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Fingered Felons



  • Science


  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Brief Description

Experiment with fingerprinting and analyze evidence to solve a classroom crime!


Students will
  • use fingerprinting techniques.
  • identify patterns of fingerprints.
  • analyze fingerprints to determine pattern.
  • match sample prints to a set of fingerprints.


mystery, fingerprint, clue, experiment, forensics

Materials Needed

Lesson Plan

One of law enforcement's best investigative clues is the fingerprint. In this activity, students create two sets of fingerprints, analyze them, and use them to identify a culprit among them!

Secretly remove an object from the classroom and have your students look around the room to identify it. Once they have determined what has been taken, ask the students how they might go about investigating the crime to find out what happened to the object. Steer the discussion to examination of the area for fingerprints. Invite students to share what they know about taking fingerprints and how they are identified and used to solve crime.

If you choose, take the students online to the FBI Kids Web site and allow them to read the topic "About the FBI" through the fingerprint section. This is a short introduction about the bureau and its history. If you prefer, skip this online introduction but print copies of the page that contains the seven different patterns used to identify fingerprints: loop, double loop, central pocket loop, tented arch, plain arch, plain whorl, and accidental. Reserve these copies for use later in the lesson and move on to the next instruction.

Demonstrate how to create a fingerprint by rubbing the tip of a pencil over a small area on a page and placing a fingertip on it. Then press the fingertip on the sticky side of the tape and release. Put the piece of tape on plain white paper, and the fingerprint will be visible. With students working pairs, have them record two sets of their prints on the Fingered Felons Worksheet. When they have finished, instruct them to cut along the dotted line to separate the top section (Fingerprint Record) and bottom portion (Sample) of the sheet and collect the bottom section.

Using the Web site's illustrations of the fingerprint patterns online (or your printed copies), have the students identify the pattern of each of their fingers and note it on their handouts.

While students work, prepare for the next phase of the lesson. This may be done in several ways. If students are young, sort the "Sample" pages in small groups and choose one out of each group to use as the "culprit." Cut apart the fingerprints. Use a numeric code or other identifying mark on the back of the prints and cards to keep track of the materials. Label each card that you cut and its prints similarly so that you can recognize them. (For example, your first selected "culprit's" card could be labeled "1," with all prints cut and also labeled "1" on the back. The next might be labeled "2," and so on.)

When students are ready, mysteriously appear with the missing object and explain where you found it. Tell the students that you have lifted a few fingerprints from the object, and you need them to match the prints to individuals in the class. Put the students into the small groups you have organized, and distribute one print from a student in each group for them to identify.

To make the activity more challenging for older students, you may choose to remove the portion of the box around the fingerprint that tells what finger it represents. Or, collect and mix up the students' fingerprint cards (top portion of the worksheet), redistribute them randomly, and give out fingerprints that may or may not belong to the group.

If students of any age struggle with a print, you may give out a second, third, or more from a single card to enhance their chances of identifying the individual.

Groups may trade cards and mystery prints to continue the activity.


For each fingerprint identified, have the groups of students write a brief summary that tells who they believe it belongs to, why, and its identification number from the back of the print.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Cara Bafile

National Standards


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