Field Journals: Descriptive Writing and Scientific Drawing

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SWBAT create detailed and descriptive writings and drawings about a focus object.

Big Idea

Students practice their ability to write descriptively and create detailed scientific drawings.


5 minutes

Note to teachers: In this lesson, students will set up their field journals and begin some practice entries and drawings.  If this is your first lesson, be sure to have students leave the first several pages of their notebooks blank as to incorporate a table of contents that can be used throughout the year.  If this is not your first lesson, students can staple a few pages of blank paper to the inside cover of their notebook to serve this purpose (be sure to staple at the top only so students can flip pages as needed). 

Additionally, this lesson will require some preparation and gathering of materials, such as leaves, seashells, flowers, rocks or other small, easily acquired objects students can use for journaling practice.  Also, honey, perfume, burnt grease and/or sugar, rose, cinnamon and other potent spices are used to make scent jars.  Film canisters (or other small opaque containers) can be used to create the scent jars.  You may need to poke holes in the lids or cover the material with a thin layer of cotton so none of the material can fall out of the container as students investigate.

During the prior lesson I showed students the PowerPoint How Do Scientists Keep Track of Their Work? that displayed many different journal entries from actual scientists.  I remind students of this prior to beginning out discussion and have them take out their printed example to use as a guide for our opening discussion.

What type of information should each journal entry contain?  Use the examples as a guide but also offer what we, as a class, should/could include.

I record student responses on the board or on a Google doc that can be shared with students.  Students should identify such things as:

  • Date/entry title
  • Page number
  • Purpose of the experiment
  • Procedure or event
  • Scientific drawings
  • Scientific data/observations
  • Calculations and/or results
  • Conclusion
  • Resources
  • Data tables
  • Graphs

Not only do we need to include as much of this list as is appropriate for our purpose, but we need to ensure we apply neatness, so others can read and learn from our work, and accuracy, so we can use the information to draw appropriate and correct conclusions.  Remember, these journals tell the story of what we are learning on a daily basis and we must do our best to include the details that lead to our conclusions.

A large goal of this discussion is not only to remind students of the type of information to include in their journal, but also to inspire students to include their questions/comments/connections/inferences into their journal as well since this is really where all of the "magic" of learning lives. Classroom Video: Focusing Student Thinking gives an example of what this might look like in the classroom setting (this was the first time students were filmed...they were a bit nervous!)


30 minutes

I place all the collected items (leaves, flowers, rocks, etc.) on a table in the center of the room. 

Choose an object from the table.  Your task is to describe the object using words and scientific drawings.  Remember, scientific drawings are neat, important parts are labeled and include a focus on the object from different angles.

For an activity such as this, it is important to have a variety of objects so all students can find something that maintains their interest and can spark questions and/or insights. Classroom Video: Student Choice and Classroom Video: High Interest Activity both provide a little more information on this topic.

As students are new to this type of "free" investigation, there are going to be times when they need to be prompted to either change the way they are doing things or consider other avenues of thought.  Classroom Video: Respectful TransitionClassroom Video: Wait Time and Classroom Video: Claim - Evidence all provide more insight into this idea.

I display the Scientific Drawings reference slide for students to refer to as they work.

If students are still unclear, I allow them to use their smart phone or a computer to Google search scientific drawings.  It is helpful to have a variety of objects that have the same color but different textures to help students develop their descriptive writing.  I also encourage students to use a thesaurus or field guide (on the internet) to assist them but be sure they do not just copy what is written in the guide, their writing should still sound like that of an 8th grader.

As students finish, I have them record different pieces of information on a chart (this would be best in a shared Google doc but a wall chart will work fine).  This chart can be set up in many different ways but I like the following:


Sight Descriptions

Scent Descriptions

Touch Descriptions


Discuss student responses as a class to help them get more descriptive.  For example, if two different objects are both shades of green, compare them and decide how to distinguish between the two.  Make sure that each object is described within all three categories.  I encourage the class to assist each other with filling in gaps and making descriptions more detailed.                  

I next pass out the scent jars.  Be sure to have more than one of each scent, I like to create one jar for every 2 students. 

Every pair has a scent container in front of you.  Without opening the container, your task is to use your sense of smell to find the other students that have the same scent.  There will be 8 total students in your group, 4 groups of two.  When you find your group, work as a team to decide what the scent is and discuss what it makes you think about.  Write all findings in your journals and be sure to include a description of the activity.

As students work, I monitor progress and ask questions like

  • How can you make this more descriptive for your reader?
  • How did you know your scent was…?
  • Can you explain how you came to think…?


This type of writing really helps students become adept at communicating scientific information which is the cornerstone of SP8 - Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information.


10 minutes

To conclude, I have students write a reflection of the activity in their journals.  I have students write a summary of the class activity and then respond to any two of the following questions:

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you think of the activity and why?
  • What happened that made you feel proud?
  • How can you apply this in science or other classes?
  • What challenges did you encounter and how did you/could you overcome these challenges?


Not only does this type of writing help to support Common Core ELA Standard W.8.10 - Write routinely over extended time frames and shorter time frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes and audiences, this work also helps students to become reflective thinkers that are able to determine the impact of lessons and how what they learned can be applied in a variety of situations.  Students who are reflective thinkers are able to develop their metacognitive thinking abilities which helps them become stronger learners overall.