Documenting with Drawing: Sketches-diagrams and labels

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SWBAT draw a simple diagram.

Big Idea

Learning to document what a scientists views is important to the process of recording data. Diagrams are another element to the recording process.


5 minutes

Literature is a fantastic hook to bring students into the excitement of science.  In this lesson, I have two books I am going to share with my students.  Both are long, and I won't read them through to the end.  

I have discovered that there are times when it is important to not finish a book with students, in order to encourage them to seek the book out themselves.  Also, in the interest of time, there is not always enough minutes in a teacher's classroom day to read long and lengthy books.  

I gather my students at our favorite place to hang out, the carpet.  And show them the two books: Now and Then Ben and Neo Leo.  I explain that we are going to read tiny parts of both of these books, but that we just don't have enough time to read them all the way through. (I read the Neo Leo book up to the page that shows the bridges that were created again by Thomas Paine). I remind them that the school library has both books and they might consider checking them out at our next library session.  They could read the books for themselves.

I frequently bring in children's literature, especially biographies to introduce and grab my students attention when learning about new subject matter.  I personally, love to read biographies and I find that the children enjoy them so much.  They have a keen love of discovering what people were like before them.  Bringing in the past through peoples lives is a fantastic way to integrate history, science, and connections to the world.  There are so many wonderful children's biographies it is hard to fit them all in to the teaching day. Admittedly, this is a great tactic for encouragement to explore a new genres of books: biographies and non-fiction.  

I begin with Neo Leo, because earlier in the year, I had already introduced my students to Leonardo DaVinci.  This is a familiar place for the children.  Around my classroom are coffee table books with DaVinci's work.  The children are able to use these books and peruse them when time allows.  We read a few pages and remind ourselves of his great work.  

After looking at the first book, I show the children the second book about Ben Franklin.  He is a new person in history we have not spoken about.   

Again, we read just a small portion of the book. This time I point out that Ben had diagrams just like Leonardo did.  This is important to point out to the children. (I read this book up to the page that shows the long arm.  I again will remind the children that the book is available in the school library).  I want them to understand that if both these gentlemen could have such an incredible impact on humankind and the world, it must have been something about the way they documented their ideas....the hook. 


10 minutes

This is phase is out of order of the 5E model, but it is important to begin here before allowing the children to explore. Explaining first, gives the students the background knowledge to move into the explore phase. 

At the beginning of this phase of the lesson, I start with the Diagrams Power PointI begin at slide one and show the children the title page and the standard we are focusing on. Right away, they will notice from previous lessons that a standard is connected to this lesson.  It is important for them to realize that we are doing this for a reason, not just because it could be what I have thought is important or fun; but because it is a standard.  

Slide 2 explains that one way scientists document their work and observations is through diagrams.  Circling back to the books we read at the beginning of the lesson, I remind the children that Ben and Leo both documented their work with diagrams.  

"If we are going to be great scientists this year, I think we should learn how to diagram as well. I am pretty sure that we might need to learn some of the details about how to do this well. So we should practice." 

Slide 3 shows a plastic ladybug.  I explain to the children that we are going to begin with this plastic ladybug.  I also explain to them that scientists in the field study live specimens, however, it is very difficult for me to get enough live insects that will sit still long enough for the children to diagram them, that I believe we are safer with replicas.  By introducing this word, I have brought in a new piece of language that the children can begin to play with through the course of this lesson and throughout the school year.  

I change my screen from the power point to my document camera and place the plastic ladybug on the doc camera.  I make sure there is enough room on the screen display for the children to not only see her, but the small paper, I call sketching paper as well. 

I enlarge my document camera so it shows a large view of the insect and hopefully many of the finer details of the body.  I do not say a word, I simply begin sketching.  Quietly and slowly.  I am methodical in the choice of pencil strokes.  I continue to sketch for about three minutes.  All the while, never saying a word.  

After enough of my sketch is visible, I look up at the children and say, "I believe this must be what a scientist does when they are sketching their observation. They only sketch what they see, they do not add anything to it.  No sun, no grass, no clouds. Just what they observe. Would you like to try it to? I am going to bring an insect to each of you to practice. When you begin, I want you to think about how you hold your pencil.  When we are writing, we hold our pencil in a certain way to make our handwriting legible.  This time we are going to hold it a different way." 

