Murder Mystery Activities for Middle School

Incorporate footprinting into murder mystery activities for middle-school-aged students.

Murder mystery activities teach a wide variety of age-appropriate skills and concepts: written and oral communication, problem solving, observation skills and scientific concepts. These types of activities allow students to participate directly with the learning experience. According to Drs. Ingrid Waldron and Jennifer Doherty of the University of Pennsylvania, students learn best when they actively engage with the material. In incorporating these activities into your classroom, use each idea singly, or string them together to create an elaborate murder-mystery story.

1 Footprints

Capturing footprints requires very simple materials: Plaster of Paris, water and hairspray. Students make impressions of footprints at the hypothetical crime scene and compare these impressions to their classmates’ shoes. In making these comparisons, students observe size, tread patterns and patterns of wear.

2 Observation Skills

Have someone, the suspect, run through the classroom unexpectedly. Ask the students to write down everything they can remember about the suspect: gender, height, weight, hair color, eye color and clothes. Discuss characteristics that can be changed, such as clothing, versus characteristics that are inalterable, such as eye color. Have the students try to pick out the suspect from a line-up.

3 Fingerprinting

Fingerprinting requires very simple materials: an ink pad and white paper. Students learn how to take fingerprints; rolling an inked finger from side to side produces better fingerprints than pressing down directly on the paper. Talk to the students about different fingerprints patterns: arches, loops and whorls. Have the students compare fingerprints and identify differences and similarities.

4 Hair Analysis

Middle school students can do simple hair analysis with a microscope. Have students compare hair samples in terms of color and texture.

5 Verbal Communication

Have your students vote on who is the victim of the crime. Then, have them determine the cause of death and where the victim was found. Assign the role of investigator to one of the students. Pass around slips of paper, on which one has the word “killer." The only person who knows the identity of the killer is the person who receives that slip of paper. Before the next class, the investigator must prepare a series of questions, and the rest of the students must prepare responses in anticipation of the questions. For example, they should decide who they are in relation to the victim and what their alibi is. The next day in class, the investigator asks his classmates questions until he deduces who the killer is. This activity focuses on communication skills and formulating questions and answers.

6 Logic

Provide students with a list of facts pertaining to the murder. These facts should be presented in an illogical order. Have the students re-order the statements and determine which ones are relevant to the case. From these facts, the students should be able to deduce the identity of the killer.

7 Written Communication

Have students write up reports about their experiences, what clues they found and how these clues led them to the killer, or their conclusions in general. Talk about report writing, emphasizing the logical ordering of information.

Kat Black is a professional writer currently completing her doctorate in musicology/ She has won several prestigious awards for her research, and has had extensive training in classical music and dance.