Everyone has fingerprints and they are unique to each individual student. Use this information and the activity ideas to give your students the chance to explore basic forensic science. Whatever the weather, practicing critical thinking and fine motor skills is a great way to get students engaged in science.
Teaching Kids About Fingerprints: What Are They?
Law enforcement and detectives use fingerprints to solve crimes, and many students will be aware of this. However, learning about the different types of fingerprints and how crime-solving professionals collect them can serve as a fun and engaging science activity for elementary students.
Four facts about fingerprints:
- The small ridges on your fingers act as grips that help you to hold objects without them slipping from your hands.
- Your fingerprints are unique to you and nobody else has the exact same print on any part of their hands or feet.
- The three types of fingerprints were identified and named in 1900, the classification is called the Galton-Henry system and is still used today in most English-speaking countries.
- You are born with your unique prints and no matter how much you grow, your print patterns never change.
3 Different Types of Fingerprints
There are eight fingerprint patterns currently recognized by the FBI, but there are three basic types of fingerprints that were identified by Sir Francis Galton and Sir Edward R. Henry in 1900.
The three basic patterns are:
- Arcs: the ridges enter from one side, rise in the center like a hill, and then exit on the opposite side.
- Loops: the ridges enter from either side and then curve around to exit on the same side they began on.
- Whorls: the ridges form a circular pattern.
Forensic Science Activities for Elementary Classroom
These simple activities give students a chance to explore the critical thinking and fine motor skills that law enforcement uses when solving crimes or finding the answer to a problem. Remind your students that attention to detail is very important.
Dusting for Prints (Grades K-4)
What you’ll need:
- Cocoa powder (or other very finely milled powder)
- Small dry brushes with long bristles
- Clear tape
- A smooth surface
- Black paper
Have students start by wiping a smooth surface clean and ensuring that it is completely dry. Then have them place their thumb firmly, straight down onto the surface, leaving a fingerprint (they may not be able to see it, but it is there).
Then have the students dip their small dry brush into the cocoa powder and very carefully dust the area where they put their fingerprint. It’s important to do this very lightly so that the print isn’t smudged.
Once the print has been dusted with cocoa powder, have the student take a piece of clear tape and press it down onto the dusted print. Then, have them peel off the tape (they have now collected/lifted a print) and place the tape back down on a piece of colored paper. Darker colored paper makes it easier to see the print.
Now students can examine their unique fingerprint, identify which of the patterns they have, and compare this print to those of other students in class. Follow-up with a discussion of fingerprint facts and how law enforcement uses these prints to identify people.
Write the Crime Scene Narrative (Grades 3-12)
What you’ll need:
- A fake crime scene
- Pencils or pens
This activity can be as simple or detailed as you have time for. Create a crime scene in your classroom space and “rope it off” so that students can observe it, but not interact with it. You may choose to lay a white outline of a body if you wish, but other crime scenes to create could include a robbery, arson, etc.
Then, give students time to look at the crime scene. Once you feel that they have had enough time to take in any of the details or clues that you included in the scene, ask them to write a narrative of the crime that took place.
There are no wrong answers, but ask them to include as much detail as they can. Once they have completed narratives for the crime, ask any interested students to share what they think happened, based on their observations of the crime scene.
Follow up with a discussion of how law enforcement uses crime scenes to develop a narrative, and how a narrative can help to give them a starting place when solving crimes. Point out the differences between narratives written by each student, all created after viewing the same crime scene and being given the same information.
Discuss how narratives are subjective and that any assumptions people make based on their own perceptions can cause problems — especially when it comes to solving serious crimes.
More Science and STEAM Ideas & Inspiration
Looking for more ways to engage with your students and get them excited about STEAM concepts and thinking patterns? Visit the STEAM & STEM category page to find more lesson plans and helpful info, and then head over to the online store to stock up on all the supplies you need to make those lesson plans come to life.