| Sep 01, 2011
PUTTING BOOKS TO WORK
BY MIKE BENTZ The 39 Clues Series (Scholastic, 2008—present)
Sept 1, 2011
The 39 Clues series appeals to all readers. Fans of adventure, mystery, realistic fiction, and non-fiction will all find their appetite satisfied with the series.
In addition, technology-driven kids will be able to tap into online components and gaming elements of the 39 Clues website and collectible trading cards. This interactive, fast-paced web experience locks readers into an online community where they research and play games in order to find out more information to solve the clues. There they can research more about the various non-fiction connections to the series, as well as broaden their knowledge of historical figures and events.
Middle grade readers of all levels are able to access the books, and reluctant readers will quickly see a familiar story pattern and characters in each novel. Readers with limited background knowledge instantly become “experts” on the series after reading the first novel, and are encouraged to research even more to “one up” their Cahill opponents.
Due to the collaborative nature of the series—which is written by several authors working together—readers no longer have to wait a year or more for the next installment. In fact, new books are released every three to four months!
The 39 Clues provides students with a uniquely multi-dimensional and extremely motivating reading experience unlike any other series out there. Try starting with THE MAZE OF BONES in your classroom, and you’ll instantly see the magic of this high-interest series. Cross-curricular Connections:
history, geography, math, writing, art Ideas for Classroom Use: Mirroring Mentor Texts
We all know that kids need to study mentor texts—what better way to teach good writing skills by studying texts connecting to what the kids are actually reading!
You can illustrate the various traits of writing, such as ideas, organization, or voice with the 39 Clues books (Scholastic’s 39 Clues Educator Network
has some great resources for this). Ask kids to use colored Post-Its to identify examples of the traits of writing throughout the text. Then, take a closer look at each individual trait.
Divide your class into small groups to research the style of each series author. For instance, how does Margaret Petterson Haddix’s word choice differ from that of Gordon Korman
? You could also ask them to look at how diction varies depending on which characters are narrating or speaking.
Finally, have students “mirror” what the series authors do, either by incorporating these traits into their own writing or by imitating the style of a given author. Fabulous Freewrites
The ideas in the 39 Clues series lend themselves to all different genres of writing—mystery, non-fiction, and historical fiction, to name a few. You can even use the series to work with persuasive writing.
Offer your students the following prompt:
Given the choice, would you take the million dollars Grace Cahill offered in her will, or would you join the hunt for the 39 clues in an attempt to become the most powerful person in the world?
Allow students to write for ten minutes. Then, invite them to share their decisions and reasons why. Create Your Own Trading Cards
The 39 Clues program includes a series of collectible trading cards that unlock games, puzzles, and additional clues online. My students couldn’t wait to get the “ultra-rare” card in the first series, and were full of predictions about what it might mean to the hunt. They were so fascinated with the cards that I decided to have them make their own!
Kids design their own personal card with an illustration of themselves with their “family” symbols around them, much like the crests that symbolize the branches of the Cahill family in the series.
On the back of the card, students listed traits from Ruth Culham’s 6+1 TRAITS OF WRITING
, along with examples from their own writing that showed where they had nailed a specific trait. These “stats” inspired them to pay even more attention to these components of good writing. Virtual Visits
Your class can travel the world with Dan and Amy, learning geography and strengthening math skills in the process. Related activities include:
- Mapping places the characters visit and learning more about them
- Keeping checking accounts and travel expense reports for the Cahills
- Practice division and multiplication by exchanging money as Dan and Amy would on their travels
- Tackle problem solving skills through tracking the Cahills across the different time zones
My students have been fascinated with learning all about the different settings in hopes that they might be able to “unlock” the secret of the clues. Develop Digital Literacy Skills with Classroom Wikis and Blogs
Naturally, the 39 Clues unlocked an entire world of extra reading and research to my students. They started a wiki and blog dedicated to the series, where they shared predictions and theories, compiled facts they researched about different related topics, and built an online community of learners centered around researching all different aspects of the books.
This ReadWriteThink lesson plan
can be easily adapted for a 39 Clues-themed project.
As moderator, I had to tell my students to stop blogging on numerous occasions—they were researching late into the night during the week, all on their own! Additional Resources and Activities: The 39 Clues Teaching Resources
This collection of materials from Scholastic includes curriculum guides, book talks, video interviews, text and audiobook excerpts, activities, and more. Decoding Writing with the 39 Clues
Teach Ruth Culham’s traits of writing program with the 39 Clues series. Web 2.0: Beyond Google
Get an overview of new literacies in this article, which includes links to Web 2.0 sites that are perfect for educators. Teaching with Blogs
This ReadWriteThink Strategy Guide covers all the basics of blogging in the classroom and has many links to related resources. Mike Bentz has been teaching fourth and fifth grade in Solana Beach, California for fourteen years. He has a Master's Degree in Literacy from the University of San Diego. Mike has collaborated with Scholastic for the 39 Clues series and has offered insight into webcasts, blogs, and teacher guides for the books. He spoke at the International Reading Association conference in 2011 with authors Gordon Korman, Linda Sue Park, Peter Lerangis, and Ruth Culham. Mike's classroom won the 2009 Classrooms of the Future "Inspire Award" for their work with the 39 Clues.
© 2011 Mike Bentz. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. Putting Books to Work: Rick Walton's I NEED MY OWN COUNTRY! Putting Books to Work: George O’Connor’s HADES: LORD OF THE DEAD