Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPIB: Follow the evidence

You don’t always have to put on a big interactive mystery theater production to have a mystery themed program (although those are fun), you can do some mini CSI type activities to have a mystery program.  There is a lot less time and money involved in set up, making it ideal for the school year.  You can also do these activities as part of a lead up to a larger mystery program.

What’s Missing?
The gift of observation is one of the most important skills a crime scene investigator has.  They have to be able to find the clues.  Did you know that witnesses have a hard time when interviewed because we all typically don’t have very good observation skills.  In fact, if investigators interview a variety of witnesses they usually get very different information.  This is an activity designed to test observation skills.

Set up a table with 20 small items and cover with a sheet.  Remove the sheet and give teens about 1 minute to study the “scene”.  Then recover.  Ask teens to list as many items as they can recall.  Then, remove 1 items and give teens another peek.  Can they figure out what item(s) you removed?

Interview the Witness
At the beginning of the program, have a couple of pre-selected staff members come in and give you a message.  Have them pretend to get into an argument.  After they leave, have teens split up into groups of 3 or 4 and interview each other about what they saw.  They need to ask the basics:  What happened?  What did they look like?  What were they wearing?  Then, have the original actors come back in and determine how the teens did as witnesses.

Discover the Message
You can make invisible ink using baking soda or lemon juice.  You can also have teens try and discover the message on notes by having them do pencil rubbings on a pad of paper to see if they can determine what was written on the last sheet of paper.

The Usual Suspects: A line up activity
Gather together 4 or more similar looking outfits (borrow from staff or purchase at a thrift store).  Have 4 staff members, or teen volunteers, that look similar enough to cause confusion dress up in said outfit and remain hidden until you do this activity.  At some point during your program, have the “suspect” run through the room – they could do something like “steal” a planted purse if you would like.  Then, have all the volunteers line up and see if teens can correctly identify which one was the suspect.

Prints, Prints and More Prints

CSI involves the collection and study of fingerprints.  You can do this using cocoa powder and clear book tape.  You can also cut strips of paper and have teens fingerprint each other and compare fingerprints.  Here is a good outline of a fingerprinting activity.

You can also do a foot printing activity.  Make footprints of a variety of shoes on individual sheets of paper.  Place a number on the back of the print.  Cut out and laminate.  Put a letter label on each of the shoes.  Have teens see if they can match the correct shoe print to its corresponding shoe.  There are links to more fingerprint and footprint activities at the end of this post.

Who wrote the note?
Have each participant write the same single phrase on identical pieces of paper.  Give each teen a number and have them write their number very small on the back bottom right hand corner.  Fold them all up and randomly draw out 1 of the notes.  Now have teens collect handwriting samples using a completely different phrase and see if they can figure out who wrote the note.

Ask an Expert
I had a member of our local police force come in for the first 20 minutes of my program.  He talked about some of the cases he had been involved in, showed some of the actual tools that they used, and talked about how real life crime solving compared to what we see on TV.  The number one lesson we learned, processing the evidence takes a lot longer than you see on tv.

If you have an Ask the Expert part of your program, each additional activity would take approximately 10 to 15 minutes each so you would have somewhere between an hour to an hour and a half CSI themed program.
More fun activities . . .
Printable spot the difference puzzles
Teeth impressions
More resources
The Science Spot (excellent resource)

Online mysteries to solve

Forensic Science (a good collection of links)
Want a pre-made flyer?  Check the TLT on Facebook photo albums.  There are posters, signs and flyers available for download.


  1. Jamie Lynn says:


    I’m actually a teen who does the teen programming at our library, and I just wanted to say that this is the most useful site I have ever found! Thank you for making my summer reading planning a lot easier.

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