There are times when you spend hours upon hours trying to come up with "the perfect lesson" only to have it not live up to your expectations.

And then there are the times when you randomly wake up at 3:30 a.m., an idea pops into your head and it turns out to be awesome!

The latter was the case with my most recent creation, Mystery Mail.

I should probably preface this with telling you that it tied in perfectly with our reading curriculum, but that it would totally stand alone as a fun and engaging way to teach inferencing regardless of what program you use.

This week in Treasures our main selection is a story called Dear Juno. It's about a boy who sends and receives letters from his grandmother in Korea. There were a few objects enclosed in the envelopes like a leaf from a tree in Juno's yard and a picture of his grandmother's new cat. I had already planned to have my friends brainstorm items they would place into an envelope to tell about them, but my wee hours idea made it so much more exciting.

Inferencing is such an important skill to develop in order to be effective readers and critical thinkers. This activity engaged my students, anchored their learning, and provide them with a fun, interactive understanding of what it means to infer so that when I discussed inferencing in language arts lessons I could always relate it to this project. 

I started by making a list of staff members I wanted to include. I teach third and invited all of their former teachers and classroom aides, the principal, specialist teachers and other staff members that they know well and come in contact with often to participate. 

My fabulous classroom aide prepared a “packet” for each of those staff members by simply securing the blank letter template, the cover sheet and an envelope together with a paperclip.  I included lots of people because I wanted to create stations at the end of the week, but you could just ask 3-4 and model this as a whole class lesson.

I created an envelop too. I tacked mine onto the white board. It was addressed to the class, but had a question mark in the upper left hand corner. One of my friends spotted it in the morning during math. I tole them they would need to wait until after lunch to see what it was all about.

I nearly killed them.

While they were at lunch I set up a chart by using the blackline templates from my packet and copying them onto construction paper.

I've never seen them come in from recess so eager to get started. There excitement was elevated when they spotted a second letter on the board next to the first.

I opened the envelope and took out the first item...a receipt from Story Land (a small theme park for little kids about 2 hours away in NH, but a place they are familiar with). I asked, "What does this object tell us about the person who sent the letter." They came up with things like:
  • the person has kids because adults don't go there alone
  • they must have a car because you can't walk to NH
  • maybe the person has 2 girls because the receipt was for 2 princess wands

The next object was a frequent shoppers reward card for the local grocery store. They inferred that:
  • the person lived in town
  • the person likes to cook
After the third clue I took out the letter...which was from me. I had written about how we would be working on inferencing, explained what inferencing was and promised that they would be getting more mystery mail throughout the week.

The excitement level in my classroom was through the roof when a new letter would appear. It was so fun for me to see how quickly their skills developed. By the third envelope the quality of their inferences was so much higher than when we opened the first (hello?...not lactose intolerant or allergic to nuts?...they crack me up).

After I modeled the first one whole class, I gave each student a recording sheet. I opened the second envelope and revealed the first object. They illustrated and labeled it onto their recording sheets. We repeated that and then they made their own written inferences. 

This was such a motivating activity. They were quickly throwing around the word "inference" and begging for more. The next morning I found 6 envelopes on my desk that some of the students had made at home. I hadn't asked them to. I didn't even suggest it. The 6 kids aren't even from the same table or especially buddy buddy which shows me that they all came up with the idea on their own. I totally heart when learning is so exciting that the extend upon lessons on their own at home.

All of the items you'll need to do this lesson in your classroom can be found in my Mystery Mail Packet. They are all blacklined masters to save you on the cost of ink, but look great printed/copied onto colored paper.

I created a visual display in the classroom that could be used as a reference for the students in the future. 

  • You could simply do the above as your lesson as it was highly effective. I opted to continue because their interest level was so high. I provided each student with a copy of the inferencing page and as I revealed each item they illustrated and labeled it the boxes at the top of the page. After all three items were revealed, they recorded their own inferenced thoughts and ideas about the sender based on the object and predicted who sent it.

  • Again because my class was so motivated by this project I decided to take it a step further. I created an “inferencing workshop” by placing envelopes and recording sheets at different stations. I numbered each envelope and students enjoyed using their inferencing skills independently. This makes a great activity for early finishers. 

  • As an added twist, you could continue the fun throughout the year by creating envelopes as if they were sent by celebrities or characters from books. You could also have the students create an envelope. My class was chomping at the bit to make their own envelopes and let their friends infer their identity.

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