Handwriting Analysis

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SWBAT learn how handwriting and paper analyses can be used to detect forgeries. SWBAT explore the role of handwriting and paper analyses in solving crimes and mysteries.

Big Idea

A lot can be determined from a person's handwriting. But how does it help us to solve crimes?


10 minutes

I start each class period in this unit with a warm-up activity that targets forensic science concepts and other skills (observation, problem-solving, etc.) Not only does this get the students in the frame of mind necessary to address the field of forensics, but it also introduces key vocabulary they will use throughout the unit in a more relevant way. In addition, this activity allows students to refine their research skills as they perform quick internet searches to find the correct answers. By using the attached weekly Answer Sheet* and passing it out as they enter the classroom every Monday morning, not only can I save paper, but I can also provide a routine that allows students to begin without prompting, waiting for paper, or asking things such as, "What do we do?" and, "Where do we write our answers?"

For this particular lesson, I have decided to utilize a Trivia Challenge*, in which students use their knowledge of forensics and their research skills to answer an assortment of trivia questions.

After providing about 2-3 minutes to look for the answers, we go over them together and discuss the information provided. I help students to define key terms and providing background knowledge necessary to help students understand the questions. However, I do not spend as extended period of time on this portion, as it is just meant to be an activator and not necessary to understanding the core of the lesson at this time.

Next, I start to provide more focus to the day's topic by providing each student with 2 half sheets of lined paper and asking them to use a read or blue pen to write the following WITHOUT writing their names on the papers:

Sheet 1: (in red) Science is my favorite subject! I love coming to this class everyday.

Sheet 2: (in blue) Today we will learn about graphology. This should be very exciting!

I collect the papers to use for later in the lesson, not explaining the purpose for them at this time. I want to keep this a secret, so that the students do not try to change or disguise their handwriting, or study their peer's writing, before turning them in.

*Challenges and answer sheet courtesy of http://sciencespot.net/Pages/classforscistarters.html


45 minutes

I start this portion of the lesson by telling students that law enforcement officials use many kinds of evidence when trying to solve a crime. Sometimes that evidence takes the form of a written document. By finding out who wrote a document and when, investigators can come closer to solving certain crimes. Analyzing documents is another aspect of forensic science, or the scientific analysis of evidence that can be used in a court of law. I project the Handwriting Analysis Presentation and review the first three slides.

I explain to students that while there are many cases in which handwritten documents have played a role, a few are particularly famous. I divide the class into groups of three students. I pass out the group mini-research project and have each group select one option to research and reflect upon as they learn about the importance of handwriting analysis in their specific case. I allow students about 20 minutes to complete their research and answer the questions. One each group is finished, I have them partner with another group who did not complete the same option as them. The groups spend about 10 minutes (5 minutes per pair) summarizing their case and discussing how handwriting played a role in solving each case.


20 minutes

In order to help the students consider how handwriting can differ among individuals and help to provide clues, I give them about five minutes to attempt the CSI Experience: Handwriting Analysis Activity with a partner. This activity has the students compare handwriting samples to find the ones that are written by the same suspect. After completing the activity, I project the writing samples and ask the students to identify the clues they used to help them determine which were written by the same person. I allow them to discuss their ideas at their table group and then call on volunteers to share their thoughts.

Next, I project and pass out the "How Handwriting Analysis Works" article (slide 4) and have students read independently, highlighting key information. (This is a shorter read and should not take more than 10 minutes to complete.)

I explain to the students that in addition to the type of paper and ink being used as well as the content, spelling, phrasing, punctuation, and grammar, investigators look closely at several other characteristics when they are examining handwriting for clues. Before moving on, I ask each student to open their science notebooks to a random page, to use as a sample of their own writing.

Again, I project the Handwriting Analysis Presentation and we go through the 12 characteristics of handwriting analysis. For each characteristic, I have students compare and analyze their own writing, using the sample from their notebook.


20 minutes

Students now get the opportunity to analyze authentic handwriting samples. I pass out 2 samples of student writing (from the beginning of the lesson) to each pair of shoulder partners. *Before passing these out, I number them, making sure each student's writing samples are labeled with the same numbers. For example, both of Johnny's writing samples are labeled #1, Sally's are #2, etc.

The partners study the samples and analyze each one, using the Handwriting Analysis Practice Sheet as a guide. After analyzing the samples, I collect them again, leaving the students only with their analysis practice sheets. They circulate throughout the room, discussing the findings with other pairs of students. Their goal is to find the group who has the other sample written by the same person, based on the data they have recorded. When a group thinks they have a match, I show them the samples and they determine whether or not they are correct.


15 minutes

Option 2: Performance Assessment

Students now have the opportunity to apply their knowledge of handwriting analysis at a deeper level, beyond just matching corresponding samples. In The Case of Grip the Raven*, students analyze a ransom note and several handwriting samples to determine who solved a make believe crime. 

*Activity provided by http://npickett.weebly.com