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39 Clues Lessons: The Hunt Begins for Students' Reading Passion

Outside the Box Teaching Ideas


39 Clues LessonsGetting students to engage in reading (whether in a group or individual setting) can be challenging especially with iPods, smart phones, handheld games, and computers that have created so many games, apps, and programs that provide instant gratification.


Both teachers and parents have shared with me that their students/ child strongly dislikes (ok, they said HATE) to read and it is like pulling teeth to get them to sit down and read anything.


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As a teacher and a lover of books, this saddens me greatly. I can only guess, they haven't found a book that students can relate to and/or find intriguing enough to continue reading. Or they themselves have not found a book that they are excited to share.


It only takes one book to hook even the most resistant reader, but finding that book can be difficult, especially a book whose main characters can satisfy both the boys and girls in the classroom.


But what if I told you, I had found such a book- a book that has yet to be turned down by even the most stubborn of non-readers?

Pre-Book Prep: Sparking Student Interest!

If given the choice, one million dollars or an envelope containing the first of 39 clues that could lead you to a treasure allowing you to become the most powerful person in the world, what would you choose?  Tough question right?


I posed this question to my students without giving any background information, and allowed them to discuss their options. I love hearing the classroom discussions and discovering which of my students were overly cautious and would choose the money, and which were adventurous and would take on the challenge of a single clue.


Most of the time, the class would be divided and a great debate would ensue. (Gotta love it when that happens!)  This is what a great book is supposed to do- ignite a spark before you even read the first page!

And The Book Is... 39 Clues

Once I posted final decisions on our bulletin board (for future use), I introduced Rick Riordan's book 39 Clues: Maze of Bones, giving a brief synopsis (usually just read from back cover). 


From the look on the student's faces and the chatter I hear, I know I have sparked an interest. Students are eager for me to begin reading aloud during a snack period, end of day (before dismissal) or transition time.


The Maze of Bones is the first in the 39 Clues 11 book series based on two main characters, Dan and Amy Cahill. The Cahill siblings face off against other members of the Cahill family for clues leading to ultimate power. Throw in a young hip nanny (au pair), a few “bad guys” for good measure, a mysterious man in black, and high tech spy ware, and you have the makings of a great adventure.


To entangle the reader into more of the story's web, the Cahill family is divided into four separate powerful branches, each specializing in either science, history, math, or art. Behind each branch are famous people throughout history who have through their great works, brought power and prestige to the family name. Who wouldn't want to be related to Benjamin Franklin, Mozart, or even Albert Einstein?

Why 39 Clues Has Young Readers Hooked

Each of the books in this series is historical fiction and a great addition to any history lesson or activity.


In the first book, the clue focuses on Benjamin Franklin- his life and inventions. A wonderful mini biography of such an important person, including facts you may never have known! The first clue leads family members from Boston, to Philadelphia, and then to Paris.


Not only does the story line give historical background but a insight into various elements of the periodical table, invisible inks, electricity, and other fascinating components of science. If that wasn't enough, there are also connections to art, music, places, time zones, and currency. 


Each chapter in the book is a lesson or activity in itself. The characters deal with real life situations and face moral decisions that initiate great class discussions of “what would you do?”  Amazing!


Another great thing about 39 Clues is that there are seven different authors. This is wonderful for learning about writing styles, character changes, author studies, and story elements.

Curriculum Connections for 39 Clues

Below are just a FEW things I incorporated into our lessons using the reader in class. Some of these lessons or activities were independent to the curriculum (during Friday reading time) or supplement activities to current lessons.

39 Clues Lesson Plans

  • Using a map, it is a great geography lesson to track the hunt. Wondering where the clue will lead them next.
  • Since so much occurs in the story, a plot timeline is also a great tool. This also helps keep the setting in order as it changes often.
  • A biography study of Benjamin Franklin.
  • With my older class, a study of longitude and latitude, using coordinates to track the clues and characters.
  • A study of teamwork, leadership, codes, banners, crests, etc...
  • A study of iron, magnets, electrical wires and their uses with a few experiments of course :)
  • A character study focusing on adjectives, adverbs, and interjections
  • Writing lessons that include writing a different ending, writing a character poem, or creating your own clue to follow the story
  • Giving the students the first clue (before reading this part to the class) to have them try to solve it (in groups or independently)
  • Vocabulary building especially words like protagonist and antagonist (third graders loved these two words)
  • Surveys, polls, graphing
  • Online tours of the various places in the story

And so much more!

My Great Discovery: Reading Excitement Is Contagious

I also discovered something interesting and surprising. As I got more excited about the book, so did my students.


As the students and I became more excited by the story line, the characters, and the cliffhangers, they had a greater desire to hear more of the story. Students couldn't wait for “reading time” and would even request that I read during indoor recess!


I even had students heading off to the library to get books 2, 3,..and so forth. I had several parents order the complete book set and tell me how much they appreciate that their child is actually sitting to read! All it took was an interest, a spark.


As teachers, we set the tone in the classroom. Our attitude towards a subject, book, project, idea, or even a test, makes all the difference.  The more enthused we are, the more the students will be as well.


What books have you shared with the class that sparked a love of reading? Share in the comments section!

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