Mystery Skype

A teacher friend, Leanne, from a previous school asked me to be involved in the Mystery Skype that she was setting up for her 3rd grade students (she is the technology integrator). I loved the idea and we are ready to go on Thursday.

What is Mystery Skype

mystery-skypeMystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms trying to guess the location of the other class using a 20 questions format. 20 questions is a spoken game which encourages deductive reasoning, critical thinking and creativity. They each take turns asking a question which can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.”

Playing Options

Option 1: (Advanced) Find the country/state or province/city of the other classroom by asking only YES/NO questions. A “YES” answer allows to ask another question. A “NO” answer gives the opposing group the chance to ask a question. 20 questions maximum. After each 5 questions a CLUE can be given.

Option 2: (Intermediate) Find the country/state or province/city of the other classroom by asking only YES/NO questions. Alternating asking the questions. After each 5 questions a CLUE can be given.

Option 3: (Beginning). Students will find the location of the other class using clues that the other class gives. It can go back and forth with each team taking turns with questions and answers. This will help younger students stay engaged and keep the frustration level at a minimum.

Watch this great video from fifth grade teacher, Scott Bedley, to get an idea of what to expect.

Check out the awesome Mystery Skype by GoNoodle! You can download it to prevent buffering issues.


Prepare the Students

  1. Before you Skype for the first time understand the types of questions the students need to ask. Play deductive reasoning games like Guess the Number Between 1 and 500Guess My Country or What Famous Person am I? to help students understand how some questions narrow down the possibilities much better than others. When students ask “specific” questions too soon, it’s often a waste of a question. They only have 20 questions!
  2. Have students practice their map skills and how to use Google Maps, Google Earth, Atlases and Maps so they can narrow down a region. It is helpful if they understand cardinal directions, latitude and longitude, and where the oceans and continents are. Also helpful if they know about their own location: what hemisphere are they in, north or south of the equator, what ocean are they on or close to, etc…
  3. Think about the roles and responsibilities before and during the Mystery Skype. I would suggest to make sure every student has a job. Put up a list of jobs and lets students select the task they would like to do. I would recommend they choose a different job each Mystery Skype. Check out this 5th grade newscast as they explain their different jobs during Skype calls as they are connecting to the world.

Job Suggestions by Pernille Ripp

1 Greeter who greets the incoming class by speaking about the class and goes over the rules.  At the end of the call they are also the ones that thank the other school for the call.  Once their job is done they merge into the think tank.

As many as needed Think tank students sit in a group and figure out the clues based on the information they have. 

1 Lead thinker – the boss of the think tank –  needs to be a gentle leader that can keep everyone organized and on track.  They ensure the think tank runs smoothly.

1 or 2 Questioners who ask the yes or no questions, often it is beneficial if these kids have a decent grasp of geography and can come up with questions on the fly.

1 Answerer who answers yes or no to the questions and should have a good grasp of geography.

2 Google Mappers who help with questions or find the answer.  Should be connected to think tank.

2+ Filters assessing the questions that are coming from the runners to the questioners. They have to pay close attention to what answers are and what has already been asked as the think tank often misses an answer.  They can then use their common sense to filter the best questions to the questioners.

Wall map & atlas mappers – as many kids as you want – part of the think tank but are using any map tools they can to come up with more questions. 

2 or 3 Runners who are responsible for communication between all of the different posts.

1 Supervisor who oversees the entire operation and takes notes on what works and doesn’t work.  They lead the debriefing we have after every Skype call to discuss what we need to work on and be proud of.

1 or 2 Note takers who write down all answers and questions during the call for easy access by filters and if any confusion occurs. Recommended in a Google Doc….typing skills required.

2 Recorders who take pictures/video and notes throughout the call to then write a blog post on our classroom blog after the call is done.

Here are some guideline/suggestions

  • Speak loudly and clearly
  • If you are not speaking, work in quiet whispers
  • Listen to what both sides are saying so you can track the clues
  • Do not shout out answers
  • Be polite when asking and answering
  • Remember you are part of a team
  • Ask for help when needed and give help when asked
  • Don’t over-cheer if you guess first and be happy for them if they guess first
  • Do your job and stay busy


Make sure the Sharers and Greeters never say the name of the school or city or state in their comments.

The teachers should call each other Mrs. S instead of Mrs. Smith to prevent students from looking up a teacher’s name online.

Have students turn shirts inside-out if they have the school name,  sports teams, or other identifiable information.

When Skype is opened, the name of the caller is prominently displayed.  It would be best to slide the window to the left so that the name is hidden.

Do a quick test with the teacher of your mystery class to make sure all the equipment is working properly. (Microphone, speakers, video camera, connect to the other Skype account)

Remember this is a learning experience for your class (and you). Your session will most likely not be perfect.

Send the mystery class an email afterwards thanking them and telling them any other information about your state you may not have had the chance to share.

Make sure that your scheduled time is taking into account time zone differences.  I always say, “Central Time Zone” after the time when I schedule, even if they are in our time zone.

So why do this?

  1. Builds classroom community
  2. Invites collaboration skills
  3. Grows communication skills
  4. Teaches empathy for others
  5. Utilizes innovative technology
  6. Engages every student
  7. Involves real world scenarios
  8. Creates problem solvers
  9. Improves critical thinking
  10. Educates students about places they did not know
  11. It is student led
  12. Improve geography skills

Possible Mystery Skype Questions:

1. Is your continent in the Eastern/Western Hemisphere?
2. Is your continent in the Northern/Southern Hemisphere?
3. Is your continent near the Atlantic/Pacific/Indian/Arctic Ocean?
4. Is your continent N. America/S. America/Africa/Europe/Asia/Australia/Antarctica?
5. Is it a big/small country?
6. Do you speak English as a first language?
7. Is it very hot in summer and cold in winter?
8. Is it north/south/east/west of………..?
9. Does your country border another country?
8. Are there mountains in your country?
9. Does your country have a coastline?
10. Is ………………….the capital of your country?
11. Is your country/state/province north/south/east/west of?
12. Is your city in the north/south/east/west of your country/state/province?
13. Is your city the capital of your country/state/province?

Possible Clues:

1. The time is…
2. The season is…
3. We are north/south/east/west of…
4. The beginning letter is… 
5. We also speak French/German/Spanish/Mandarin etc…

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