Spy Lab!

Our spy lab this week was a fabulous hit! It was truly the epitome of my philosophy on teaching: high engagement & high expectations. I’ve never seen students so excited, motivated, and dedicated to their work! The spy lab was set up for two days and at the end of each class my students organized themselves to applaud and yell “thank you!”. Really?! I’ve never had sixth graders applaud after working their tails off! It made me realize that yes, we must take that extra step to truly ignite a passion for learning. Students appreciate being pushed as long as they’re in an environment that cares and motivates them. The inspiration from this spy lab came from Hope King, a phenomenal teacher at The Ron Clark Academy. You can read all about her set up for spy headquarters here!

img_2070In this part of the school year we’re looking at summarizing nonfiction texts. Earlier in the school year we learned about nonfiction text structures so this spy lab was a perfect way to refresh their memories on text structures and also kick off our summarizing unit. I started the week with a read aloud, The Dark Game: True Spy Stories from Invisible Ink to CIA Moles. I was surprised by how engaged they were with this nonfiction read aloud! They were truly hooked! Then I chose five other spies throughout the book that they had to read outside of class. They had to come prepared by Thursday with the reading completed and a knowledge of what their chapter’s text structure was. To be honest, this reading is challenging. It’s a high level text but that didn’t stop me from assigning it to my students. You see, because my students were extremely invested in the content, they rose to the occasion to tackle this nonfiction text. They pulled out dictionaries, asked me clarifying questions, and reread the text until they fully comprehended what they were reading.

I also set some anticipation for our spy lab day. I didn’t tell them what they were doing, just that they needed the text ready to go. I also said they should bring a hat to wear. This totally got their attention! A hat for reading class? But why? Just wait and see! Reminding them to bring a hat in and to have a countdown builds up the suspense.


Wednesday evening I set up our spy lab. It took me about an hour or so to set up! All you need is white string and black lights. I used four black lights since I have a fairly large room and placed them at the various tables my students would be sitting in. I tied five extremely long pieces of white yarn together and anchored them to a central location on the wall, then I took each piece and tied the end around a table, extra chair, or cabinet door. The more pieces of string the better! I didn’t even use up one roll of yarn so there will be plenty! I also took some extra time to blackout my classroom windows and doors with black bulletin board paper. Afterwards, I set up all the materials students needed at their table spots. That’s it!

When students arrived Thursday morning, they were positioned outside the room and not allowed to enter until their clearances were completed. I used a free fingerprint app on my phone to take all of their fingerprints. While students were waiting to be scanned, I had them create an agent name on a name tag. They LOVED this idea and continued to refer to each other by their agent names throughout the day! I was Agent Z and loved dressing in character because it set the tone that we were someplace completely different.

Once in the spy lab, students worked in teams to complete their secret mission. The U.S. files were hacked and all spy profiles were missing. Their first task was to answer a few questions about their spy to establish understanding. Afterwards, they cracked a code to determine if their text structure was correct. This was definitely a fun part! Students were really challenged with this one and I was proud of them for pushing through and using their problem solving skills! After the code was broken, I gave them an X on their hand in invisible ink (highlighter against the black light!) so they could move onto their next task. This included creating a graphic organizer of their text and then finally completing the spy profile with the top five facts about their spy!





Throughout our time together in spy lab we also had background music! It helped to set an engaging tone! 

Here are the documents I created for our spy lab:

Spy Lab Documents

Students are truly hooked on all things espionage! I would highly recommend having these texts in your classroom library to further their study on spies. Most are nonfiction but the Spy School fiction series is a great choice for upper grades! After an experience like this, students are bound to find themselves asking more questions and wanting to dig into these neat texts.

Finally, here are the materials you need for your own spy lab:

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Marlene says:

    Love this and can’t wait to try it! Can you explain how you did the code for them to crack?

    1. Hello! I followed Hope King’s tutorial on the code. Here is what she says over at her blog, elementaryshenanigans.com

      “3. How did you create the “crack the code” portion of the lesson?

      Easy! The codes identified which text structure the students were reading. Prior to cracking the code, they had to first use textual evidence to support which structure they thought they were working with after reading the passage.

      Now I couldn’t just say sequencing, description, compare/contrast because they would just count the letters and guess. I had it say something like “All clues point to sequence.” or “All clues point to description.”

      To make the code, I simply wrote it out and either made it the letter before the actual letter or the letter after. Clear as mud, right? Here is an example of letter before. If the word was dog, it would look like this: cnf {letter “c” is before “d”, letter “n” is before “o”, letter “f” is before “g”.} I hope that makes better sense. Then I just wrote the clue out on a piece of neon paper, and the students had to figure out the pattern and crack the code.”

      I hope this helps!

  2. Marlene says:

    That does help! Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to explain it.

  3. Hannah says:

    What passages did you choose from the dark game? did you choose the ones that are dark grey or did you do random ones?

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