Mystery Words | EL Education Curriculum

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Daily Learning Targets

  • Opening A: I can identify the name and sound for the letters "sh," "th," and "ch." (RF.1.3a)
    • 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 two letters in it. (RF.K.1)
    • 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. (RF.K.3)
    • 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.
    • 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 Words

B. Mystery Words: "to," "do"

3. Closing and Assessment (2 minutes)

A. Reflecting on Learning

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

In Advance

  • Prepare:
    • Enlarged poems/tongue twisters: "ShaMiiah, Sh!"; "Thank You, Theo!"; and "Check It, Charles!" as well as the new poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?" (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)


  • Keyword Picture Cards: "sh," "th," and "ch" (from Lessons 61 and 62)
  • Articulatory Gestures chart (enlarged version to post; from Lesson 61)
  • Enlarged poem/tongue twister: "ShaMiiah, Sh!" (for teacher to display; from Lesson 61)
  • Large pointer (optional; for teacher to point to words in the poem as the class recites)
  • Hand mirrors (optional; one per student or pair to see mouth movements)
  • Enlarged poem/tongue twister: "Check It, Charles!" (for teacher to display; from Lesson 62)
  • Enlarged poem/tongue twister: "Thank You, Theo!" (for teacher to display; from Lesson 61)
  • Enlarged poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?" (or handwritten on chart paper to display)
  • Poetry notebooks (one per student; see Teaching Notes)
  • Poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?" (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 displays the Keyword Picture Cards: "sh," "th," and "ch" and the enlarged poem: "ShaMiiah, Sh!"

2. Teacher invites students to recite the poem/tongue twister together while he or she points to the words with a finger or pointer.

3. Teacher invites students to watch his or her mouth when he or she says the sound for the keyword for "sh": /sh/.

4. Teacher asks:

"What do you notice about the way my mouth looks when I say the sound /sh/?" (Lips are pursed; mouth is closed.)

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 and whisper into their hands what they noticed when they said the /sh/ sound. (My mouth is closed, but my lips are pushed out; my breath is pushed out through my teeth.)

7. Repeat steps 1-6 with /ch/ and the enlarged poem/tongue twister: "Check It, Charles!"

8. Teacher asks:

"How are /sh/ and /ch/ different?" (/sh/ is soft and drawn out, /ch/ is sharp and quick.)

9. Teacher invites students to play a game to help them distinguish the difference between /sh/ and /ch/. One half of the group pretends to have a cold and makes a quick, sharp sneeze: /ch/, while the other half pretends to be alarmed and responds with a quiet, drawn out /sh/.

10. Teacher invites students to repeat step 9 three or four times, then invites the two halves to switch.

11. Repeat steps 1-6 with /th/ and the enlarged poem: "Thank You, Theo."

12. Teacher invites students to say "Theo" and "that," noticing how the beginning sound feels in their mouths (and how it looks in hand mirrors, if using).

13. Teacher says: "Both of these words start with 'th,' but that sound feels a little different in my mouth."

14. Teacher invites students to share how the two sounds feel. (/th/ in "thick" feels softer and the teeth are gently holding the tongue, /th/ in "that" feels harder and the tongue vibrates or "tickles" between the teeth.)

  • 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.
  • Remind students that the /ch/ sound is sharp, stops with the exhale of breath, and does not include the "uh" that many students add to the sound.

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Clues to the Mystery Word

  • Begin the Clues to the Mystery Word instructional practice:

1. Teacher says: "Do you remember how I told you about my friend ShaMiiah? I know that I mentioned how noisy she can be, but one time ... she was really quiet and even kind of grumpy. I wanted to play with her and I kept asking her what she wanted to do, but she would just say 'Sh.' So I thought of some ideas. Every time I offered a suggestion, she would say 'No.' So I wrote a poem about that. I'll read the poem to you, and see if you can figure out why ShaMiiah was so grumpy."

2. Teacher displays the enlarged poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?" and reads it aloud once, without interruption, using a finger or a pointer.

3. Teacher asks:

"Why didn't she want to do anything? Why was she so grumpy?" (She wanted to sleep; she was tired.)

