The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Middle School ELA Category!

The Westing Game Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Westing Game Include:

Ellen Raskin’s 1978 novel The Westing Game remains quite popular with today’s students. As the book’s characters race to inherit Westing’s estate by figuring out his murderer, students are swept up by the engaging mystery. Readers discover the clues along with the novel’s quirky characters, and are thus given an equal opportunity to solve the mystery themselves. This Newbery winner is a great way to teach young readers mystery genre with plot structure, point of view, and the elements of mystery.

The Westing Game Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Westing Game Characters

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The trickiest part of The Westing Game is its long list of characters. Students may struggle with the many names and identities. Providing activities to reinforce character understanding will be helpful. As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters.

The Westing Game Heirs

  • Turtle Wexler
  • Jake Wexler
  • Grace Wexler
  • Angela Wexler
  • Doug Hoo
  • Sun Lin Hoo
  • James Shin Hoo
  • Sandy McSouthers
  • Judge J. J. Ford
  • Theo Theodorakis
  • Chris Theodorakis
  • Sydelle Pulaski
  • Otis Amber
  • Berthe Erica Crow
  • Flora Baumbach
  • Dr. Denton Deere

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in The Westing Game and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Age and Physical Description, Personality, Clues Given by Westing, and Connection to Sam Westing.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The Westing Game Plot Diagram

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example The Westing Game Plot Diagram


Sixteen people are recruited to live in Sunset Towers, a new apartment building adjacent to the estate of the elderly millionaire, Sam Westing. The new residents have little in common and keep to themselves as they deal with the various stresses of their lives.


Shortly after the residents move in, Sam Westing dies and the residents of Sunset Towers are called to a meeting. There, they learn that they have been named as potential heirs in Westing’s will. In order to win the inheritance, they must solve the mystery of his death. The will splits the residents into pairs, each of which receives four cryptic words as clues.

Rising Action

As the Westing heirs rush to solve the mystery, they begin to work together. The heirs learn about each other’s lives and form unlikely friendships. In the process, they discover the identity of Sunset Towers’ bookie, bomber, thief, and mistake.


The heirs come together with Westing’s lawyer to submit their guesses for Westing’s murderer. When they learn they are all incorrect, they pool their clues and discover that the missing letters of “America the Beautiful” spell out Berthe Erica Crow. Crow turns herself over to the police just as Sandy McSouthers mysteriously drops dead. When the heirs review the strange events, they realize that Sandy was Westing himself.

Falling Action

Turtle leads the heirs in a review of Westing’s will in order to sort out its true meaning. During the review, Turtle alone realizes that Sandy is still alive and the true quest is to seek Westing’s fourth identity. The rest accept that they have lost the game. They receive shares in Sunset Towers and watch Westing’s estate go up in fireworks.


Turtle identifies Julian Eastman, the chairman of Westing Paper, as Westing’s fourth identity. She shows up at his address, greets Sandy/Westing, and wins the Westing empire. As the years progress, the residents of Sunset Towers pursue their dreams and find happiness. Turtle marries Theo and takes over Westing Paper.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Westing Game.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The Westing Game Wanted Poster

A fun way to enter into the Westing mystery is to have students make predictions about the various “criminals” alluded to in the novel. These include Westing’s murderer along with the bookie, the bomber, the thief, and the mistake. Have students use a single storyboard square to create a Wanted page for the heir that they suspect in one or more of these roles. Suggest using text boxes or free form text to add important information about the character, including physical description, motive, evidence, or suspicious quotations. The examples provide two possible formats, but students can be creative. For fun classroom decorations, don’t forget to print off the posters!

Example The Westing Game Wanted Poster


AGE: 57
OCCUPATION: Cleaning woman
MOTIVE: anger toward her ex-husband
EVIDENCE: All the clues in Westing's will point to her



28 years old, black hair, wears traditional Chinese dresses; works as a chef; married to Mr. James Shin Hoo


  • Secretive and isolated behavior
  • Needs money to return to China
  • Had means and opportunity to take items

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The Westing Game Elements of Mystery

Taking the time to create a visual representation helps students remember literary concepts. Use storyboards to help them identify and remember important elements of the mystery genre. Students should depict a scene that contains a common mystery element and explain their depiction in the text box below. Ask students to provide examples from a variety of different mystery elements (such as foreshadowing, red herrings, and clues) or restrict the storyboard to a single element (such as three instances of foreshadowing).

