What does a scientist do?

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SWBAT build on prior experiences and information from a text to answer the question, "What does a scientist do?."

Big Idea

Are your students scientists? Do they see themselves as scientists? What makes you a scientist anyhow? By the end of this lesson, students will be able to say, "I am a scientist!"

Instructional Notes

Welcome to first grade science!  Since this unit (and lesson) is really the first of the year, I begin to set up the routines for the year by creating an anchor chart.  So, today I will pose the Essential Question: What does a scientist do?  I’m going to create my anchor chart on a large sheet of chart paper, because it’s going to be one of my main classroom displays throughout the year.  As students engage in scientific practices, we’ll add them to the chart!  (Just what are the scientific practices?  Well, if you check out the Grade 1 NGSS Grade 1 standards, look at the blue box which shows the Science and Engineering Practices!)

If you follow this entire unit, you’ll see that at the end of many lessons, students will be asked to reflect on the question, How were we scientists today?  It’s my hope that the vocabulary of observing, describing, collecting data, etc. become natural for even our youngest learners!

Today I also have students begin writing in Science Journals.  There are tons of ideas online for Interactive Science Notebooks.  I’m going to use some of those ideas too!  I provide all of my students with a marbled composition notebook.  But, don’t worry if you don’t have these, I will also give you print-outs of worksheets to make-your-own science booklets!

Just for fun, after this lesson, I will take pictures of my students wearing science goggles and paste them on the fronts of the journals with the saying, "I am a scientist!"


  • What is a Scientist? by Barbara Lehn

This book is also available online, created by another teacher!


10 minutes

I'm going to start off this lesson by displaying and introducing the first Essential Question, "What does a scientist do?"  This is an anchor chart I want to create with students throughout the year to list some of the behaviors from the Next Generation Science Standards, Science and Engineering Practices section.  

Before we talk about what a scientist does, I want you to draw a scientist for me.  I don't want your ideas to influence your friends, so we are going to work silently.

Students draw a picture of a scientist in their science journals.  Hint:  I use a marbled composition notebook to house all of our science work throughout the year, however, this could be on blank paper too!  

This is such a fun way to see what students know, either from their personal experiences, school experiences, or from television shows!  The Science Practice of asking questions states that students build on their prior knowledge; this activity is all about prior knowledge!  After students finish, we'll walk around the room as a "gallery walk" to compliment one another.  I like to see similarities among the drawings, as well as what misconceptions students might have.

After they return to their desks, I like to ask these questions:

Stand if your scientist was an adult.

Stand if your scientist was a boy.

Stand if your scientist has a white coat or bottles.

This is a great time to call on students to share prior knowledge.  They may know about beakers or chemicals, etc!  I like to let them be the experts and also to follow-up by asking how they knew the information.  

Here are some student work samples:

Student Work Sample #1

Student Work Sample #2

Student Work Sample #3


15 minutes

First in the exploration, we'll have a discussion.  Discussion is so important!  Conversations with peers and the group are the key to having students feel comfortable communicating their ideas (science practice #8).  

I have students turn-and-talk, and then I call on a few to share with the larger group.  It gives *all* students the chance to process the question, get their ideas together, and practice listening and speaking skills.  Discussion also works wonders for your shy students!  Plus, if there isn't a lot of excited discussion, that's a clue to me that I need to build a bit more background knowledge.   Hint: While students are sharing, I make sure all friends have found a partner. Then, I try to listen in and find unique ideas that will take our conversation farther.  

I really want to draw out some of the misconceptions students might be coming with.  Here are some questions I will ask:

Why did so many of our drawings have bottles or microscopes?

Why did so many of us draw adults?

Can kids be scientists? (There is always controversy here!)

Then, I direct their attention back to the Essential Question, "What does a scientist do?"  I tell them that we'll be figuring out what scientists do and adding ideas to the anchor chart throughout the year. 

Next, I read What is a Scientist? by Barbara Lehn.  During reading, I point out the colored text, which highlights a scientist's actions.  We add them to the anchor chart.  We also discuss how the author includes photographs that help us understand what scientists do.

What is a scientist? book cover


Finally, after reading, I ask again, "Can kids be scientists?"  Now, we cite text evidence that indeed, the photographs show kids doing what scientists do!  

Now it's time to blow their minds:

Are you a scientist?  Do you ask questions?  Do you use your senses-- like touch-- to explore things you find?  Oh my gosh-- you are scientists too!  


5 minutes

Then, I ask students to draw a second picture of a scientist in their Science Journals, to draw themselves as a scientist!  Students will also write to answer the question: Are you a scientist?  Why or why not?

While students are working, I circulate and support my struggling writers with verbalizing their thinking.  I provide them with the sentence frame, "I am a scientist because I _______."  

I chose this prompt because I really want students to begin identifying with the Science and Engineering Practices-- to see that they are in fact doing what scientists do!

Here are some student work samples:

Student Work Sample #1  "I am a scientist because I collect whiskers and feathers."

Student Work Sample #2  This was chosen by friends during our gallery walk as a really good response. "I am a scientist because I want to change people's lives." When asked to clarify, this student added, "to make people's lives better." I think we have a future pharmacologist or doctor here!


Today's formative assessment is the second scientist drawing.  Here's what to look for:

  • Was the student able to show/depict themselves as a scientist?
  • Was the student able to state one science behavior that they do?