Writing a mystery can be a challenge for a professional writer, let alone a beginner. Not only do you have to write a story, but you have to keep track of clues. A fourth grade teacher brought me into her classroom to work on mystery writing with her students. In preparation, she shared with me the curriculum guide for this unit, which I felt was too complex.
I simplified the unit, asking students to focus on a theft (which made the action concrete), and using only the characters of villain, sleuth, and one suspect that turns out to be innocent.
Begin by having students create a graphic organizer: Who is the criminal/villain? What does your criminal/villain steal? Who is your sleuth/hero? Who is the suspect who turns out to be innocent?
Next, have your students write a short outline of what happens in each scene:
Scene 1: Describe the villain committing the theft.
Scene 2: Describe the sleuth discovering that X has been stolen.
Scene 3: Describe the sleuth searching for clues. A clue must lead the sleuth to believe that the suspect is guilty.
Scene 4: Describe the sleuth interviewing the suspect. The suspect should have an alibi.
Scene 5: Describe the sleuth setting a trap for another theft.
Scene 6: Describe the villain trying to commit this left, and the sleuth catching the criminal in the act.
Having a simple structure allows students to focus on writing and character development.
After your students have outlined the story, then let them write it!