What’s in a Print? – Lesson

Fingerprints are one of the most famous crime scene clues.  But what are fingerprints really all about?

In this lesson we will

  • Learn what makes up a fingerprint
  • Practice taking fingerprints
  • Compare fingerprints to known fingerprint features and other people’s prints

Time to Complete

15+ minutes




Fingerprints, frictions ridges, inherited traits

Skills Highlight


Skill Type: Critical & Creative

Skill: Analyze & Pattern Recognition

  • Analyzing the features of fingerprints and comparing prints to known patterns


Skill Type: Critical & Creative

Skill: Analyze & Pattern Recognition

  • Analyzing the features of fingerprints and comparing prints to known patterns



Print out the fingerprinting sheet and the fingerprint features pages.  You can find them both in the same file here.


Those wonderful fingers

Have you ever looked at your fingers tips and wondered why they look the way they do?  Well if you haven’t, you will now!

The little ridges on your finger tips are uniquely amazing because they are uniquely you.  No two fingerprints are alike, even for identical twins.  This also means they can help us fight crime.  So lets dig in!

Fingertips & fingerprints

Take a look at your finger.  Do you see all the little swirly designs?  Those are called friction ridges.  They give your fingers just a bit more grip to help you hold onto things.

friction ridges

This pattern of friction ridges is just yours, no one else has this exact same pattern on their fingers.  That means that this pattern can be used to identify you as… you.

So that we can easily see this friction ridge pattern, we take something called a fingerprint.  You take your fingertips and put them on something like an inkpad.  The ink sticks to the top of those friction ridges but does not get down in the gaps.  So when you press your fingertip to paper, the ink makes a print in the same pattern as our fingertip.  Voila!  A fingerprint.


Taking your fingerprints

Lets look at our own fingerprints now.  You will need the fingerprinting sheet and an ink pad.

  • Roll a fingertip in the ink pad
  • Use a scratch or blot paper to dab some of the ink off
  • Place the fingerprint in the correct box on the fingerprint card.
  • Take fingerprints of more than 1 person to compare

**It works best to roll the fingers a bit when taking the fingerprint instead of just pressing them straight down.

Here is a little video version.

Let’s see what we have found!  Even though all fingerprints are unique, there are a few different features that many fingerprints have.  See the Fingerprint Features pages to compare them to your fingerprints.

  • Which features did you find in your fingerprint?

Young children’s fingerprints are not as fully developed so it may be more helpful to look at the fingerprints of an older child or adult.

What about DNA?

Even though all fingerprints are unique, basic fingerprint patterns can be inherited.  This means that if my mom has a whorl in the center of her fingerprints, I might have that too.  I have inherited the whorl from her.

Take the fingerprints of your parents or other close relative and compare them to your own.

  • Are any of the patterns the same as your parents?
  • Do your siblings all have the same patterns as you?

You may also collect fingerprints from other people you know and try to find all of the patterns!


Your toe prints are unique just like your fingerprints!  Try taking your toe prints.  It is the same process as taking your finger prints.  Then compare them to your family’s toe prints.

There so much extra on the PDF!

Our lesson plan PDF is just chock full of good stuff that is too much to put here.  Grab the full lesson plan to get “The Science” section, vocabulary, and the Fingerprinting sheet.

This activity is part of Who Stole the Cake? [Unit 2].  Jump over to the unit main page to see all lessons and activities.

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