MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Observational Skills: Observing and creating sketches of an outdoor environment

Observational Skills: Observing and creating sketches of an outdoor environment

Daryl ("Tish") Monjeau
Bancroft Elementary School
Mpls., MN
Author Profile


Students observe and sketch the environment outside their school on a few separate occasions. Students observe what they see in nature using their senses. They sketch a plant and/or animal in their science journals using detail and color. Then, the students create a few classroom books that parallel Betsy Bowen's book, "Gathering A. Northwood Counting Book".

Learning Goals

1. The students will use various senses to experience and observe an outdoor environment.
2. The students will pay close attention to detail and color when creating their
3. The students will be able to create a classroom book using their sketches from nature.
Key Concept:
1. There are natural and man-made objects in our environment.
1. man-made 2. natural 3. environment 4. detail

Context for Use

This is an introductory series of lessons on sketching nature over 4 days. It can be used at the beginning of the year for learning how to make observations (pictorial and written) of an object in many subject areas. Each lesson will be approximately 45 minutes in length. These lessons will include your entire class either working in a whole group or individually. Some of the time the students will be creating sketches of plants/animals. During this time students will need to bring their science journals and pencils along. Other times students will be in a discussion group sharing their findings. Time allotment for just observing and drawing will be approximately 15 minutes in length.

Subject: Environmental Science, Geoscience
Resource Type: Activities:Field Activity, Classroom Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Primary (K-2)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12

Description and Teaching Materials

Day 1
"Gathering A. Northwood Counting Book" by Betsy Bowen, science journals (enough for each student to have one), pencils, and erasers.
1. Have a discussion on natural versus man-made objects in our environment.
2. Read the story, "Gathering A. Northwood Counting Book" by Betsy Bowen followed by brief discussion. This discussion will reference which objects are man-made and which are natural from the book.
3. Discuss with the students what the next activity is (observing nature on the playground and garden areas) and what the rules for going outside are.
4. Students observe and sketch plants and animals in their science journals on the playground and in the garden area.
5. After about 15 minutes of observation and sketching, have the students come in and discuss their observations. Included in the discussion will be identifying objects they observed that are man-made and that are natural.

Day 2
acorns (enough for everyone in your class and one additional to display), science journals, pencils, and erasers.
1. Have a discussion on how to observe an object (what senses do you use).
2. While displaying an acorn, have a brief discussion on how one would sketch this object found in nature.
3. The students sketch this item from nature using their senses in their journals. The focus is on details. During this time talk about using the side of the pencil to sketch
the item. At this point in time, I would not introduce coloring the sketches.
4. Share the sketches and talk about what was challenging to draw.

Day 3
Paper that has dotted lines that cover only half of the sheet (one sheet for every student), clipboards (one for every student), pencils, erasers and colored pencils (enough for every student).
1. Talk to the students about going on a nature walk and about the outside rules. Remind students to use their senses and focus on details when sketching the animal/plant. Have the students pick a number out of a basket that will correlate to some of the numbers in the counting book by Betsy Bowen. There will be enough numbers so that every student will receive a number. My intent is to make more than one classroom book that has the numbers 1-10 of different animals/plants seen in the playground and
garden area. The number the student picks should correlate to the number of a specific animal/plant that they see on the nature walk (eg. The student saw 9 black ants. The student sketched 9 black ants.)
2. Students go on a nature walk. They observe and sketch one animal/plant on a separate piece of paper. Keep in mind that each student needs to find something in nature that corresponds to the number he/she picked. At this point, have students add color using colored pencils. In addition, have the students write about what they are observing on this piece of paper when their sketch is complete.
3. After about 30 minutes of sketching and writing, have a discussion on what the students' observed and discovered. Collect these sketches to use for the next day.
Day 4
Have the sketches from the previous day to share and create some books.
1. Have the students share their sketches with the class.
2. Talk about how natural systems are made up of parts (eg. tree parts) and how natural systems are interconnected. Connect natural systems to what the students observed and drew. Take these sketches and create classroom books
representing the numbers 1-10. You may want to put these books together at a later time, as well as, share them at a different time.
3. Read these newly created books to the class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I have had students of mine do observations and draw what they see. I haven't spent much time on detail. This is a more in-depth set of lessons on observing and sketching things.
Areas of concern: I think that if there are students that get frustrated over drawing an animal or plant, I will just hand out specific numbers to those students to help ease their frustrations. For example, I would give a smaller number to a student who shows signs of irritability when sketching. Another area of concern, may be time. Depending on the age of the students, it may take them longer to complete a sketch than planned. I will keep an eye on the time and adjust accordingly.


The students' final sketch, that will be used to create the book, will be the assessment piece. I will look at the sketches and the student's writings to see if the goals have been met (use of senses, detail and color, and the sketch itself).
Short Description:
In this series of activities, students observe and sketch the environment outside their school using their senses. Students create a classroom book using one of their sketches.


Environmental Literacy Benchmark: Social Systems and natural systems are made of parts.

References and Resources