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: "Today"

2. Work Time (10-15 minutes)

A. Clues to the Mystery Words

B. Mystery Words: "or," "for"

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: "Today" (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: "Today" (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: "Today" (one per student)
  • Snapshot Assessment (optional; one per student)


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Poem Launch: "Today"

  • (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: "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 the enlarged poem: "Today" once or twice, 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: "Today" 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.

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Clues to the Mystery Words

  • Begin the Clues to the Mystery Word instructional practice:

1. Teacher says: "The first mystery word has two letters. I see several words with two letters."
2. Teacher asks:

"Which words do you see with two letters?"

3. Teacher asks student volunteers to identify the two-letter words in the poem: "to," "if," "go," "do," "or," "my," "me."

4. Teacher says: "Great! So we know the first mystery word is one of those words. Now you can find those words in your poem."

5. Students refer to their poetry notebooks to search in their copies of the poem "Today" individually or with a partner and point to the two-letter words "to," "if," "go," "do," "or," "my," "me."

6. Teacher says: "The second mystery word has the three letters in it. I see several words with three letters in them. This time when I read the poem, clap when I read a word with three letters."

7. Teacher reads the poem while students clap on words containing three letters: "mop," "hop," "for," "sit," "say," "ask," "you."

8. Teacher says: "Great! I heard clapping many times as I read the poem. Now you can find those words in your poem."

9. Teacher says: "Now we know that our first mystery word has two letters, so it could be any one of the words you found. Our second mystery word has three letters in it, and we have several of those words too. We will need more clues to figure out our mystery words, so let's get started!"

B. Mystery Words: "or," "for"

  • (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. The first mystery word, which we know has two letters, starts with the letter 'o'."

2. Teacher asks: "Do you see any two-letter words that start with the letter 'o'?"

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 a student to share an idea.

5. Teacher says: "Wow! 'or' might be the mystery word. 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 'or' in our poem."

6. Teacher and students count the word. Teacher circles the word each time it's counted.

7. Teacher says: "So now we know 'or' is in our poem three times. Let's check our clues to see if it is our mystery word."

8. Teacher asks:

"Does it have two letters?" (yes)

"Does it start with the letter 'o'?" (yes)

"Is it in our poem several times?" (yes)

9. Teacher says: "Yes! 'or' is the first mystery word because it has two letters, starts with the letter 'o,' and is in our poem three times! Great detective work to find our first mystery word!"

10. Repeat steps 1-9 with clues for the word "for."

11. Teacher says: "These are important words you are going to practice. Whenever you see the words 'or' and 'for,' 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 finger to underline words as they search.
  • Consider deepening the level of word analysis by drawing students' attention to the similarity and difference between the words "or" and "for."
  • Consider inviting students to use each word in a sentence. Placing a word in context can support consolidating it in memory.

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 'for,' 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 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.
    • Students tell 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 "or" and "for" in their copies of the poem "Today."
    • 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: "Today"
    • 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 occurrences of the mystery words "or" and "for" they find in their copies of the poem "Today" and record.
    • Students write a story using the words "or" and "for" as many times as they can, reinforcing the idea that "or" and "for" 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: "Today"
    • Lined writing paper and writing utensils

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