How Do Scientists Observe, Record, and Describe?

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SWBAT make and communicate their observations by adding drawings and clarifying ideas.

Big Idea

What does a scientist do? Two of the major scientific practices are making observations and communicating observations through writing and drawing. How can students draw or write to show what they observed? Find out here!

Instructional Notes

I have a classroom science center, and I encourage you to search me on Pinterest if you're looking for ideas or want to set one up too!  I love the idea of science *every* day, and making a science center is one way to solidify the skills we know our students need to be successful in the 21st century.  It's actually not hard to set up, I promise!

Here is a little background on some challenges I faced, how I found and received resources for my science center, and how it supports my literacy and math curriculum.  Students in my classroom use the science center as part of their literacy center time, while I facilitate small group reading instruction.

This lesson, for me, is a way to open the classroom science center.  Before doing that, I need to make sure students know it isn't just to play with bugs or magnets.  The science center is a place to practice being a scientist by asking questions, using tools, observing, testing, and more!  In order to have it as a center during my literacy/small groups block throughout the year, though, it needs to incorporate reading and writing skills.  

So, today students will learn how to record in their journals and some activities that reinforce math content skills (like ordering sizes, etc.).  Rather than me saying, "You must write and draw to describe what you observed," or, "You must sort the shells by shape," I'd rather students discover how to observe and record appropriately!  I circulate during the Exploration and find students who are excelling in either what they are doing or how they are recording it.    

Then, in the exploration, I select students to share.  Through reflection, we'll come to an understanding as a class about our expectations.  Finally, students will dig back into the bins and put their friends' recording strategies to work right away!


  • Essential Question Anchor Chart: What Does a Scientist Do?
  • Science Journals (I have marbled composition notebooks for each student), or blank response paper
  • Hand lenses
  • Seashell variety, or rocks (1 bin per small group)


5 minutes

In the previous lesson, we defined living and non-living.  We start on the rug, where I show a shell. 

Do you think seashells are living or non-living?  Turn-and-talk with the person next to you, and refer to the vocabulary cards in your journal.

Discussion is so important!  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.  

I'm interested in hearing points students make.  I can definitely see them making arguments either way!  So, I will clarify:

Seashells are actually living.  There used to be animals living inside of the seashells, and the seashells are like their bones-- just on the outside.  Clams, mussels, and oysters are a few kinds of animals who grow a shell to protect them.

Next, I review with students the checklist we made as a class about what recording strategies from friends' journals helped students best understand the observations.  For example, previously some students used labels, wrote captions, or used color to help us better understand what they drew in their journals.


20 minutes

First, I set the purpose for the task.

Today, I am going to give you the next 5 minutes to observe the seashells and record them in your Science Journal.  Try out one of your friends' strategies!  I'm going to walk around and look for some new strategies to add to our list.

While students are working, I do just that!  I specifically look for new strategies, like students tracing the objects, drawing the lines on the shells carefully, and ordering the shells or categorizing them in some way.  

After 5 minutes or so, I play a transition song during which children come to the rug.  I pull the specific journals of children I'd like to have share.  Now that students have had time to observe seashells and record in their journals, I've also had time to find students who have strategies I'd like their friends to try out too.

Take a look at _____'s Science Journal.  What do you notice?  What helps you know more about what he/she observed?

Sharing time is a time for students to take the lead.  For example, if Emily was tracing the shells, I want her to model exactly how she placed the shell on her page, held it down, and moved her pencil around the edge.  If Gavin was categorizing the shells and wrote labels for each kind, I want him to talk his friends through his thinking-- how did he decide what fit in each category?  How did the labels or boxes he drew help his friends understand?

Finally, now that students have seen other ways of recording their observations, it's vital that I give them time to try those strategies out!  Students will now go back to their desks and give it a go!  During this time, I walk around and support any struggling students by making suggestions or encouraging them to work with a partner.

Here are some samples of student work:

Student work #1 This student uses words and accurate colors.

Student work #2 This student sorted their drawings.

Student work #3 This student uses words to tell more.  I chose this student to share with the class as an exemplar of words to tell more.

Student work #4 This child separated their drawings, used words, and used accurate colors.

Student work #5 Here the student sorted "can hear" on the right side and "cannot hear" (the ocean) on the left side.  He is a beginning writer, and I have no idea what his words are that tell more!

Student work #6 Here you can see sorting, words to tell more, and accurate colors.

Closing & Assessment

5 minutes

I play a transition song, during which students will take all of the bins of shells and hand lenses to the Science Center table.  I leave them out, as the Science Center is now *open* for students!  

For the closing, I review my expectations:

  • Students at the Science Center will observe, and describe through recording in their journal.
  • Students will clean up the Science Center and leave it as they found it.

Over the next few days, as I see students working in the Science Center, I check in with them. If there are other strategies for recording, other math skills going on, or good texture descriptions, I have students show their friends.  I also get out some nonstandard measuring items, like square inch tiles, and see how students use them to measure and record.

After today's lesson, I check the student Science Journals (or response papers).  I looking to see:

  • Was the student able to use accurate tracings/drawings and/or words to describe an item?