea that "see" is a high-frequency word used often by authors to communicate ideas.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Poetry notebook or poem: "My Camera"
    • Lined writing paper and writing utensil

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