science education

Exploring Nature Educational Resource:

Life Science, Earth Science, and Physical Science Resources for K-12

A Guide to Observing Animals in the Field

A Guide to Observing Animals in the Field

Animals are all around us everyday though we may not always notice them. Moths flutter around the porch light. Ants make mounds in the cracks of sidewalks. Spiders and flies find their way indoors. Grasshoppers, butterflies, snails and slugs explore the garden. Dragonflies and fireflies soar above grassy fields and lawns. Birds call from the trees. Frogs croak in the wetlands. Everywhere animals are making their living in their own small way.

Observing animals has many uses for teaching inquiry and can act to ignite a student's interest in science. Students will also learn to observe – a skill in itself that takes practice. They can also learn to describe what they see, to record it and to discuss it. All of these are useful life skills as well as science inquiry skills. It is important to discuss with students how to respect living things - these observations will enhance that concept. Be sure to follow your school's regulations when using live animals in the classroom.

Each of the following activities will ask students to do some or all of the following actions:

  • Observe
  • Pose questions.
  • Describe what they see.
  • Record what they observe.
  • Draw what they see.
  • Hypothesize about observation.
  • Collect background data (research) about subject.
  • Discuss and share their findings.

Observe and Describe
If it's possible, have students observe the animal and describe what they see, before knowing anything about it. Ask them to hypothesize about what the animal is doing. This is a useful pre-assessment for them.

Then spend some time learning about the animal; its habitat, physical traits, diet, and life cycle. Have students color the animal's anatomy, label it and even draw it.

Informed Observation
Then allow them to observe the animal again. Have them describe them, record what they see, draw them. Then let them compare their new knowledge with what they recorded before knowing about them.

This allows students to see how knowledge helps to deepen understanding. It also lets them see how observing and recording their observation allows them to accurately keep track of their "animal study."

Allow students to share what they have learned through discussion and/or displaying findings in a mock  "Poster Session" (how scientists often present research at conferences).

Above all, have fun. Sparking students' sense of wonder about science and nature makes for life long learners.

Citing Research References

When you research information you must cite the reference. Citing for websites is different from citing from books, magazines and periodicals. The style of citing shown here is from the MLA Style Citations (Modern Language Association).

When citing a WEBSITE the general format is as follows.
Author Last Name, First Name(s). "Title: Subtitle of Part of Web Page, if appropriate." Title: Subtitle: Section of Page if appropriate. Sponsoring/Publishing Agency, If Given. Additional significant descriptive information. Date of Electronic Publication or other Date, such as Last Updated. Day Month Year of access < URL >.

Here is an example of citing this page:

Amsel, Sheri. "A Guide to Observing Animals in the Field" Exploring Nature Educational Resource ©2005-2017. January 20, 2017
< > has more than 2,000 illustrated animals. Read about them, color them, label them, learn to draw them.

cheetah, tiger, panda, fox, bear, cougar