Undercover Detectives in Search of the Good Citizen

By Kat Edmondson, September 28, 2009

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

270 minutes for classroom activities


The purpose of this lesson plan is to focus on good citizenship and problem solving by working with a team.  On the way to finding a solution the students will be broken up into groups, given a problem by one of the students in the group, and walked through the design process.

National Standards

Life Skills: Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 1. Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
Standard 4. Understand that changing one thing sometimes causes changes in something else and that changing the same thing in the same way usually has the same result
Standard 6. Applies decision making techniques

Working with Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Standard 2. Uses conflict-resolution techniques  
Standard 4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills
Standard 5. Demonstrates leadership skills

Standard 5. Maintains a healthy self-concept
Standard 6. Restrains impulsivity


Students will be able to apply traits of a good citizen by:
  • focusing on fair play and treating others with respect and exhibiting good sportsmanship
  • recognizing the purpose of rules and practicing self-control
  • taking responsibility for one’s own actions
  • valuing honesty and truthfulness in oneself and others

Students will:
  • understand and be able to apply the basic principles of presenting an argument
  • understand and apply basic troubleshooting and problem solving techniques
  • be able to identify simple problems and learn how to formulate a solution
  • learn how to work within a group
  • learn how to communicate effectively for his/her own personality
  • learn to demonstrate appropriate responses to criticism



  • yarn, approximately 30” per child
  • index cards, 8 per child
  • colored markers
  • 18” x 24” poster board, 1 per group
  • handheld tape recorders, 1 per group
  • laptop computers, 1 per group
  • clip boards, 1 per group
  • pencils
  • sentence strips
  • wooden craft sticks
  • glue
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • markers
  • Legos & building blocks
  • plastic straws


  • good citizen: person who works for the common good and tries to protect and improve our democracy
  • sportsmanship: fairness; fair conduct; respect for one’s opponent
  • self control: to exercise constraint over one’s self
  • honesty: fairness and straightforwardness of conduct
  • troubleshooting: to investigate
  • problem: question raised for consideration
  • solution: an answer to a problem
  • communicate: to convey knowledge of or information about
  • criticism: an observation or remark
  • review: a general survey (as of the event of a period)
  • identify: to determine the make up or position of; to name and know
  • investigate: to observe or study by close examination or systematic inquiry
  • detective: one employed in getting information that is not readily accessible or publicized
  • reflection: consideration of some matter, idea or purpose
  • brainstorm: a sudden bright or harebrained idea
  • edit: to alter, adapt, or redefine especially to bring out a standard or to suit a particular purpose
  • share: to talk about one’s thoughts or feelings with others
  • finalize: to put in finished form
  • present: to bring before the public
  • process: a series of steps; something ongoing


Day 1:
Start the lesson by reading the story Buster’s Dino Dilemma by Marc Brown. Talk to the students about the decision that Buster is forced to make, and the honesty and truthfulness he showed in the end. Ask them to think about the problem he was faced with and how he came up with his solution. As the students move through the investigation process they will travel from one design step to the next. To aid them visually with this process, each child will be given a necklace for each step of the process, which is nothing more than a laminated index card with a hole punched through it and a piece of yarn strung through and tied to make a necklace. Each child will need a necklace for each of the eight steps of the design process: Review and Identify, Investigate, Reflection, Brainstorm, Edit, Share, Finalize, and Presentation. With a colored marker, you will have written one design step on eight cards, ultimately making eight necklaces for each student. This will help the learners identify which step they are currently working in. Remember to explain all new vocabulary as these words arise in this process.

1. The learners will then be divided into groups of four to five. At this point the teacher should give them the necklace that states “Review & Identify.” One student will be assigned to be the “client.” The other students in the group will be the “detectives.” The client will then share a concern with the detectives in their group. An example may be as simple as: Johnny trips on his way to the restroom from his desk, quite frequently. The detectives will then identify the problem.
2.  The detectives should now wear the necklace that states “Investigate.” The detectives will now investigate the problem by researching the area and interviewing other students in the classroom. The teacher will provide the detectives with paper, pencils, a clipboard and a laptop. They will then record their findings using the clipboard and laptop.  (If the students are using Mac Books, they can use iMovie software to do this.)

Day 2:
1. The detectives should all be wearing the necklace that states “Reflection.” The detectives will reflect on their findings. The teacher will remind them they are detectives and should have created a set of questions on a 3x5 index card for them to refer to when reflecting on their problem. Some example questions may be: Did we hear all the information about the problem? Did we ask all of our other classmates if they saw or heard anything concerning this problem? Did we look at the area carefully? Did we notice anything different or unusual about the area? The detectives can record their answers on a tape recorder. To be sure they have identified the correct problem they can play back the questions and answers to the group.
2. It’s time to move to the next step of the process. They should all be wearing the necklace stating “Brainstorming.” After they are sure they have identified the correct problem they will quickly brainstorm ideas on how they can help Johnny. Explain that when brainstorming all ideas are good ideas and that students should not criticize the ideas given by other students. Maybe Johnny would benefit from counting to ten to slow himself down so that he can walk instead of run to the restroom; maybe Johnny should look at his path before he gets up; Johnny may take another route to the restroom; Johnny may ask the classmate whose book bag he trips over every day to simply hang it in the coat closet. These idea solutions can be written or drawn out on the poster board with the colored markers or can be recorded on video and printed out. 
3. Each group will be given an 18x24 piece of poster board. They will post/draw their ideas on the poster board to view and discuss.

Day 3:
1.  The first necklace to be worn today is the one that states “Edit.”  The detectives will need to agree on one solution. They will discuss each solution individually and develop a plan to propose to Johnny. They can do this with the colored markers provided, take pictures with their laptop cameras (if their laptops are so equipped), and use any of the miscellaneous supplies listed above.
2.  That’s right, time to change necklaces! They should be wearing the necklace that states “Share.” The detectives will share their solution with another group. They will record their proposal and the feedback given to them by the other group. They will then watch their video and learn what and how to improve their proposal.

Day 4:
1.  The detectives will start the day out with the necklace that states “Finalize.” The detectives will develop further representations of their final solution illustrations or models. They can make any final adjustments or additions to their solution.
2.  The detectives should change their necklace for the last time to the necklace that states “Present.”  All groups will be sitting together in the classroom.  The presenting group should have the attention of all students in the room.  This presentation can be set up like “carpet time” in front of all the students. The group presenting should bring all of their work (video clips, tape recorders, clip boards, poster board, etc.) with them so that all students can view their process. The detectives will present their final solution regarding Johnny’s problem. They will share how they came to this solution and share why they feel this solution is the best one for Johnny.


Day 5:
After completing the lesson we will review by completing an “I learned...” open-ended writing sample. The teacher will write, “I learned...” on a sentence strip. The students will then finish the sentence by writing what they have learned from this lesson. For students who communicate better by illustration, a piece of construction paper can be substituted, or students who would like to build a collage can be given extra supplies the teacher may have in the classroom so that they may do so.

Enrichment Extension Activities

The objectives of this lesson can be connected to daily life very easily. Problem-solving techniques are used in a wide variety of tasks from the youngest children learning to get dressed in the morning to conflicts between a government and its citizens.

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