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 about plot structure, point of view, and the elements of mystery.
By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!
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 who is a detective and sorts out the mystery
Group of suspects and their motives that must be weighed and evaluated
[ELA-Literacy/RL/6/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments
[ELA-Literacy/RL/6/3] Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution
[ELA-Literacy/RL/7/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text
[ELA-Literacy/RL/7/3] Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot)
[ELA-Literacy/RL/8/2] Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text
[ELA-Literacy/RL/8/3] Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision
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.