Mystery Words | EL Education Curriculum

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Daily Learning Targets

  • Opening A: I can follow along in a shared text (poem). (RF.K.1)
    • I can count the number of words in a sentence.
    • I can point to the first word in a sentence.
    • I can point to the last word in a sentence.
    • I can point to words in a text.
    • I can move my finger under words as I read them on a page, left to right and top to bottom.
  • Work Time A: I can search in a text (poem) and find a word with three letters 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 the Opening and Work Time. Determine whether they demonstrate one-to-one correspondence with words.
  • Observe students during Work Time. Determine whether they can identify the sounds in the mystery words.
  • Record students' progress on the Snapshot Assessment.



1. Opening (5 minutes)

A. Poem Launch: "Where Are the Vowels?"

2. Work Time (10-15 minutes)

A. Clues to the Mystery Words

B. Mystery Words: "are," "with," "will"

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: "Where Are the Vowels?" (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
    • 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: "Where Are the Vowels?" (or handwritten on chart paper to display)
  • Large pointer (optional; for teacher to point to words in poem as the class recites)
  • Poetry notebooks (one per student; see Teaching Notes)
  • Poem: "Where Are the Vowels?" (one per student)
  • Snapshot Assessment (optional; one per student)


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Poem Launch: "Where Are the Vowels?"

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

"Now let's read the poem, line by line. We'll figure out the words used all the time. When we read together, we sound like one. Start with me to have a lot of fun!"

  •  Begin the Poem Launch instructional practice:

1. Teacher says: "One day, something really strange happened to a little boy named Ben as he was reading. All of the vowels disappeared. He actually wrote a poem about that! Listen closely as I read this poem, which contains our mystery words. As I read it, think about which words you hear frequently. Remember, our mystery words are words that are in the poem several times."

2. Teacher reads enlarged poem: "Where Are the Vowels?" once or twice with fluency and expression, pointing to each word as he or she reads it (with a finger or pointer).

3. Teacher says: "I saw many of you listening hard for words that I read several times in this poem. I bet you are wondering which words are our mystery words, and I am too! Let's read the poem together."

4. Teacher rereads the poem several times, encouraging students to read with him or her chorally. During the shared reading of the poem, teacher asks students to:

      • Count the number of words in each line.
      • Point to the first word in each line and then the last word in each line.

5. Teacher distributes poetry notebooks or copies of the poem: "Where Are the Vowels?" to individuals or partners.

6. Students follow along chorally as teacher reads aloud, pointing to the words on their copies of the poem as they read.

7. Repeat as needed to ensure that most students have memorized the words.

8. Teacher says: "Next we will learn the clues that will help us discover the mystery words!"

  • To provide support or practice with left-to-right directionality and one-to-one matching, consider inviting individual students to come up to the enlarged poem and point to the words as the class chorally recites.
  • Consider modeling how to count the words in each line for students who need help with this skill.
  • Consider inviting students to share why Ben might have been upset about the vowels disappearing. In addition, consider acting out the poem while reading it aloud, using motions and facial expressions to model fluency and expression.

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Clues to the Mystery Words

  • Begin the Clues to the Mystery Word instructional practice:

1. Teacher says: "Two of the mystery words have four letters. I see several words with four letters."

2. Teacher asks:

"Which words do you see with four letters?"

3. Teacher asks students to search in their copies of the poem in their poetry notebooks for the four-letter words.

4. Teacher asks student volunteers to identify the four-letter words in poem: "will," "with," "said," "they," "your," "just," "don't," "know," "what."

5. Teacher circles the words.

6. Teacher says: "Great! So we know two of those words are the mystery words."

7. Teacher says: "This time when I read the poem, you will clap when I read a four-letter word."

8. Teacher reads poem, pointing to each word while students clap on four-letter words.

9. Teacher says: "Great! I heard clapping many times as I read the poem. There are a lot of four-letter words in our poem. We will need more clues to figure out our mystery words, so let's get started!"

  • Circling all of the four-letter words in the enlarged copy of the poem during step 5 will facilitate step 8 when students clap on all of the words that have four letters.

B. Mystery Words: "are," "with," "will"

  • (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 mystery words are. We already know that two of the mystery words have four letters, but they also have something else in common. They both have just one vowel letter in them. That vowel letter is 'i.'"

2. Teacher asks:

"Do you see any four-letter words that have just one vowel letter, the letter 'i,' in them?"

