Mystery Activities for the Classroom

Discuss how modern science is used to solve crimes.

Mystery activities for the classroom enable students to appreciate the power of mysteries to create suspense, spark interest in storytelling and engage logical thinking to navigate a puzzle-like structure. Activities can revolve around mystery vocabulary, the basic components of a mystery, methods of investigation and how to plot a mystery story. Mystery activities can draw on forensic science, history and language arts skills.

1 Learn to Fingerprint

Have one student remove and hide an object, such as a paperweight, from the classroom. Make copies of the fingerprints of the "thief" to distribute later. Instruct students to search the room and identify what’s been taken. Query them as to how they would investigate the crime. Discuss the use of fingerprints in solving crimes. Hand out copies of the "FBI Fingerprint Guide" to show students the seven fingerprint patterns, which include the loop, double loop, central pocket loop, tented arch, plain arch, plain whorl and accidental. Rub the tip of your pencil over a piece of paper and touch the paper with your finger. Press your fingertip on a piece of tape and stick the tape on the paper, showing the fingerprint. Have students use this technique to make two sets of their fingerprints. Return the paperweight to the class and tell the students you have lifted the thief’s fingerprints from the stolen object. Divide the students into groups. Have each group use the guide to match the prints you lifted to the fingerprints of the student who took the paperweight.

2 Spin a Mystery Yarn

Gather several brown paper bags and common items, such as receipts, paper clips, hair accessories, cosmetics, coins, empty soda cans and candy wrappers. Place five different objects in each paper bag, varying the contents in each bag. Divide students into groups. Give each group a bag. Tell them that the bag’s contents are the evidence of a crime. Ask each group to write a mystery tale in which each object in the bag is a clue to solving the crime. Advise students to use the "five Ws"--who, what, where, when and why--to create a logical progression in their stories.

3 Record Clues

Show the children a video of a classic mystery, such as “The Great Mouse Detective” for young children or “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for older children. Ask each student to record the clues to the crime in a notepad as the story unfolds as if they are detectives. Put the video on hold just before the culprit is revealed and ask the children who they think committed the crime and what was the motivation.

4 Turn a Nursery Rhyme Into a Mystery

Have students transform nursery rhymes into mysteries by asking questions about the main characters and events in the rhyme. Brainstorm an example with the class, such as Humpty Dumpty. Ask students whether Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall or was pushed. If he was pushed, who pushed him and why? Did Humpty Dumpty jump off the wall because he was being chased? Divide the students into small groups and have them brainstorm a mystery inspired by a rhyme. Ask them to incorporate clues and twists in their tales. Introduce the use of sticky notes as a way of organizing story events. Have them storyboard each event in the story, providing as much detail on characters as possible.

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.