Preparing for Mystery Skype with Centers

Our 3rd grade classrooms love to mystery Skype.  Have you tried it? In a mystery Skype, 2 classrooms connect with one another but don’t say where they are from.  The two organizers of course know, but the students don’t.  By asking a series of yes or no questions, students try to narrow down to a country, state, city, and even school if there is time.  Mystery Skypes work best when students are prepared in advance and every student has a job to do.  There are many example of jobs to assign in a mystery Skype such as greeter, researcher, questioner, scribe, and photographer.

Ms. Haley, a 3rd grade teacher, met with me to talk about some skills she hoped the students could work on in advance of a mystery Skype.  I started planning a series of 5 centers for students to rotate through.  Ms. Maher, our tech integration specialist, worked on scheduling mystery Skypes via Twitter and Skype in the Classroom so that all 3rd grade classes had a connection.

Two classes at a time came to the library to engage in the mystery Skype centers.  This meant that me, the two classroom teachers, my library intern, and a parent or collaborating teacher could run one center each.  This also meant hat about 8 students would be at each center for 10-ish minutes.  It was very fast-paced, but it introduced to students to many aspects of a mystery Skype and they continued the work in their classrooms throughout the week leading up to the connection.


I made a Google doc with all 5 centers and teachers shared the doc with their students through Google Classroom.  Each student had a copy to edit.  Here’s a look at what happened at each center:

Center 1 Question Writing

I reference Pernille Ripp’s great post on good mystery Skype questions.  Students read her examples and then worked on writing their own possible questions from narrow to more specific.  My intern worked with students to think carefully about the kinds of questions they were writing.


Center 2 Google Tour Builder

Ms. Haley wanted students to have a sense of where they were in relation with the rest of the world, so I had students start a Google Tour Builder at either their home address or our school address. Then, students built a tour of places they have lived, visited, or want to visit in the world.  This allowed them to be able to reference their current place in the world with other locations

Center 3 Georgia

A big part of a mystery Skype is sharing facts about your city and state with the connecting class.  Students of course love to learn that there are McDonald’s in multiple places in the world, but it’s also fun to share unique facts that make your state what it is.  A pulled a large stack of books about many aspects of our state from Weird Georgia to books about each region.  Students gathered facts that they could share with our connecting class at the end of the Skype.

Center 4 The United States

Ms Haley wanted us to review cardinal and intermediate directions.  I have a small set of National Geographic Kids Beginner’s United States Atlases.  The atlas divides the country up into regions such as northeast, southwest, etc. so I asked students to look at each region and count the number of states in each region, name some of the states, and pick out some facts about those states.  My hope was this would give them some familiarity with how the US is organized and lead to questions about specific regions or help them answer questions from our connecting class about the regions.

Center 5 Landmarks

Our 3rd graders study several important rivers and lakes as part of their social studies, so this center included books about all of those rivers and lakes as well as other landmarks around the country.  Students used these books to identify landmarks and then write questions that could be asked using those landmarks.  Example:  Is your school west of the Mississippi River?

This was my first try at doing this kind of preparation for a mystery Skype.  Each center was based on past experiences and skills that I saw a need for as well as the skills brought up by the 3rd grade teachers.  We will see how this translates into our connections this week.

Looking back, I wish we had more time at each center in the library, but it was also nice to quickly go through the centers to get an understanding of each one and then independently work on them back int he classroom over several days.

What have you done to prepare for a mystery Skype? Leave a comment!


5 thoughts on “Preparing for Mystery Skype with Centers

  1. Stephanie Nesser says:

    Incredible project. It seems like you are so supported by the entire school administration in what you do. Here in NJ, not so much! I just ooze envy when I read all about the wonderful student-centered projects you are able to do in your library

    • plemmonsa says:

      There are definitely challenges here too. Every situation and class is different. I just don’t always write about that when I blog. 🙂 In order to do these kinds of projects, I think about who I can ask to help whether it’s a community member, parent, or teacher.

  2. Paula Naugle says:

    I will definitely be using your center idea to help my students prepare for what I call Mystery Location Calls since I usually use Google Hangouts instead of Skype. One activity I do with my students to help them prepare is to play 20 Questions in our classroom. I tell them to think of the classroom as being divided into four quadrants. I then tell my students I’m thinking of one object somewhere in the room and they have just 20 questions to guess what the object is. After we have played several rounds, they begin to understand the importance of asking board questions first and then narrowing the scope of the questions as they continue through the game.

    I’ll be adding a link to this post to the Resources page on my Google Site about Mystery Location Calls –

    Thank you,

    Paula, a 4th Grade Teacher in Louisiana

  3. plnaugle says:

    I will definitely be using your idea to help my students prep for what I call Mystery Location Calls since we use Google Hangouts. I help my students prepare by playing 20 questions. I tell them I’m thinking of an object in our classroom and they have 20 questions to try and figure out what the object is. I divide the room into four quadrants to help them zero in on the item. After playing several rounds they understand the importance of asking general questions first and then narrowing in on the object, just like they need to do during a Mystery Location Call.

    I have added a link to your blog post to the Other Resources page of my Google Site on Mystery Location Calls –

    Thank you,
    Paula, a 4th Grade Louisiana Teacher

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