3. Students look through their copies of the poem individually or with a partner. Students turn to an elbow partner and point to the words they think are the mystery words.

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

5. Teacher says: "Wow! 'will' and 'with' might be the mystery words. They both have four letters, and they both have the vowel letter 'i' in them. Remember, the mystery word is a high-frequency word, which means it is in our poem several times. Let's count the times we see 'will' and 'with' in our poem."

6. Teacher and students count the words. Teacher underlines the words each time they are counted.

7. Teacher says: "So now we know 'will' is in our poem four times and the word 'with' is in it six times!"

8. Teacher writes the words "will" and "with" and says: "Let's check our clues to see they if are our mystery words."

9. Teacher asks:

"Do they both have four letters?" (yes)

"Do they both have the vowel letter 'i'?" (yes)

"Do they both appear in the poem frequently (a lot)?" (yes)

10. Teacher says: "Yes! 'will' and 'with' are the mystery words because they both have four letters, have the vowel letter 'i,' and are in our poem a lot!"

11. Teacher draws students' attention to similarities and differences in the words.

12. Teacher asks:

"What else do these words have in common?" (Both start with "w.")

"What part of the words is the same?" (beginning "w" "i," /wi/)

"What part of the words is different?" (end "th" and "ll")

13. Teacher says: "There is one more mystery word we need to find. It is in the poem eight times. I'll underline every sentence this word is in."

14. Teacher underlines all of the sentences with "are" in them.

15. Teacher provides the following clues:

      • "This mystery word has three letters in it."
      • "In some of these sentences, the mystery word starts with an uppercase letter, and in some it starts with a lowercase letter."
      • "This mystery word has two vowels in it, but neither vowel makes the sound you would expect to hear!"

16. Teacher invites students to think about those clues as he or she reads the underlined sentences.

17. Teacher invites students to identify which word they think it is and why.

18. Teacher and students check the word against the clues given in step 15.

19. Teacher acknowledges the word "are" as the mystery word.

20. Teacher asks:

"Why does the word 'are' sometimes begin with a capital and sometimes not in these sentences?" (The first word of a sentence gets a capital letter.)

21. Teacher explains: "These are important words you are going to practice. Whenever you see the words 'will,' 'with,' or 'are,' you can remember how we figured out our mystery words today!"

  • 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.
  • Consider asking students to use each of the words in a sentence. This reinforces the role of the word, helping to commit it to memory.
  • Remind students that while both "will" and "with" have four letters, they only have three sounds. The letters "ll" at the end of the word make one sound as do the letters "th" in that familiar digraph.
  • Students may notice that when pronouncing the word "are" it sounds like they are saying the letter "r." They might also wonder why the vowel letters "a" and "e" do not make their expected sounds. Explain that this is a word that "just doesn't play fair."

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:

"How can we practice learning our mystery words?" (Look for them in the poem and in other texts.)

"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 'with,' 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 the students in pointing to each word in the poem "Where Are the Vowels?" in their poetry notebooks. Teacher has students identify and highlight or circle specific letters they might need practice with. Consider beginning with just initial letters/sounds. Consider asking questions such as:

"Can you find the letter 'w'?"

"Can you find the letter that makes the sound /s/?"

  • 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:
    • Poetry notebooks or copies of poem: "Where Are the Vowels?" (one per student)
    • Writing utensils
    • Student Name Cards (teacher-created; optional)

Partial Alphabetic:

  • Practice activity: Teacher guides students in a Mystery Word Search and Rainbow Write.
    • Students find the words "with," "will," and "are" in their copies of the poem "Where Are the Vowels?"
    • Students circle the mystery words in the poem.
    • Students practice writing the words with different-colored markers, crayons, or colored pencils.
  • Additional Supporting Materials:
    • Poetry notebooks or copies of poem: "Where Are the Vowels?"
    • Writing tools (for Rainbow Write; colored pencils, crayons, markers)
    • Lined writing paper (for Rainbow Write)

Full and Consolidated Alphabetic:

  • Practice activity: Students complete a Mystery Word Write.
    • Students count all occurrences of the mystery words "will," "with," and "are" they find in their copies the poem "Where Are the Vowels?" and record.
    • Students write a story using the words "with," "will," and "are" as many times as they can, reinforcing the idea that these 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: "Where Are the Vowels?"
    • Lined writing paper and writing utensil

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