Phantoms of Madagascar

part one of a two-part story by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Peter Sheehan

Learning intention:

I am learning to understand and analyse the elements of a detective story so that I can plan and craft an engaging mystery in my narrative writing.


Success criteria:

  • I can identify and explain the elements that are required for an engaging detective story.
  • I can identify the way these elements are used in a text
  • I can use these mystery elements to plan a narrative.


Essential knowledge:

The School Magazine video for the English Textual Concept of ‘Narrative’ can be used to guide students on organizing their ideas in preparation for a story.


After reading the text, watch the video How to Plan a Detective Story and write the list of mystery story ingredients on the board with a brief explanation.  These should include:

  • Setting – closed setting that is difficult to get in and out of
  • Victim – who may be in that setting that could be the victim of a crime
  • Crime – what has happened to the victim
  • Suspects – who may have committed this crime and what reasons might they have
  • Clues – what might be around that could be found
  • Resolution – how does this mystery get solved.

Discuss the example used in the video and how these ingredients come together to make a mystery:

  • Setting – School gym
  • Victim – PE teacher
  • Crime – Theft of a medal
  • Suspects – Other school staff
  • Clues – Lipstick matching science teacher who needs money, ring worn by school receptionist who is secretly in love with the PE teacher, glove worn by head teacher who hates the PE teacher, pen used by English teacher who wants the PE teacher’s job.
  • Resolution (multiple possibilities) - Receptionist may have framed the science teacher by leaving her lipstick at the crime scene / English teacher and science teacher were working together to steal the medal / PE teacher took the medal themselves to get sympathy from others.

Use the list from the video to discuss how the author of the magazine text has set their mystery up so far and what ingredients students can identify in the story. Ask students to think, pair and share to make predictions on what might happen in the next instalment, using the above points as a guide. Allow pairs to share their predictions with the class to discuss the variety of ideas. You may also wish for students to record their predictions in their books to refer back to after reading the next instalment of the story in the November issue.

Ask student to recall the titles of the mystery stories from the text that Mrs Sayers has already written. These were:

  • The Unpleasantness of the Wobbling Pudding
  • Crime in Culottes
  • Lord Peter Views the Gherkin
  • The Affair of the Runaway Pretzel
  • Murder on the Disoriented Express

Students should then individually choose one of Mrs Sayers short story titles and write their own outline of what they imagine the story to be about using the mystery story ingredients. If time allows, have students share their outlines with the class and have a discussion to compare story ideas of students who used the same title.