This activity helps students understand an investigation by putting them in the roles of investigators, witnesses, and someone who is accused of wrongdoing. It can be used to teach many concepts such as criminal investigations or a workplace investigation into an alleged violation of a company employment policy like sexual harassment.


(Optional) Invite one or more members of your community to assist you with this activity. For a criminal investigation, you could invite a police officer. For an employment investigation, you might invite an attorney who specializes in employment law. If you invite a community resource person, begin the lesson by introducing him or her to the class and thanking him or her at the end of the lesson.

  1. Before the lesson begins, write a fact pattern that illustrates what a person is accused of doing. It should refer to multiple witnesses (five or six) and explain who is investigating the charge or allegation. For example, in an employment law dispute, witnesses might be co-workers, supervisors, the accused person, or witnesses to the alleged activity. This fact pattern should be very brief; no more than ¾ of a page. Based on the fact pattern, determine how many student volunteers you will need to conduct the role-play. You may also want to include a description of the policy or law that is under consideration if it is complicated. Make copies of the fact pattern for all students.
  2. Choose students to play the roles of the accused person and witnesses. Give these students background information about their characters.
  3. When the lesson begins, review the company policy (ex: sexual harassment policy) or the law that the accused person is being investigated for violating.
  4. Explain the fact pattern – it works well to have an accuser address the students in character.
  5. Review techniques for interviewing witnesses: 
    • Relax and put the witness at ease.
    • Ask open-ended questions, especially at the beginning of the interview.
    • Avoid loaded or leading questions.
    • Once the facts surface, build new questions off of the facts shared by the witness.
    • Make sure you take notes during the interview.
  6. Divide the students into groups of two or three, and ask them to sit at tables around the room. (There should be the same number of tables as there are witnesses. Try to arrange the tables far apart so students will not hear conversations from other groups.) Then, ask one witness to sit at each table. The person accused should be at a table, too.
  7. Give students five minutes to prepare for the interviews. The person accused and witnesses should take time reading their statements. The investigators should think about questions they want to ask. (The investigators might want to do this preparation in small groups.)
  8. Tell students to begin with the interviews, which will last five minutes each.
  9. Every five minutes, blow a whistle or ring a bell and have the witnesses move to the next group of students. Each student should lead the questioning for at least one witness. Students should take notes during their interviews.
  10. Facilitators can help prod groups towards certain questions and help them shape their investigation if they are having trouble.
  11. After the witnesses have been interviewed by each group of students, ask students to work in their groups to discuss the information uncovered, to decide whether the policy was violated, and what course of action they recommend. Give students several options. (Ex: fire the person, provide a warning, transfer the person, do nothing).
  12. In a whole-class discussion, invite students from different groups to share their conclusions with the entire class.
  13. Ask students who played the person accused or a witness:
    • How did it feel to be interviewed?
    • What were the biggest challenges you faced in this role? Do you think those challenges would be true of actual witnesses or people accused? If so, in what ways?
  14. Ask students who played the role of investigator: 
    • What facts made you come to this decision?
    • Did your group get information from a witness that contradicted or called into question the “facts” of the case?
    • Did you encounter any witnesses that contradicted each other?
    • Did any witnesses seem biased? How do you know?
    • What was the best tactic to get to the truth?
    • Did you wish you had more information? If so, what else would you want to know before you had to decide?
  15. Ask all students:
    • What did you learn about investigations today?

(Optional) If a community resource person joined you for this activity, ask her or him to discuss how the students’ investigation and process would be similar or different than the way their department would have handled a similar situation. Encourage students to ask questions.