Mystery Word | EL Education Curriculum

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Daily Learning Targets

  • Opening A: I can identify the name and sound for the letters "i" and "g."
    • 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.
    • I can identify the short vowel sound for every vowel letter.
  • 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 count the number of words in the poem.
    • 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 the Opening.
    • Determine whether they can say the sounds for each letter correctly. Refer to the Articulatory Gestures chart as needed.
    • Also determine whether they 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: "on"

3. Closing and Assessment (2 minutes)

A. Reflecting on Learning

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

In Advance


    • Enlarged poem: "The Grumpy Iguana" (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: "The Grumpy Iguana" (or handwritten on chart paper to display; from Lesson 32)
  • Large pointer (optional; for teacher to point to words in poem as the class recites)
  • Articulatory Gestures chart (enlarged version to post; from Lesson 31)
  • Hand mirrors (optional; one per student or pair to see mouth movements)
  • Poetry notebooks (one per student; see Teaching Notes)
  • Poem: "The Grumpy Iguana" (one per student in poetry notebooks; from Lesson 31)
  • Keyword Picture Card: "n"
  • 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: "The Grumpy Iguana" 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: /i/ for "iguana."

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

4. Teacher asks:

"What do you notice about the way my mouth looks when I say the sound /i/?" (open mouth, tip of tongue against the back of bottom teeth)

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 /i/ sound. ("My mouth was open and the tip of my tongue was pushed up against the back of my bottom teeth.")

7. Repeat steps 2-6 with /g/, "goose."

  • 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 providing students with hand mirrors to watch their mouths as they make each sound.
  • Consider asking students to put their hands on their throats when making the /g/ sound to feel where the sound is made.
  • Consider asking students to articulate the difference in the position of the tongue when making the /i/ vs. the /g/ sounds.
  • Consider asking students to articulate the difference between the positions of their mouths when making the vowel sound /i/ vs. the vowel sound /a/.
  • 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: "High-frequency words are words that authors use a lot in their writing. We know that our poem has one of these words, but we don't know which word it is, so we call it a 'mystery word.' Today, we are going to use clues to try to figure out the mystery word. Listen for each clue so we can work together to figure out the word."

2. Teacher says: "The mystery word has two letters in it."

3. Teacher asks:

"Can you find any words in this first line with two letters in it?"

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

5. Teacher chooses a student volunteer to say or point to which words have two letters in them. (Examples: "an," "on.")

6. Teacher writes the word on the board without pronouncing it aloud.

7. Teacher points underneath each word and counts the number of letters aloud.

8. Teacher repeats steps 2-7 for each line of the poem. This produces the following list of words: "an," "on," "to," "do," and "so."

9. Teacher says: "Clap your hands each time I say a word with two letters in it."

10. Teacher reads poem and points with finger (or pointer) as students clap.

11. Teacher says: "Wow! You clapped six times. I wonder which word is the mystery word. Now we will find out."

  • Observe students as they search the poem. Make sure they practice the left-to-right sweep. Encourage them to use their pointer finger to underline words as they search.
  • The letter "o" has not yet been introduced. Some students may already know the name of this letter. Consider asking a volunteer to share the name of the letter and explain that students will be meeting and learning more about that letter in a few weeks.
  • Consider using the words "in" (the mystery word from Cycle 4) and "on" in language throughout the day, drawing students' attention to the position indicated by each word. Example:
    • When transitioning from one place to another, say: "Stand on your feet and get in line" or "Walk in the room and sit on the floor."

B. Mystery Word: "on"

  • (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 a letter in it that looks like this."

2. Teacher writes on the board: "o."

3. Teacher points to the list of words on the board and asks:

"Does that help us figure out which word it is?" (No, a lot of the words have that letter in it.)

4. Teacher says: "Maybe the next clue will help us figure out what the mystery word is. This mystery word has the sound /n/ at the end."

5. Teacher displays the Keyword Picture Card: "n."

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

7. Teacher calls on a student to point to the word listed on the board that he or she thinks is the mystery word.

8. Teacher asks:

"You think the mystery word is 'on'? Let's check."

9. Teacher says "on" and invites students to repeat the word.

10. Teacher says: "Wow! 'On' might be the mystery word. One way to make sure is to see if it is used more than once in the poem."

11. Teacher and students look for the word "on."

12. Teacher circles the two different instances of "on."

13. Teacher says: "Yes! 'on' is the mystery word!"

14. Teacher writes the word "in" next to the word "on" and says: "A few weeks ago, our mystery word was 'in,' and today our mystery word is 'on.'"

15. Teacher models the difference between "in" and "on" by placing an object, such as a pencil, "in" something and then placing it "on" something.

16. Teacher says: "These are important words you are going to practice. They are used a lot in reading and writing."

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 'g,' how can we remember the sound it makes?" (Think about how our mouths look when we say the sound: open mouth, tongue up against the back of the bottom teeth, the keyword "good.")

"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 make the sound /g/, my tongue is _____."

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 students 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-Picture Match Card. Repeat until all names and letters are matched.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Letter-Picture Match Cards
    • 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 "on" or the letters "i" and "g" in their copy of the poem: "The Grumpy Iguana."
    • Students circle the word or letters every time they see them.
    • Students practice writing the word or letters in different colors with colored markers, crayons, or colored pencils.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Poetry notebook or copy of poem: "The Grumpy Iguana"
    • Writing tools (for Rainbow Write; colored pencils, crayons, markers)
    • Lined writing paper (for Rainbow Write)

Late Partial and Early Full Alphabetic:

  • Practice activity: Students complete a Mystery Word Write.
    • Students count all of the two-letter words they find in the poem and record them.
    • Students write a story. Consider having them write about the iguana and the goose. When they are finished, they look for and circle any words that they used more than once. This supports the idea that a high-frequency word is one that is used often by authors to communicate ideas.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Poetry notebook or copy of the poem: "The Grumpy Iguana"; students can use this as a resource to write the words "goose" and "iguana"
    • Lined writing paper and writing utensils

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