Example The Westing Game Elements of Mystery

Main Character as Detective

Although all the sixteen heirs are important to the story, Turtle takes on the role of protagonist. All the heirs attempt to win Westing’s game, but the novel focuses heavily on Turtle, the youngest and most endearing character. In the end, Turtle’s precocious wit enables her to solve the mystery that none of the adult heirs could decipher.


Westing provides his heirs (and the reader) with a variety of clues. The official clues that each pair receives are certainly important, but the most helpful clues might be in Westing’s newspaper obituary!


Foreshadowing in the novel includes Westing's will, his obituary, and many comments from the omniscient narrator. From the very beginning, the smoke rising from the chimney of the Westing house is foreshadowing that the long-absent Westing will make an appearance in the lives of the Sunset Tower residents.

Red Herring

The lyrics to “America the Beautiful” and the missing letters spelling “Berthe Erica Crow” are all an elaborate red herring. This puzzle distracts from the real object of the Westing game, which is to identify Westing’s fourth identity. This red herring prevents the heirs from solving the mystery too quickly, providing them with the time to build relationships and improve their lives.

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The Westing Game Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

The Westing Game Themes to Look For and Discuss


The real purpose of the Westing game is not the inheritance, but the relationships that the game creates and strengthens. Westing seems to choose the pairs that will bring out the best in each other. Denton brings Chris medical support, Flora and Turtle provide each other with much-needed love, Grace helps James make his restaurant successful, and Jake helps Sunny speak English and adjust to life in America.The rest of the heirs enjoy similar benefits. In the end, most of the heirs do not receive millions from Westing, but they do build lifelong friendships.

Forgiveness and Making Amends

In his younger days, Sam Westing made a lot of mistakes: he spoke unkindly to his servants, stole James Hoo’s invention, and drove his daughter to suicide. Through his will, he tries to fix these mistakes and return happiness to the people he affected. He gives them excitement, hope, and friendship, in addition to $5,000 and a share in Sunset Towers.

The Westing Game Symbols and Motifs


Sam Westing feels great patriotism for America. He wears the clothes of Uncle Sam in his coffin, uses clues from “America the Beautiful”, and sets off fireworks on the Fourth of July. His obvious patriotism blends nicely with the rest of the characters. The residents of Sunset Towers come from many different financial and ethnic backgrounds. Their friendship represents the melting pot of America’s immigrant nation.


Sam Westing’s love for chess is woven throughout the story. We learn that he used to play with Judge Ford years ago and would beat her by sacrificing his queen. In a way, the “Westing game” is like a giant game of chess. At the end, Crow (Westing’s queen) is sacrificed to distract from the main point of the game. The chess connection is passed on when Westing teaches Turtle, who later teaches Alice.

Sydelle’s Crutches

At the beginning of the story, Sydelle Pulaski has no need of crutches. However, she uses brightly decorated crutches and feigns injury to draw attention to herself and win sympathy. The crutches are a symbol of her insecurity and weakness. Many other characters have their own crutch that they hide behind: Turtle’s is her braid, Angela’s is her pretty face, Grace’s is Angela, Mr. Hoo’s is food, Theo’s is Chris, etc.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Westing Game. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Westing Game you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The most compelling aspect of The Westing Game is its mystery: who killed Sam Westing and why were all the heirs lured to Sunset Towers? The thrill of solving the crime keeps students reading and often makes them attentive to small details and clues. For this reason, The Westing Game can be an effective novel with which to teach about the mystery genre. Pre-teaching common mystery elements from the list below will help students identify them as they appear in the novel.

Elements of Mystery

  • Mysterious death or crime to be solved
  • Main character is a detective and sorts out the mystery
  • Group of suspects and their motives that must be weighed and evaluated
  • Clues
  • Hidden evidence
  • Suspense
  • Foreshadowing
  • Red herrings

Essential Questions for The Westing Game

  1. How do friendships improve a person’s life?
  2. How does Westing’s game end up helping the heirs?
  3. Is Sam Westing a good person?
  4. What does it mean to make amends? Why is this important?
  5. How important is money to a person’s happiness?
  6. What is more important to the Westing heirs: friendship or money?

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