MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Ring of Investigation: What Will We Find?

Ring of Investigation: What Will We Find?

Sheryl Tokarczyk, Cherry Elementary School, Iron, MN, based on original ideas from Jennifer Dalke, 2001, and Julie Hamilton, Renaissance Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, "Looking for Life", printed in Mailbox magazine, Aug/Sept. 2007
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In this outdoor activity the students will use science-processing skills to predict findings, examine an area of ground for living and non-living things, diagram and label their findings, and journal their observations.

Learning Goals

The student will:
· predict what might be found in a small area of ground.
· observe and gather information using appropriate science tools.
· describe (through diagram and writing) some features of the plants, animals, and non-living things that were observed.

Key vocabulary: environment, organism, living, non-living, and investigation

Context for Use

Although, this activity is appropriate at the 3rd grade level, it can easily be adapted to skills at Gr. 1-6. This full class group activity (divided into groups of 2) will require at least a 30-minute field exercise in the schoolyard.

Subject: Biology:Ecology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Field Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field

Description and Teaching Materials

Materials needed (for each student pair):
· 2—9 inch paper plates (held together, as one, by piece of tape)
· a piece of yarn equal in length to the plate's circumference
· 2 pencils
· ruler
· craft sticks
· hand lenses
· toothpicks
· journals

Activity: In the classroom, brainstorm with students what living organisms and non-living things might be found on the school grounds. Tell the children that they will be participating in an activity that will show them how plants, animals, and non-living things interact. Separate students into groups of two, explaining that they will be sharing their observation experience. Pass out needed supplies and move to outdoor area. Have one child from each pair lightly toss their joined plates. Pairs will then discuss, from the throwing spot, and journal their predictions of what might be under their paper plates (5-10 minutes). The non-throwing student will now mark their investigation area, by placing the yarn around their plates, before removing them. The two students freely examine their area using tools (ruler, craft sticks, hand lenses, tooth picks) for living and non-living things. After separating the paper plates, the students will each draw and label a detailed diagram of what they observed inside their yarn circle area. After returning to the classroom, the students may add details and color to their diagram. For a classroom display, these diagrams may be made to resemble a magnifying glass by coloring the edge of the plate and gluing a construction paper rectangle to the back. Students will independently write descriptive sentences in their journals describing their observation.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I have used a similar activity with a 6th grade group, as an introduction to an ecosystem unit, in which the students used a meter stick to measure, craft sticks to mark, and hand lens and gardening tools to examine a square meter plot. They charted their findings through a detailed illustration and wrote a descriptive paper about what they observed in their plotted ecosystem.
Gloves could be used for this activity. Students may get bacteria on their hands, so make sure they wash with soap and water after the activity.
Some students may be disgusted by organisms and insects, so allow students to examine cooperatively.


Were students cooperating to complete the activity?
Did students, using the tools given, observe and make detailed paper plate diagrams?
Were students able to write descriptive sentences about their observations?


3.I.A.1—investigate and answer questions about the environment
3.I.B.2 - scientific investigation using proper tools
3.IV.C.1—organism interaction

Language Arts
3.II.A.1.c - informative writing to express meaning
3.II.B—engage in writing process

References and Resources