Engaging Students in Observational Writing in the classroom

What can you do as a teacher to promote observational writing in the classroom?

Teaching science has been such a wonderful experience and has allowed me to improve on my own science learning.  Seeing a student thinking critically and getting involved in learning new science concepts is very inspiring. 

One thing that I have noticed with my science students is that their attention span for science observation is shortening.  I can no longer expect that students know how to observe or understand why it is a beneficial skill.  I can no longer expect that they have observed animals, plants, etc. before or know how to describe what they are viewing.  It was very clear in their work, when I informally observed their writing, that students were having difficulty generating words to describe what they were viewing. 

It was even hard for them to fill out simple graphic organizers like a Venn Diagram.  Science wasn’t “fun” because they had to think critically about what they were observing and I wasn’t giving them the answers.  This was a scary observation for me because so much of what I teach in environmental science is observational.  So I needed to figure out a way to address this dilemma.

Observation is an imperative skill for building future scientists and a skill that teachers need to explore more often throughout science classes to help generate interest in science.  Observation promotes critical thinking and questioning, which are essential to help further science discoveries.  Our students are the future scientists, so we need to help them along in this process.  As an educator, I feel that we need to do more real world observations to help build on these imperative skills.

Simple Solution:  Model how to keep a Science Notebook in class daily!

In this science notebook they can draw, date, and describe what they observe.  Modeling for them is needed though to be the most beneficial and long lasting.  That way you can teach them daily how to elaborate or enhance what they are observing. 

Starting off:  Modeling with the students is huge!

  1. Catch a bug in your house or have a student catch one to bring in. (if you have a class pet that can work too!)
  2. Model how to sit and watch the bug.  (Actually do this.   Move around looking at the bug in the container.  Stop and stare at the bug.)
  3. Ask the kids about what you were doing.  “What did you see me do with the bug?”  Take responses. (walking around, staring at it, not talking with a friend, and accept all observations made by the students) 
  4. Record these observations from the students on chart paper, white board, or smart board, etc.
  5. Then Model how to write about the bug. (Using the board, smartboard, chart paper, your own science notebook, etc.)
  6. Think aloud about the bug.  “Wow this bug has stripes, black white, and yellow.”  “It is moving kind of slow around the container.”  “It is chubby and it has two antennae on its head and its back end.” “It has a mouth that is eating a large green leaf.” “This critter is a caterpillar.” “I wonder what kind of butterfly it will be.”  I wonder how long it will be a caterpillar because it is so fat.”  “I wonder how long it has been alive.”  “I wonder how long it will live as a butterfly?”  “Will it become a butterfly or a moth?” 
  7. As you are saying the above things aloud, write them down.  (so all of the above can be written as an observation)
  8. Give the students a couple starter sentences:  Some samples below…
  • Today I am looking at…,
  • With my table group I see…, 
  • Today we are observing a…,
  • This bug is very interesting because…, etc.  

This way they have a way to start their description.  These can be typed up and hung around the room to help them throughout the year. 

**Ask for students to create some too, they love that!  It keeps them activiely involved and they feel ownership of the lesson and work you are doig in class!

  1. Continue this process daily or every other day- It only take a few minutes of the science time and eventually it will be done more efficiently and students will be able to express themselves better through writing about observations (descriptive writing practice too!)
  2. Provide time each day for students to share their observations with peers.  They will ove doing that and also get to hear another perspective, which promotes curiousity! 
  3. Perhaps once the students are more confident you can have them perform observations for homework on a science observation of their choice.  This would be a beneficial homework and not tedious! Then they can share with tables/class the following day.

Hey teachers or parents!  Try this idea with you classroom or your own children.  Kids do love to observe just about anything.  It will help them to be more descriptive and aware of their environment.  As a bonus it will help them to improve on writing skills and overtime they can compare what they notice in different seasons.  I keep a notebook and I tell my students that I look back to see what happened from years past.  That interests students and shows them that observation helps scientists (or teachers) notice trends in information.

Insect to observe

Sample Journal Etry