During our first week of school, I was covering science process standards before launching into our first unit on ecosystems. One of the first activities that we did involved writing about bananas.
In the few days prior to this lesson, we spent some time looking at and talking about science notebooks and the importance of recording our thinking. We took a look at some examples of real science notebooks kept by actual scientists (Note: as I write this blog, the sciencenotebooks.org website appears to be down. I really hope this is a temporary thing because it was a tremendous resource!). For this day's lesson, I asked my students to get out their inquiry notebooks, and I gave each student a banana. They were instructed not to eat their banana, but instead, they were to observe and describe their banana in their notebook.
During this first wave of writing (3-5 minutes), students gave very similar descriptions such as "long, yellow, brown spot," etc.
We shared descriptions at our tables, and then I asked the class how many students felt like they could identify their banana based on their description if I collected all the bananas from the tables and mixed them up. Only a couple of hands went up. We then talked about what kinds of information and details would be helpful to do that and started a list.
What really came out of this discussion was the idea that we needed to focus on unique characteristics. Everyone had a general idea what a banana looks like, but details such as having a brown spot in the shape of a heart approximately 2 inches from the end of the banana sure went a long way in helping us identify the banana in comparison to "long and yellow with brown spots."
I then gave them time to revise their descriptions. Some students traced their banana in their notebooks and then added details and markings from their banana.
Other students asked to get out tape measures to be even more precise in their details and descriptions.
At the end of this revising time, I had students mix up their bananas between two tables and trade notebooks with another student to see if the other person could identify the correct banana based on the description. It was a great check to see if the details were descriptive enough so that others beyond the writer would understand them. If the correct banana wasn't identified, the students made suggestions for additional details that could be helpful.
What I loved about this activity was how it really got us thinking about interesting details. It's the kind of anchor lesson that we can refer to in all types of writing when we talk about spicing up our writing and good word choices. The bananas were inexpensive, and of course, we ate them at the end of the lesson.
Do you use science or inquiry notebooks in your classroom? What are some strategies you use to help your students write in science? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!