Phantoms of Madagascar

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

Learning Intention:

I am learning how text structures work in detective stories so that I can locate and analyse the effect of clues in a narrative.

Success Criteria:

  • I can identify and explain the features of the mystery genre and a detective
  • I can locate and track the significance of clues in a narrative.
  • I can embed clues within my own narrative.

Essential Knowledge:

More information about how audiences can expect certain patterns in a text can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Genre.

Before reading, revise the key features of the mystery genre by rewatching and reviewing the YouTube clip How to Plan a Detective Story. Ensure that students are confident with the function of clues in a mystery. Explicitly teach the idea that a clue is a piece of information that, if interpreted correctly, allows the reader to crack the case with the detective, or sometimes even before them.

Explain that as students reread Part 1 and then read Part 2 of the story, they must be on the look out for clues. The structure of the story invites the reader to play the role of the detective alongside Jools and Vern. Explain that the mystery within this story is about phantoms who appear to be stealing Mrs Sayers’s pens. Jools, Vern and the reader need to work out who the phantoms are and why they are stealing stationery.

Read the story aloud to the students, or if you have a digital subscription, listen to the audio recording. While you should read Part 1 in its entirety, stop reading Part 2 at the end of page 10 so that students can think of their own solutions before the mystery is revealed.

Create a class list of clues presented in the story. Below is a complete list of clues. Students may not identify all these clues yet. Take note of the clues not yet spotted to address later in the activity.

  • The pens disappear from Mrs Sayers’s desk.
  • There are shadows moving outside her window.
  • The pens have disappeared more than 50 times.
  • It only happens at night.
  • She stores her pens in a cardboard box in a cupboard in her office.
  • The pen (Inksplurter 4) is long and purple with a black cover.
  • The black cover/sheath gives a good grip.
  • It also has tiny rough nodules.
  • When she writes she plonks herself heavily onto her chair.
  • She then pulls out half a dozen sheets of paper from the pile.
  • She has a break after one and a half hours to make a cup of peppermint tea.
  • When she comes back her pen has been stolen and the shadows have appeared.
  • When she writes she always wears her most comfortable garment, a ‘big, baggy, dark green woollen cardigan’.
  • The cardigan has recently become less comfortable.
  • It has also become stretched and distorted.
  • She places her arms on the desk to get up to make her cup of tea.

Using the list of clues, ask students to come up with various explanations for the mystery. Challenge students to beat the detectives Jools and Vern to it.

Read the conclusion to the story and uncover the mystery: when Mrs Sayers places her arms on the table to stand up, the Inksplurter 4 grips to the undersides of the arms of her cardigan. The phantoms are the shadows of the palm trees outside the window.

Present the complete list of clues to the class. Highlight the clues that students identified in their first reading of the text. Read the story for a second time and locate the more subtle clues (such as the nodules on her pens, or the changes to her cardigan).

Finally, to consolidate student understanding of the use of clues in mystery stories ask students to return to the detective story they planned in the Learning Resource for ‘The Phantoms of Madagascar Part One’. Instruct students to embed a range of clues into their original story.