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Whodunnit? A Critical Thinking Mystery Puzzle

Grade Level

Upper Elementary to Middle School (6th - 8th Grade)


Any subject; involves critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


3 class periods (approximately 45-50 minutes each)


Students will enhance their critical thinking skills by engaging in a mystery puzzle activity that requires them to analyze evidence, evaluate suspects, and deduce the culprit in a fictional crime scenario.


  • Crime scene setup

  • Clue cards (printouts or digital)

  • Suspect profiles (printouts or digital)

  • Whiteboard and markers

  • Note-taking materials

Lesson Sequence

Day 1 - Introduction to the Mystery Puzzle (45 Minutes)

Engagement (10 Minutes)

  1. Begin with a short discussion about mysteries and crime-solving in popular media (books, TV shows, movies). Ensure discussed mysteries are appropriate for your grade level.

  2. Ask students to share their thoughts on how detectives solve mysteries and identify suspects.

  3. If students struggle to brainstorm such ideas, watch an episode of Scooby-Doo! or another children's mystery-based show to spark your student's interest.

Introduction to the Mystery Puzzle (15 Minutes)

  1. Introduce the concept of the critical thinking mystery puzzle.

  2. Present the crime scene setup, providing relevant details about the crime that has taken place. You can use a fictional scenario involving theft, vandalism, or other simple crime.

Exploring Clues (20 Minutes)

  1. Divide the class into small groups or pairs.

  2. Distribute clue cards to each group. These cards can contain evidence, witness statements, or other relevant information.

  3. Instruct students to examine the clues and take notes on the information provided.

  4. You may have groups trade clue cards or interview other groups to gather more information to solve the mystery. 

Day 2 - Analyzing Clues and Identifying Suspects (45 Minutes)

Review (10 Minutes)

  1. Recap the crime scenario and key details.

  2. Remind students of the importance of paying attention to details and analyzing evidence.

  3. Address any questions students may have about a clue, character, or other relevant information without giving away the answers.

Analyzing Clues (20 Minutes)

  1. In their groups, have students discuss the clues they received and collaborate to make connections between the evidence.

  2. Encourage critical thinking by asking questions like: What patterns or inconsistencies do you notice? How might these clues relate to each other?

Creating Suspect Profiles (15 Minutes)

  1. Provide students with suspect profiles, each containing background information and potential motivations.

  2. In their groups, students must evaluate each suspect's likelihood of being the culprit based on the evidence they've gathered.

Day 3 - Solving the Mystery (45 minutes)

Review (10 minutes)

  1. Have a class discussion about the critical thinking process and its role in solving mysteries.

  2. Discuss the importance of considering multiple perspectives and revisiting evidence.

Presenting Findings (15 Minutes)

  1. Ask each group to present their suspect profiles and the reasoning behind their conclusions.

  2. Encourage respectful debates and discussions among groups about different theories.

Revealing the Solution (10 Minutes)

  1. Unveil the actual solution to the mystery.

  2. Discuss how closely students' conclusions aligned with the solution and what they learned from the process.

Reflection (10 Minutes)

  1. Have students individually reflect on what they learned about critical thinking and problem-solving during the activity.

  2. Ask them to consider how these skills are applicable beyond solving mysteries.


Once the mystery is completed, you can assess your students in the following areas:

  1. Participation in group discussions and presentations.

  2. Quality of notes taken during the investigation.

  3. Thoughtfulness and reasoning behind suspect profiles and conclusions.

  4. Reflection on the value of critical thinking skills in real-life situations.


For an extended activity, students could create their own mystery scenarios and clues for their peers to solve. This would involve both creating fictional narratives and considering how clues fit together logically.

Teacher Note

Feel free to modify this lesson plan to fit your classroom's specific needs and time constraints. You can also adjust the mystery puzzle's complexity based on your students' cognitive abilities.

Possible Introductory Clue

In the quiet town of (your town name), an eerie fog blankets the streets, carrying whispers of secrets untold. Overnight, the prized trophy won by the town's beloved science club vanishes from the school's display case, leaving behind a single cryptic riddle. As the junior detectives of (your school name), it's your moment to shine. 

Gather clues from hidden messages, elusive footprints, and confusing witnesses. Uncover the truth behind the trophy's disappearance using your wits and critical thinking skills. The path is uncertain, and the suspects aplenty, but remember, the answers lie within the mysteries waiting to be unraveled.


Written by Rachel Jones

Education World Contributor

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