Who doesn’t love a good mystery?
Adults devour murder mystery novels and soak up crime shows by the millions. Kids love a good mystery as well. Why else would shows like Scooby Doo and Inspector Gadget be so popular? Fortunately, we teachers can grab ahold of pieces of this mystery obsession, wrap some English around it, and the little tykes will eat it up before they even notice the English. You may well have guessed by now that most of these activities are directed at elementary school students.
Mystery camps are a ton of fun for both the students and the teachers, but they do take a fair bit of work on the part of the teacher. Having an underlying mystery that ties an entire week of camp together makes it way more fun for the students, but it takes a lot of preplanning by the teacher. Clues have to be created, and teachers must devise a way to keep the final resolution secret until the last day, feeding the class just the right amount of information each day. But most of the work is up front. Once all the planning and preparation is finished, teachers can settle in and enjoy the ride. So here are four great mystery camp activities that can really get kids excited.
Enjoy These Involving Activities for Your ESL Camp
We have all watched the TV detective carefully dusting for fingerprints, lifting those condemning little circles off the most unlikely places and slapping another criminal behind bars. Students have already heard of this. What they may not know are the different kinds of fingerprints (loop, whorl, etc.) and how the process actually works. Of course, most teachers can’t get ahold of a proper fingerprinting kit complete with ink etc. But, all you really need are some soft lead pencils, a few balloons, clear tape, some paper, and printouts showing the different types of fingerprints. There are couple different approaches. The easiest is to have the students draw a circle on a piece of paper and then go over it again and again with a soft lead pencil. Students then press their finger into this spot and they can transfer their fingerprint to many other surfaces. Students can then use the clear tape to pick up the print and preserve it. To show the students the intricacies of an individual fingerprint, put one on a deflated balloon and then blow it up. The fingerprint will expand as the rubber stretches and students will be able to better see the small differences between fingerprints.
This one can be especially fun with students who are young enough to still be losing teeth. The gaps can result in some good laughs. There are many different ways to go about this activity. A popular one uses two pieces from a Styrofoam plate. The candidate bites the pieces (one takes the top impression and one takes the bottom) and the class can study the impressions. Another fun method is using play-dough or some other non-toxic impressionable material. This can be tricky because the wrong consistency will either crush away from the teeth and not form good impressions, or stick to the teeth themselves, making it difficult to remove it as a single piece. Less readily available and more expensive is using paraffin wax, slightly softened by heat.
Regardless of which method you use to gather the tooth impressions, have the students study several different sets and see if they can spot the differences and what makes them unique. Point out where some teeth are tipped at different angles, missing, chipped, different sizes, or different numbers of teeth. Any differences are relevant.
There are many kinds of ways to do footprint analysis. Some methods involve using footprints to determine the height of the perpetrator. Sadly, these can be a bit inaccurate with kids. I don’t know all the science behind it, and you can still run through this method using your own footprints, but it will be more useful to focus on things that pertain to the students.
Likely, the best approach is to look at shoe size and style. For this, shoes with very distinctive treads are excellent as they make some parts of the identification very easy. There are a couple of ways to gather samples. One is using water soluble paint, applying it to the bottom of the students’ shoes, and having them step on a piece of paper. This can be a little messy and is best done outside. Be sure to wash the shoes immediately after the impressions are made.
Another method is using a tray of damp sand which the students step into leaving an impression. This can be fun if you are into making plaster molds, but that can be a lot of work. Instead, you can just view the impressions, measure them, take a photo, then brush them out and use the sand again.
Depending on the country you are teaching in, there are various ways to measure shoe size. Be sure that the method are using is something the students will recognize. Regardless of the approach you take and what you choose to focus on, be sure that you explain that footprints alone, especially in shoes, are not enough to pin point the ‘criminal’ and that there are many ways they can be altered to be of little use in an investigation.
Although this is not as hands-on as some of the above activities, kids still love a little bit of mystery involved in decoding hidden clues. There are many ways to incorporate this into a camp. It can be as simple as leaving a coded message in which each letter of the alphabet is associated with a number or making a decoder wheel and creating a message in the appropriate code. My favourite approach is two-fold. Create a relatively easy coded message using letter and number association and then tear it into pieces. These pieces are part of the ‘evidence’ found at the crime scene. The students must carefully reconstruct the destroyed paper, then decode the message, and finally decide what it tells them about their case. The nice thing about this method is that it requires very few materials, little space, and limited supervision. If there are two teachers, the puzzle can direct the students to the next activity. While one teacher supervises, the other can be setting up the next activity in another room.
Obviously, these are just a few activities that kids can enjoy during a mystery themed camp.
Others can include powder analysis, ink/dye analysis, and a myriad of other options. The nice thing about fingerprints, teeth, and feet is that most students already have a passing familiarity with them. When teachers introduce the topic, students will be able to say, yes, I know what you are talking about, and that frame of reference only serves to fuel their excitement for the activity. Students enjoy codes and working with words, especially when it is time sensitive. Beyond that, the sky is the limit and teachers have to decide what will work for their class and the space they have available. Good luck and happy investigating.