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Bringing Inquiry, Discovery to the Science Classroom

Janelle Cox


Throughout life, you will make many decisions, and a lot of those decisions will be based upon your observations. For example, if you are deciding which shampoo to buy, you may look at the ingredients on the bottle, explore with your senses, or buy a few to experiment to see which one you like the best. Unknowingly, you are using process skills to investigate which shampoo is the best for you.

As a teacher, you can help your students learn to observe carefully, ask questions, and interpret what they observe. This process can be applied in all subjects and aspects of their life.

Engaging in Inquiry-Based Science

An inquiry-based classroom allows students to learn by asking questions, and gathering information by using their senses. Students will quickly learn that they will use many tools to help them explore data and solve problems. They will use scientific process skills such as observing, classifying, inferring and analyzing to help them draw conclusions and get answers. These skills can be applied to future situations that students may encounter in school or at work.

Practicing Observation Skills

A great way for students to practice their observation skills is by engaging them in simple hands-on activities. Students will use their five senses to describe what they see, smell, touch, taste and hear. You will notice that younger students will observe using simple pictures or words, while older students will communicate their observations in a more sophisticated way like charts or graphs. An easy way to practice observations skills at any age is by having students describe something simple, like a peanut.

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Hands-on Activities

To practice observation skills, try these hands-on activities with your students.

Describing a Peanut


For this activity, the students will use all of their senses to describe a peanut (do not use a peanut if someone in the class has an allergy to them). Divide students into groups and give each student one peanut that is still in the shell. Each student must observe their peanut and write descriptors on an index card. Next, each group member must place their peanut in the same cup and shake it up. Students must then find their own peanut. The process is repeated, but this time students must use the descriptors from someone else’s index card to find that person’s peanut.


Ask students “If you were to describe a peanut to someone that has never seen one before, which characteristics would you use?” Then discuss that they can talk about the color, shape, size, texture, odor, etc. Also ask students if they were successful in finding their own nut in the peanut challenge activity, and when they had to find a group member’s peanut. Have students discuss what descriptors they would of wrote differently that would have made it easier for them to find.

Observing Through Touch


For this activity the students will use their sense of touch to make an observation. Collect a variety of materials, such as cold spaghetti, sand, sandpaper, soil, cotton balls, etc.  Place each item in a separate closed shoebox. Blindfold each student, then pass the box from student to student and have them open and feel what is inside the box.


As students are feeling each object, ask them, “What does it feel like? What kind of object do you think it is?” Together as a class, have students classify the items (which are alike, which are different). Lead a discussion about the process skills that were used (collecting data, classifying, analyzing).

Observing by Sound


For this activity the students will use their sense of sound to make an observation. Collect a variety of objects, such as marbles, coins, Christmas bells, etc., and place them into a closed shoebox. Pass each box around the classroom and have students shake the box to make a prediction about what the contents are.


As students are shaking each box, ask them, “What sound do you hear?” Have students record their observations. Then, as a class, classify each object and talk about how they are alike and different.

Students learn by performing activities and using the process skills that were taught to them. When implementing inquiry-based instruction, be sure that students analyze their results and use scientific evidence to develop their explanation. Recognize that not all students are on the same cognitive level, some students may respond to better to some strategies then others, and for this reason it’s important to select a variety of teaching strategies.

Do you use scientific inquiry-based instruction in your classroom? What are your favorite activities to do with students? Share with us in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators

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