At the end of the year, I give students the chance to show off all of their CSI skills with a murder in miniature Forensics project for high school. Students are tasked with creating and processing their own mini murder scene!
The project is inspired by Frances Glessner Lee’s Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. In the 1940s, Lee created dioramas of murder scenes with incredable detail. They were used to train police in the art of forensic investigation.
This is my absolute favorite project! My students always get really into it and come up with amazing work. They are super creative in their crime stories, while being rooted to real life and the details of a true crime scene, just like Frances Lee!
Forensic Science Project: Murder in Miniature
Students can work as individuals or in pairs. They must come up with a realistic crime story of murder (or theft, if they prefer), including how it happened, who did it, the motive, and what evidence was left behind.
Then they must create a mini-murder scene diorama as it would have looked if their crime happened, complete with a body and evidence.
Methods and Materials
If your school is like mine, your copy paper comes in sturdy cardboard boxes. These make the perfect diorama box! Every student (or pair) is given a box or a box top. The box is best for indoor crimes, with the walls of the box serving as the walls of the room. The box tops are great for outdoor crimes.
Students will also need scissors, paint (and brushes), hot glue sticks (and hot glue guns). These I borrow from the art department.
I collect interesting recyclables all year that students can transform into props for their scenes. Helpful items include tin foil, puff balls, cotton balls, fishing line, popsicle sticks, chenille stems, yarn, thin cardboard (cereal boxes work great), remnants of fabric or carpet – just about anything you can think of!
Encourage students to collect items they can use. Go outside and gather some soil for making dirty footprints. Use real sticks to make trees. Bring items from home to use. The only stipulation is that everything must be made or used creatively – not purchased. For example, no doll furniture – you must make your own!
The ‘dead body’ is the only exception. They are free to purchase a small doll from a dollar store, or borrow one from a younger sibling, but often students create one themselves.
Be sure to emphasize that the crime must be true to life. One year, a student really wanted to use a Batman figure as his victim. So he decided that the victim was killed on the way to a halloween party, dressed as Batman!
And the scale should be roughly accurate – no giant Barbie dolls beside tiny furniture.
The diorama must contain evidence of the crime! My students are required to include at least four items that CSI would collect as evidence. Here are some fun examples!
- Blood spatter – red paint splattered on the wall/objects in the room
- GSR – use a pencil to make the GSR stippling pattern
- Cartridge casings or bullets – tiny pieces of foil rolled into shape
- Footwear impressions – doll shoes pressed into clay or paint
- Trace evidence – tiny strands of hair, soil, glass etc
The body should also demonstrate time and/or cause of death in some way. Paint on cloudy eyes, livor mortis, and bloody wounds. Make and use insects to establish time since death.
It usually takes a full week to complete the crime scene dioramas. You will be amazed how creative your students will be!
Students then write a description of their diorama as a CSI would describe it when they first arrive at the scene. The description does not include what happened (who did it and how) – only what can be seen in the scene! Tape the description to the diorama so that observers will know what they are looking at.
Now it comes time for students to show off all of their Forensic skills. The scene must be sketched! How would each item of evidence be collected? The evidence photographed, and documented as either class or individual! An autopsy report must be completed!
Related: Use rats to set up Forensic Autopsies in your classroom!
Presenting the Evidence
The project culminates in a PowerPoint presentation that puts all the pieces of evidence together and presents the case. Students include close up photos of their crime scene, evidence, and victim. They then piece together the evidence to demonstrate what happened at the scene, and how the evidence connects to the murderer.
End of the Year Forensics Project for High School
This is the perfect project for the end of the year. Students get to use all of their skills in a creative and fun way. And they love it!
When the mini-murder scenes are finished, I always invite other classes to come look at them. My Forensics students LOVE showing off their work and telling everyone about their crime scenes.
Get the whole assignment ready to use! Includes a 100 point rubric, student examples, GoogleSlides with instructions to show your students, and an Autopsy Report form for students to complete!