Sketching and journaling

sketchingMuch of our understanding of science comes from interpreting visual images. The images that accompany scientific writing can enhance our knowledge of a subject and can add more precision to our perception.

Drawings that accompany field notes offer researchers several paths which to interpret their experiences. Incorporating drawing into research improves one’s observation skills. This holds true for all age of science learners – adults, too!

Creating a Nature Journal
A nature journal is a place to record your thoughts, feelings, and observations about nature. It is a place to reflect and interpret your inner thoughts on the natural world and to develop a greater awareness of both the natural world and your own thoughts and feelings. Many nature journals contain drawings, pictures, and specimens (such as leaves, feathers, or other small objects).

You can help your students build observation skills. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies developed a guide “Fostering Outdoor Observation Skills” to get you started on using science notebooks (also called a field journal) and using “sit spots” to build your student’s observation skills! Look at Unit 1 of this guide – you can download the “Fostering Outdoor Observation Skills” guide here.

Notable scientists, naturalists, and philosophers such as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and John Muir were all known for keeping journals of their observations, poems, and discoveries. Many of their famous literary works and groundbreaking observations were published from their journals.

Take your students to an area of the school grounds or somewhere nearby they can see animals or signs left by animals. Instruct your students to:

  • Sit quietly and look for an animal – watch it as closely as you can; look at its color, form, and body shape
  • Close your eyes and try to reconstruct the animal in your mind
  • Using a pencil, try to draw the body shape of the animal; sometimes it helps to look at the animal-and not at the paper

Sketching is an important tool to focus observations. The more that students draw, the more they will see. Students who are more comfortable drawing should include writing in their notes as well, while students who prefer writing should include sketches and diagrams with their writing. Combining writing and drawing gives the pages less of the feel an art project and more of a place where information is collected.

Creating a classroom nature comic book is a fun alternative to traditional field notes. Have each student record sequences of animal behaviors in the form of a comic book. Integrating the comic into recording a real nature event will help motivate students to accurately record their data.

Helpful Links

Instructional videos from John Muir Laws on drawing and sketching in nature (YouTube)

John Muir Laws drawing templates:

Opening the World through Nature Journaling (includes instructions for drawing birds and flowers)

Related Activities:

Project WILD

  • Adaptation Artistry
  • Animal Poetry
  • Does Wildlife Sell?
  • Nature in Art
  • Time Lapse
  • Tracks!