4. Teacher explains that the poem will be read again. This time, a student volunteer will pretend to be ShaMiiah and will read the "No" and "Sh" parts; the remainder of the class will read the repetitive line: "What do you want to do?" and the teacher will read the remaining lines.

5. Teacher distributes poetry notebooks and says: "There are two mystery words that we are looking for this week. They both have two letters in them."

6. Teacher asks:

"Can you find any word with two letters in it?" ("do," "to," "go," "no," "sh")

7. Students refer to their poetry notebooks to search in their copies of the poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?" individually or with a partner. Students point to a word that they think has two letters in it.

8. Teacher chooses a student volunteer to say or point to which word has two letters in it. 

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

10. Teacher reads poem again. Teacher says: "Clap your hands each time I say a word with two letters in it."

11. Teacher reads poem as students clap.

12. Teacher says: "Wow! You clapped 27 times. There are 27 words that have two letters in them. I wonder which are the mystery words. Now we will find out."

  • Depending on time constraints, consider skipping step 4 and possibly doing this during another part of the day.
  • Consider pointing out the question mark and exclamation points and explaining that the former signals a question, and the latter signals it should be read loud.

B. Mystery Words: "to," "do"

  • (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 Words instructional practice:

1. Teacher says: "Now we are going to use more clues to find out what the two mystery words are. These two mystery words are both in the poem a lot, both end with the vowel letter 'o,' and rhyme."

2. Teacher asks:

"Can you see any words that end in the vowel letter 'o' AND rhyme?"

3. 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.

4. Teacher calls on students to identify the two words that might be the mystery words.

5. Teacher says: "Let's check."

6. Teacher points to the words and checks to see if they both have two letters, end with the vowel letter "o," and rhyme.

7. Teacher and students count the number of times "do" and "to" are used in the poem.

8. Teacher says: "Yes! 'to' and 'do' are the mystery words because they are used a lot in the poem, they both have two letters, they both end in the vowel letter 'o,' and they rhyme."

9. Teacher says: "These are important words you are going to practice a lot when you read."

  • 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.
  • Students may offer “no” as one of the mystery words. They will need to identify the ending sound (/ō/) and compare it to the ending sound in the other two words (“to” and “do”) to determine that it does not rhyme.
  • Some students may see “Do” and “do” as two different words. Remind them that even though one begins with a capital “D” and the other with a lowercase “d,” they are still the same word. The uppercase “D” is used to show the first word in a sentence.

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 letters 'ch' together, how can we remember the sound they make?" (Think about how our mouth looks when we say the sound. Think of how a sneeze sounds: quick and sharp.)

"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 words 'to' and 'do,' I _____."

Differentiated Small Groups: Work with Teacher

Suggested Plan: Teacher works with the Pre-Alphabetic and Partial Alphabetic groups. At this point in the year, the teacher may be ready to meet with three rather than just two groups per day. If so, the teacher should work with students in the Full and Consolidated Alphabetic phases at least once per week. The teacher may choose to guide students through the suggested independent activity or refer to the possible practice activities.

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 out 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 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
    • Student Name Cards (teacher-created)

Partial Alphabetic:

  • Practice activity: Teacher guides students in a Mystery Word Search and Rainbow Write.
    • Students find the words "to" and "do" in their copy of the poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?"
    • Students circle the words every time they see them.
    • Students practice writing the words with different-colored markers, crayons, or colored pencils.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Poetry notebooks or copies of poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?"
    • Writing tools (for Rainbow Write; colored pencils, crayons, markers)
    • Lined writing paper (for Rainbow Write)

Full and Consolidated Alphabetic:

  • Independent Practice activity: Students complete a Mystery Word Write.
    • Students count all of the words "to" and "do" they find and record.
    • Students write a story using the words "to" and "do" as many times as they can, reinforcing the idea that those are high-frequency words used often by authors to communicate ideas.
  • Conference with students about Accountable Independent Reading.
  • Choose a lesson from the K-2 Differentiation Packets to extend the students' learning. (Refer to the students' assessment data and the Assessment Conversion chart to determine an appropriate lesson or group of lessons.)
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Poetry notebooks or copies of poem: "ShaMiiah, What Do You Want to Do?"
    • Lined writing paper and writing utensils

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