Let's Learn to Observe

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SWBAT use observation skills to learn how to record written observations in their science journals.

Big Idea

We can observe and draw just like scientists! Let's learn how observe and write our observations using our 5 senses!

Setting the Stage:

National Science Education Science Standards Connection:

The National Science Education Standards has said that making observations is key to inquiry-based and discovery-focused learning in science instruction. In order to do this students participate in inquiry-based learning that allows them to solve a problem in science through observation, discourse and using a science journal. Students will then be give a chance to share their findings with their peers and then reflect on their own understanding.

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

In this unit students will learn that organisms have external parts that help them survive in nature and then use that information to help them solve a human problem by mimicking plants and animals. This is called biomimicry - bio: life, mimicry - to copy. To learn more about biomimicry check out this Ted Talks.

This lesson students will learn how to observe and record their observations in a written form using their sense of sight.  This lesson is an important beginning lesson because it also sets the behavioral expectations for teaching life science. 

Home to School Connection:

In this unit we will be learning animal and plant parts. Students will learn that organisms have external parts that help them survive in nature. The NGSS standards ask students to solve a human problem by mimicking how plants and animals survive.  Each a day a student in class will be able to take home the Organisms Bag. In this bag I have included a recording sheet - What if I had animal teeth?, crayons and pencils, and the book What if You Had Animal Teeth by Sandra Markle.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and Talk Partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop Partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.

Vocabulary Cards:

These are the Vocabulary that will be covered in this unit that addresses 1-LS3-1.  You can choose to use these cards in different ways. I like to print all vocabulary words on card stock and hang them on my science bulletin board as a reference tool throughout the unit.  You can also use these cards as flashcards or a concentration matching game. 


5 senses

5 Senses Song

Anchor Chart - Writing Science Observations

Power Words 


Magnifying Glasses - a class set

Formative Assessment - 1-LS1-1

Science Journals


15 minutes

In this lesson my students learn how to use their sense of seeing to record written observations in their science journal. This lesson will support the high level observations that will take place later in the unit.

Boys and girls we are starting a brand new science unit and we are going to learn all about animals! My students cheer. Before launching into this unit I want to set a behavioral expectation for this unit. I ask my students How do scientists act when doing science? Please turn and share your ideas with your turn and talk partner. Together we make a list of ways to act when doing science and record them on an anchor chart. We will refer back to this anchor chart often as we move through our lessons.  Then I ask, How should we NOT act when doing science?  We add this to our anchor chart as well.

Anchor Chart - Be a Scientist

Boys and girls on this chart you said that we should be observing things if we are doing science. You are absolutely correct. You have learned how to observe and draw just like a scientist because you are all scientists.  Today you are going to learn how to write observations just like scientists do.  In order to do that we have to go back to our 5 senses. Who can tell me the 5 Senses? I hold up our 5 Senses poster as a reference and my students yell out each of their senses. Great! You remember your 5 Senses. Let's sing our 5 Senses Song together.

As the students sing I write on a small anchor chart: See, hear, taste, smell, touch.

Boys and girls today you will be using your sense of sight to write what you see today.  When doing an observation you start your sentence by writing:

I see (I write that on the same anchor chart)

Then after "I see" I want you to write the specific shapes that you see. (I draw different shapes on the anchor chart and label each shape) I also want you to write the colors you see. (I draw different colors on my anchor chart and label them as well).  I also want you to write different textures you see. Do you know what that means? Textures are how things feel or look. (I write rigid, bumpy, smooth, flexible, rough, soft, hard, flat, pointed). I pass out pieces of felt, short pointed screws, rubber bands, pieces of laminated paper, pebble conglomerates (bumpy rocks), etc.  We play a stand up/sit down game using textures.  For example: Stand up if your object is smooth. Sit down if your object is bumpy.

Finally you will end your written piece by writing.... and this makes me think .... and then you finish the sentence (I record that sentence on the bottom of the anchor chart).


