What can a murder mystery achieve in a school setting?

Recently we were asked on our twitter feed how to “sell” a murder mystery event to a school. While we can’t reply to a question like that in 140 characters (who can?) We’ve posted a variety of reasons that you might decide to host a murder mystery as a school event.

However before we start on the many positive benefits on school mysteries we’ll “eliminate” the fundraising reason. Very quickly, and very simply: “yes, you can use a murder mystery for fundraising. You can make money for your school by asking parents to pay to take part, or even obtaining sponsorship deals to help finance a big performance.”

What we really want to tell you though is what benefits you can expect to see from running a game in terms of personal and social development etc. While we can’t cover everything (as the learning experience is so vast) we will touch on some of the basics.

And so, in no particular order – here it comes:

Encouraging parent participation in learning.

If you’ve been teaching the children crime scene investigation, or plan to move onto that subject then hosting a murder mystery makes a great introduction, or summing activity. We wrote “Murder at John Doe Middle School” specifically for this purpose.  This game incorporates work stations, so the children can show their parents what they’ve learned in school and can use simple forensic tests to help solve a the case.

Communication skills

Data gathering and recording of relevant information – all our mysteries require some form of data gathering. Guests must make a decision on how to keep a record of the data they gather, which pieces of information are relevant, which are red herrings, which information they still have to find out. Information is usually recorded in some form, and guests need to decide what they record and whether they do this in a logical order.

Formulating appropriate questions – in our cast based games the guests are asked to come up with their own questions to pitch to the cast. This is a complex skill, requiring assimilation of data to formulate a pertinent question.

Bargaining/negotiation – this skill is shown most often in the clue based large group games as team vie for clues. However, it often crops up in the cast based games too, as they negotiate with the cast to obtain the answer they want.

Debating skills – as the mystery progresses teams start to try and work out who did what. People within the teams may have different ideas and without realising they will take turns to pitch these ideas to the group, backing up their theories.

Performing skills – if you decide to use a game which the pupils can act, then they will learn/practise acting skills.

Listening – guests must listen to the cast and listen to each other.

Organisational skills

Leadership – All teams will end up following someone, whether they are elected to this role or whether it simply happens. This leader will “run” the group of guests, establishing needs or priorities in the hunt for clues.

Planning and executing – if you ask the children to get involved in the planning of the event then they will learn a great deal about how to organise and plan an event. What kind of things need to be taken into account etc.

Allocating tasks / delegation – As in planning executing skills this can come from the event management, or during the game itself as the children work out which clues they still need to find, and which questions to ask. They may also delegate note taking to one person.

Interpersonal Skills

If you use a murder mystery where team work is essential then interpersonal skills are used throughout as teams discuss the suspects and their means and motives. Teams interact with other teams and with the cast.

If pupils take on an acting roll, then they also learn to interact at the performing level.

It is worth noting, that where mystery games help particularly with regards to interpersonal skills is not necessarily in the here and now, but the effect they have long term, in that they pupils, parent and staff a shared experience, something in common upon which they can build relationships.

Emotional learning

Guests will gradually gain confidence in their roles as detectives and as the event progresses their questions will be more pertinent.

There is no failure in failing to apprehend the suspect, the fun is in trying. Games allow failure, which should be a key growth factor in any learning environment.

Pupils can become involved in different aspects of planning and organising the event from acting to welcoming, to preparation of hand-outs and tickets, serving of food and drink, arranging background sets and props. In each area there is an opportunity for emotional growth and achievement.

Cognitive learning

A murder mystery like “Murder at John Doe Middle School” will act as a spring board for many different learning opportunities. Firstly there are the forensic tests, mock examples of which are included in the game, and which can link to many different areas on a science syllabus; but also schools can use a game as an opportunity to link to historical criminal cases, or pathology / anatomy studies.

Depending on where the game is set both historically and geographically, learning could progress onto the setting for the game.

Problem solving.

Guests must deduce the murderer, means and motive from a variety of different clues, using complex problem solving skills.

Obviously this is just a beginning. As all our games work slightly differently each game will respond to your learning targets differently.

If you want assistance to demonstrate how a murder mystery game will achieve your learning targets then please get in touch and we can help further.


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Flexible and fun!

We contacted Red-Herring-Games for a party for a special occasion. Why going to restaurants to eat is the preferred activity to mark milestones is beyond me and my friends.   The choice of mystery was obvious, looking at the options from New Zealand on the web Red Herring stuck out from the international options.  A quick look at the site and games showed subtlety as well a range of choices.  The numbers you could have for each evening was important,  Red Herring had scaling options a good range of scenarios but most importantly were Jo and team being flexible, responsive and helpful.

Rachel McWilliam, Arts Development Officer, Lincs Inspire

Thank you Red Herring Games for the marvellous 'Murder!  Cargo Connections?' event that you organised for us as part of Museums at Night at the Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby. The whole evening went so well and was brilliant fun.  I know from all the feedback that our visitors had a fantastic time. It was really good working with you and I have no doubt that we will do again in the not too distant future.  

A. Nonymous (council employee)

I would like to thank you and your colleague for helping contribute towards our successful conference last month.  Everyone really seemed to enjoy the evening and it was rewarding that so many delegates were able to participate in addition to the main "Actors".  Our conference evaluation froms included the following comments:
  • "Enjoyed the evening entertainment!"
  • The evening entertainment was great and the confusion made it great fun!"
With thanks and best wishes.

Sarah Spencer (Cleethorpes Chronicle)

I had no idea what to expect before purchasing a ticket for Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, which was being staged at a nearby hotel, and feared it might involve taking part in some way. However thankfully for me no acting was necessary, just some amateur sleuthing. "Wedding guests" of which I was one, were called upon to move from room to room in the hotel in groups, questioning a number of possible murderers with the aim of solving the mystery of the dead bridegroom. The interviewees were really fun characters and gave us all some good laughs. Of course they all had motives and it was a case of identifying the shiftiest. The wedding theme was particularly good, as it fitted well with the venue, the buffet that was part of the evening (with a wedding cake in the middle) and the fact that everyone had been able to dress up to fit in without going to the trouble of fancy dress. I didn't think I had enough "evidence" to actually accuse anyone but later regretted not even writing down my first guess as it wouldn't have been too far off the mark. The evening was great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it and take part. I would definitely recommend Old, New, Borrowed, Blue as good for getting even reluctant or first-time mystery party-goers involved.  

Alan Young (Personal Touch Mortgages)

What a cracking nights entertainment! We don't get out much nowadays with 2 kids and this was exactly what we were looking for in a good night out. Lots of fun with tongue firmly in cheek and everyone kept guessing whodunnit right to the very end. Would definitely attend another!!!!!  


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