CSI Classroom Activity: A Hands-on Detective Story Writing

CSI Classroom Activity

This is a hands-on CSI classroom activity where students take on the role of forensics expert to solve a mystery murder case that happened in the classroom. CSI is an English language activity that aims at developing collaborative work and critical thinking skills.

This activity is suited best during Halloween season or for developing vocabulary about crimes and teaching past tenses and news writing.

CSI Activity

How to Prepare for CSI Classroom Activity
  1. Stage a crime scene by simply drawing an outline of a human body on the floor.
  2. Scatter some things found in the classroom such as papers, books, etc. You can add footprints and other details to make it more realistic which depends on your staged story.
  3. Surround the crime scene with a red masking tape and note such as “Crime Scene: Do Not Enter”.
  4. Optional props that you may use are face masks and gloves which students wear before entering the crime scene so that they won’t “spoil” the evidence.
  5. Plant some evidences to be examined by the students. You can leave some clues on the floor and put some inside an evidence box. In my case, I give them three suspects whose fingerprints are all found in the crime scene. The catch is that all evidences and clues are conclusive of each suspect and everyone can be guilty (but you don’t want your students to know that). It all depends on their reasoning and critical analyses and they have to come up with a plausible report.
The Tasks

Collaboration and Report. In groups of 5 or 6, students will examine the crime scene to gather clues and take down notes. After which, allow them to collaborate and share with each other the evidences they found and theory they have. You may give each group a mini-whiteboard so they could write down their ideas and/or draw a crime map. They will present their initial report in class.

Newspaper Project. I ask my students to write a news article on an A3 paper about the death of the victim including an update of the progress of the investigation. You can ask them to use the target grammar points such simple past in writing the news.

Individual Writing Activity. In other cases, I give students ample time to think about the mystery murder case and write the story at home. For lower proficiency level kids, some guidelines for writing is advisable. This is a good activity to develop writing fluency.

Crime scene

Here’s an example scenario which I projected on screen using PowerPoint with music and pictures:

The Mysterious Death of Ben Johnson

While Ben Johnson, a foreign English teacher, was killed while he was doing his lesson plan alone in his room.

Police Report:

Time and place: September 2, around 10 pm at LSTS, Room A205

Suspects: David Kim – Ben’s colleague | Faith Hill – Ben’s girlfriend | Minh Quan Nguyen – the security guard

There was a witness who saw them at the school gate around the 9:30 pm on the same day.

Clues and Evidences

      1. Things that you can see on the floor at room A205.
      1. Other evidences were put in the evidence box.

Writing Task:

news writing

Imagine that you are a private investigator who must solve the mystery of Ben Johnson’s death. Gather clues and evidences to support the story in your report.

GUIDE for Writing:

-Who killed Ben? Was it David, Faith or Minh Quan?
-How did he die? What evidence shows the way he was killed?
-What was the motive (the reason) for killing him?

Use the simple past.

And here is an example of an unedited student response:

“My opinion, I think Faith Hill and David Kim are the perpetrator who killed Ben. Faith and David motive was adultery, Ben discovers and quarreled with Faith. Fear of being seen as unfaithful, Faith said David set out plans to kill Ben. On September 2, 2015, around 9:30 to 10:00 pm, Ben is marking in the classroom and he heard footsteps, after a time, he see Faith appear. Faith walked up to Ben and asked Ben to give her a chance to atone but Ben refused and walked away, take advantage of opportunities, Faith pick the scissors on the table and stabbed Ben. Then Faith creating robbery scene and fled. Hearing the noise, security guard of the school is Ming Quan Nguyen ran upstairs and saw a matted bloody scene. Fear of being suspected as the culprit, Minh Quan Nguyen has cleaned the scene, scented spray for the room and lock the door. That is my reasoning on the case.” -Mary, Grade 7


CSI activity in the English classroom is a fun way to engage students in the lesson, develop collaborative work and critical thinking and provide content for writing.

What do you think about this activity? Let’s hear them in the comments!


Author: Melchor Bernardo

Melchor is a professional educator from the Philippines based in Saigon. He teaches ESL and this website is a bit of copy of his teaching styles and philosophy.

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