I demonstrate how I want them to hold their pencil.  I also switch to my power point view and show them a large image of a possible way to hold the pencil. I am careful to stress that there is not a right or wrong way to do this, but that it may be more comfortable to try this.  


I have done a bit of research in the background of art. I have found that in the minds of artists, there is a difference between drawing and sketching.  I am not enough of an artist to be an expert, not even a novice.  But I have discovered the difference is the medium the artist chooses to use and the placement in time when they create the work determines whether it is a drawing or a sketch.  


Scientists sketch what they observe.  They do not draw.  I make the distinction to my students that they are sketching because they are observing something in nature. That if they were drawing something, it would come from their imagination.  Whether in the mind of an artist or a scientist, I am not sure if this is correct.  But my sole purpose in distinguishing this with students is to have them see that the process is not the same.  I am approaching this from a scientific point of view, not an artistic point of view. 


15 minutes

I pass out plastic insects to each of the children, along with a piece of sketching paper.  (It is important to note, that the paper is not specialized sketching paper, but simply art paper ordered from the school supply, cut into smaller manageable sizes). 

I also explain that because I really want them to concentrate on their sketch I am going to put in some Smart Music (a CD of classical music) to help them focus.  I explain that while the Smart Music is playing, they must be sketching and working the entire time. They are not allowed to speak to anyone.  Ensuring that all children will have the opportunity to do their best work. 

I allow the children to sketch for approximately five minutes.  I want to allow them enough time to focus on the details of the insect.  For some children, they will begin instantly and sketch. Others will be slow to start and take their time.  I do not believe this unusual, but rather a telling sign of the confidence level the children have in their own skills with a pencil and paper. It is something to take note of.  

All the while, the music continues to play and there is a hum in the room of busy little workers. The children become engrossed in what they are doing.  It is exciting to see the insect come to life on their pages.  

I am circulating the room and doing my own observing of the level of engagement of the students.  Making mental notes to myself of who is feeling confident and who is working a little harder.  

After it appears that the majority of the students are finished,  I ask all the students to look at me and put their attention back to the screen.  I want to show them one more item that makes their sketching more scientific.  


10 minutes

I have my power point back on and visible for the children to see.  On slide six, there is a graphic of a ladybug.  It is a simple clip art and has labels on it.  I explain that scientists need to make clear and concise (I prefer to use higher level language. I believe the more often the children hear this level of language, they begin to internalize it and it will eventually become part of their own speaking vocabularies) sketches.  

Scientists do not just sketch because it is fun or they like the "art" they create, it is a way to communicate what they have observed.  But there be more to the sketch than just the sketch itself.  One other way to communicate their observations is to add labels to their work.

A scientist needs to remember what they observed in their sketch.  It is important for them to add labels to the object.  

"Do you see how the labels are placed on the picture? What do you notice about how they are placed?  Turn and talk to your partner and share with them what you see."

"We noticed that the words are spread around the ladybug."

"We see that that words don't have capitals."

"We see lines by the words."

All great responses.  "Yes, all those answers are correct." If the children do not observe any of those concepts, the teacher should lead them to see these ideas.  

Let me show you something about labeling your diagrams.  I move to slide 7, which shows a strong diagram and a weak diagram.  Most upper level science courses teach students that labels should be placed around the observed object.  Careful not to clutter up the sketch with labels completely on one side, but dispersed evenly.  Another point to demonstrate are the lines.  Arrows can hinder the sketch and become distracting,  simple lines from the labeled word to the part of the object being described are much better.  The last concept to point out is a title on the sketch.  Good sketches, like a good story or book, need a title.  

I also point out there is a difference in the good sketch that shows clean lines, the sketch on the right side of the screen is more artist looking and not scientific.  

These are high level concepts to teach the children, but easily incorporated and easily mastered.  


10 minutes

After I have shared the qualities of an appropriate sketch, I ask the students to go back to their original sketch and add all the elements to their work. 

Later when the sketch has been updated from the original work, the students glue the sketch into their journals.  

I want to make sure they have included a title, labels and the lines directed to the appropriate placement of the insect.  I also check to make sure the labels have been dispersed evenly as the lesson suggests in the Expand section.