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CNN Presents Classroom: Anatomy of a Murder


(CNN Student News) -- Please note that this week's CNN Presents Classroom Edition could be pre-empted due to breaking news coverage of Hurricane Rita.


Set your VCR to record CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Anatomy of a Murder Crime Scene Investigation when it airs commercial-free on Monday, September 26, 2005, from 4:00-5:00 a.m. on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

CBS' "CSI" franchise, with shows based in Las Vegas, Miami and New York City, has given Americans a behind-the-scenes look at crime solving in the 21st century. However, real crime scene investigators note that there are vast differences between them and their onscreen counterparts, saying that their jobs require more time, guesswork and luck than what is seen on television. In this CNN Special, Dr. Sanjay Gupta compares Hollywood's version of CSI with what really happens when the anatomy of a murder unfolds.

Note to Teachers: Anatomy of a Murder: Crime Scene Investigation contains images and storylines that may be disturbing. Please preview before showing this program to your students.

Grade Level: 9-12, college

Subject Areas: Forensic science, Life science, Biology, Civics, Criminology


The CNN Special Classroom Edition: Anatomy of a Murder: Crime Scene Investigation and its corresponding discussion questions and activities challenge students to:

  • Discuss the roles that forensics experts can play in criminal cases;
  • Identify the types of evidence that forensic scientists collect from a crime scene;
  • Analyze the impact that "CSI's" popularity could have on the criminal justice system;
  • Compare Hollywood's version of CSI to real crime scene investigations.
  • Curriculum Connections

    The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

    VIII. Science, Technology and Society: Students will examine the relationships among science, technology and society.

    The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies link are published by the National Council for the Social Studies (http://ncss.orgexternal link).

    Science Standard and Benchmarks Nature of Science: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry


  • Understands the use of hypotheses in science
  • Designs and conducts scientific investigations
  • Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons
  • Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) (, 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014; Telephone: 303/337-0990.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is forensics? What types of evidence do investigators look for at a crime scene? What techniques do experts use to collect forensic evidence?

    2. How is forensic science used in criminal cases? Are some types of forensic evidence more or less conclusive in criminal cases than other types of evidence? Explain.

    3. What is forensic anthropology? According to forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, what can bones tell investigators about victims and criminals?

    4. What techniques do artists use to reconstruct a human face from skeletal remains? What are the benefits of rendering faces for unidentified victims? Why does Reichs caution against relying on facial reconstructions?

    5. What do "CSI" producers do to make the show's stories more authentic? According to "CSI" producer Elizabeth Devine, for what "leniencies" in accuracy do the shows' producers allow? How do the producers illustrate this "dance between fiction and reality"?

    6. Based on what you saw in this program, what challenges do crime scene investigators face that their onscreen counterparts do not? What, if any, financial or scientific limitations exist in the field of forensic science? What, if any, implications might Hollywood's version of CSI have on the future of forensics?

    7. Why do you think that television shows about CSI are so popular? How might the popularity of these shows impact juries, law enforcement authorities, prosecutors or defense attorneys? What, if any, are the potential benefits and drawbacks of the increased interest in forensics?

    Suggested Activities

    1. CSI - Myth vs. Fact

    Throughout Anatomy of a Murder: Crime Scene Investigation, Dr. Sanjay Gupta points out discrepancies between real CSI and the popular television show. Discuss these differences with students. Then, refer them to the Web sites listed below to gather information on the following myths about real CSI:

  • DNA testing can always instantly pinpoint a criminal;
  • Medical examiners can accurately determine exact time of death;
  • CSI technicians question suspects in a criminal investigation;
  • CSI experts have all-inclusive, in-depth forensic knowledge;
  • All CSI investigators utilize state-of-the-art equipment;
  • Fingerprints can always identify suspects and victims.
  • After students have shared their findings, discuss the potential implications that these myths might have for our criminal justice system. For example, if jurors believe that CSI uses state-of-the-art equipment, would they be less likely to believe a defense attorney who claims mechanical or human error in testing? Might jurors have unrealistic expectations that the prosecution must produce scientific evidence of guilt---evidence that might only be possible on the TV version of CSI?

    Challenge students to develop informative pamphlets depicting the myths and facts of CSI that could be distributed to prospective jurors.

    2. Careers in CSI

    One of the myths about CSI is that those who work crime scene investigations have an in-depth expertise in all areas of forensic science. CSI experts do undergo extensive training and get a lot of on-the-job experience. However, while forensic scientists typically have a solid general knowledge base, they are not experts in every aspect of forensics, as some television series lead viewers to believe. Rather, most forensic experts specialize in one subject, like bones, blood types, psychology or tissue decay, and pool their expertise by working in groups.

    Refer students to the Internet and other resources to learn more about the different types of forensics careers. Have each student, or pairs of students, select one area of forensics to research. Students may select forensics careers within the field of medicine, such as pathology or serology, or outside the medical field, such as ballistics or geology. You may also choose to invite professionals in these fields to your classroom to share with students their expertise, daily responsibilities and educational background. Have students research their fields and write job descriptions for their chosen careers. Post the descriptions around the room.

    Have students read through all of the job descriptions, select the jobs that seem most appealing, and write job applications stating why they want those jobs. As a class, discuss how the real jobs might compare with how they are portrayed on TV.

    3. Additional Activities

    For additional activities on the subject of forensics, see CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Reasonable Doubt - Can Crime Labs be Trustedexternal link?


    Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), homicide, forensics, DNA, autopsy, "cold case," forensic anthropology, facial reconstruction, FBI, crypt, morgue

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