Science Journals - Drawing and Labeling Diagrams

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SWBAT begin to draw and label simple diagrams in their science journal with teacher support.

Big Idea

Students will be using science journals throughout the year, so they are learning basic concepts to organize their journals.


This is the first in a series of 5 lessons I teach to introduce science journaling.

This lesson is designed to teach students some key things about their science journals, which they keep all year. The purpose for the journals is to create a place for students to record most of their science thinking on paper so that we can return to it throughout the year. It is also a place where I can connect literacy through reading, writing, and drawing, to science concepts to make the learning more meaningful through integration. This directly supports the Science Practice 2- Developing and using models, because students will be able to use the information in their journal, including written text and diagrams, as a model throughout the year.

Each student in the class has their own science journal. I use composition notebooks because I have found them to be much sturdier than other options. In my school, I am required to post a guiding question for each lesson. For this lesson, students have "How do diagrams help me to understand science?" glued into their notebook at the top of the page.

I made a PowerPoint with the pictures of the inventors and their journals and inventions so it is easy to move from one picture to the next as I talk about why we need the journals. The purpose of the PowerPoint presentation is to get students thinking about 'real' scientists and to discover that they all kept a journal with their ideas, designs, and information about their projects. This is to impress upon the students the importance of keeping a notebook for their own scientific experiences and explorations this school year. This activity also incorporates gathering information from provided sources to answer a question, objective W.1.8, as students will be using pictures of the scientists' journals to determine the purpose of keeping a science journal.


Click here for some good examples of journals from historical people. Click here for examples of famous inventors.

Warm Up

15 minutes

I keep my own science journal and add to it every time I ask students to work in their journal. This is to model exactly what the journal should look like, since the students are learning both the content and how to journal at this age. It is really important to make the model journal neat and easy to read, as some students who are still in early stages of reading and writing will use it as a model. Students who are further along in their development of literacy skills may be able to be more independent, but I still want them to know the format for making an entry in the journal.

First, I show some examples of famous scientists who kept journals to get the student's attention and to give them a purpose for keeping a journal. Using a PowerPoint presentation to show the picture on my Smart Board of Thomas Edison, I ask, "Does anyone know who this is?" and then tell them and say that he invented the motion picture camera for films, the electric light bulb, and the phonograph so people could listen to music, and show the pictures for those. Then, I show a picture of his science journal and ask the students, "What do you notice about this journal page?" Here is a video of one of the responses. I want students to understand the importance of clear drawings or graphics and neat handwriting, as well as using all of the space in their notebooks, so I emphasize that during the conversation.

I repeat the questioning with pictures of Garrett Morgan, an African American inventor who created the first traffic light. The third person is Marie Curie, who discovered two new elements: radium and polonium. Radium has been used for glow in the dark paints (although it has been replaced with less hazardous materials) and polonium is a radioactive metal used in nuclear reactors to generate heat. I chose these people for two reasons: First, I want to show different genders and races of scientists. Second, the things they invented and their accomplishments are things that most students are familiar with and will recognize.

During the year, I continue to talk about different scientists and inventors, and put a picture of them, what they are famous for, and where they are from on the wall around the classroom. This gives students a way to know them but also a reminder to me to make sure I represent different groups of people in science.


15 minutes

After students have seen some examples of journals, I model for them how to set up a journal page. I want to be consistent with this all year, so I put the date in the same place every time and put the topic in the same place. With older students in the past, I have asked them to write the guiding question on their page. For younger students, I have the question already printed out and cut on strips of paper and my assistant glues it in each day for the following day just to save time. As the year progresses, I show students how to glue it in themselves but for now, I want to avoid losing that teaching time and also avoid sticky messes!

I put today's date, the topic 'journaling', and explain to the class that I want them to draw themselves on the page, but it is not going to be a beautiful piece of artwork. Instead, it is going to be a scientific diagram. Students need to know the difference between drawing for art and drawing for science, because it needs to be faster and easily labeled. I draw a quick picture on my journal, which I project onto the board for students to see. Then, I tell the students, "I am going to label all of the major parts of my body. Watch how I draw a straight line from my arm, and write 'arm'." I label arm, head, leg, hand, and foot. Then, I ask students to draw a quick picture of themselves in their notebook and label the same things, and that they can copy my spelling if they need to. After they have finished their diagrams, we add 'diagram - a picture with labels' to our science word wall and collect their journals.

It is important to note that the science journal is not being used as an assessment tool - I am supporting everything they do because it is a teaching tool. So, if students need help with spelling or drawing, I will help them and show them,  as opposed to other lessons where I might want to see how their spelling awareness is coming along and I let them try on their own.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

After students finish, I ask, "How is drawing in a science journal different from drawing in art class?" At this point, I am listening for students to verbalize that a science journal is a place for accurate colors and pictures, as well as lots of labels and explanations for things they draw and write about. Then I ask, "How do diagrams help us to understand science?" in order to tie back to the guiding question. This discussion relates to the objective of creating scientific models because it is a prerequisite skill to be able to fully utilize the journals throughout the year.


Since I lead the students through their first journal entry in this lesson, I collect the journals at the end of the class period and after school look through them, checking that students put the required information in the correct places (the date, the title/topic, and the diagram with labels). I want to make the journals a scientifically correct reference for my students to use throughout the year. Therefore, if there is an error, I change it or add to it to make it correct. If a student does exactly what they are expected to do, I write at the bottom of the page, "I can tell you worked hard on this. Your diagram is easy to read. Good work!" or something like that in order to give clear, specific feedback to students.

Over the course of a week, I collect and look at science journals at least twice and provide formative feedback. This is so that I know how the students are doing with recording in their journals. It also sends a clear message to students that I am looking at their journals, writing them messages, and that I expect their journals to be accurate and finished at the end of lessons. When I collect the journals, I record when I check them and how each student does on a simple table with the student's names on the left and empty space on the right. I record things like "incomplete" if a student does not finish, or "needs help writing" if I notice a student's words are illegible. Keeping this record is important because it lets me know who I should pair my classroom assistant with during instruction and who I should pull into a small group for a little extra work. It also provides me with information about their writing which I incorporate into my literacy time each day.