25 minutes

The students will use our anchor chart as a reference tool for writing their observations in their science journals. I pass out a series of photos and magnifying glasses to each child.  These photographs are not very clear so it will be hard for them to recognize what it is s/he is actually drawing. The purpose of this observation is for students to describe what they see and then make an inference about the object. 

Modeled writing is a strategy that allows my young students to watch as I write. This tool allows me to provide an authentic explanation for my students while demonstrating how writers actually go about constructing scientific observations and recordings.

Boys and girls we know what it means to observe. I show my students my "Power Words" anchor chart and point to word observe. The purpose of this anchor chart is to support my students understanding of academic vocabulary.  Remember, to observe means to look closer.  As you are working you will need to record your observation. That means you need to write what you are observing.  Guess what?  There is a special way to record an observation using your senses.

Watch as I observe this photograph. The students watch as I look at the photograph and name what I see. The first thing I have to do is write what I see:

"I see one  black zig-zag line. In the middle of the line there is a yellow and white oval. The black line is really thick but there are thin short lines that look hair-like.  There is a green oval under the black line. I see a furry whit oval with ...."

Finally I end my observation with: "This makes me think I am observing the side of a bumblebee."

Do you think you can give this a go? You will each get a photograph and a magnifying glass.  You will have to be very careful to write what you see. Be sure to include the shapes, colors and different textures you see.Okay! Off you go!

As my students observe their photographs I walk around and confer with each student naming and noticing the smart thinking happening. Conferring is the process of listening and recording the work the student or students are doing and then compliment the work. As I listen, I research a teaching point and then work to provide clarification through questioning, modeling and re-teaching. My goal with this conference is to guide each student to write the colors, shapes and textures seen in his/her photograph.


10 minutes

In the explain section I want my students to share their observations with their workshop partners.  Each partnership will engage in accountable talk agreeing or disagreeing with each observation notes.  The purpose for partnership is two-fold.  I want students sharing their observations and explaining their thinking as well as engaging in high levels of student discourse and reasoning.  

Thank you for meeting me on the carpet with your photograph and your observation notes.  Today you will share your observations with your workshop partner. Your job is to have a thoughtful conversation with your partner about your observations and your partners observations. As your partner shares his or her work with you, I want you to either agree or disagree with your partners observations and tell why. If your partner disagrees with you, I want you to listen carefully to why and then decide if you need to make some changes to your observation.  Are you ready to give this a go?

As my students share I video tape and listen in on their conversations.  I show my students some of the rich conversations and point out the strengths in each conversation.

Did you notice in this video she didn't just say I agree.  She said, I agree with you because I can see that in your picture there are red smooth lines. 


10 minutes

After the students have had time to share and make changes to their observations I bring them back together to talk about the importance of observations. I want my students to understand that their observations and writings are called evidence. This will prepare them for academic language: evidence-based.

The key to a good observation is that it must be accurate and factual. That means you cannot make it up. It must be exact, and to do this you must keep careful notes of your observations. You can do this by writing and drawing in your science journal. This information that you collect is called evidence, data, or feedback. Let's watch how these kids observe and record their observations.


5 minutes

For this section I have created a pretest that will help inform my instruction for the rest of the unit. This is a paper/pencil formative assessment so I will ask my students not to look at their neighbors paper. Since first graders are naturally curious about his or her partners answers I move my students about the room to private spots to prevent any copied answers.  Before passing out this assessment I have a conversation with my students about persevering.

You are about to do something that may be hard for you.  This is not about getting all the answers right but rather about writing what you think the correct answer might be.  If you do not know the answer and it is way too hard, that is okay.  You are not suppose to know all of this stuff yet. My job is to learn about you and what your brain knows and doesn't know. So if you don't know the answer, then guess what? That is good news for me because I will know exactly what to teach you.  Then after you learn all the stuff that is hard for you, we will do this exact same sheet again and guess what?  I bet it will be a lot easier.  Are you ready to do your best and not give up?  Are you ready to persevere even if it is really, really hard? 

I pass out the formative assessment and slowly read each question aloud to my students.