Observation activities help kids tune in. Try memory games, sensory activities, hidden pictures, and drawing to heighten awareness. Then apply these skills in classroom instruction.
Ms. Sneed Considers Observation Activities
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, wrinkled her brow. “My students just buzz through everything,” she told her teaching partner, Mr. Frank. “They pay no attention to detail. What should I do?”
“Sounds like they need to improve their powers of observation.” Mr. Frank pulled out his laptop and did a quick search. “Here’s a quote from Richelle Goodrich:
…in reality most lessons are learned through observation and experience. Perhaps we’d be better off training our youth to be highly observant.”
“Exactly,” said Ms. Sneed. “But how can I train them to be highly observant?”
Gathering Ideas from the Internet
Mr. Frank searched a bit more. Then he pulled the laptop around so Ms. Sneed could see. First, they read through “The Power of Observation” by Kevin Eikenberry. In it, he laid out six ways to become more observant.
“Yes, these strike a chord,” said Ms. Sneed. “I want my kids to be open, intentional, and looking. Although I never thought about it before, focusing on more than one sense will help too.”
Next the teachers watched “8 Ways to Improve Your Powers of Observation” from MindTools. “My takeaways from this video,” said Mr. Frank, “include becoming more mindful, using mental workouts, and recording observations.”
“All good suggestions,” Ms. Sneed replied. “Did you notice how using multiple senses was mentioned again?”
“What do you think about allocating some time each week for an observation activity?” Mr. Frank asked. “Maybe the last 20 minutes each Friday?”
“I love that idea! Nothing is ever accomplished late on Fridays. This could be productive – and fun!”
The two began to generate a list. First they worked on paying attention to detail. Then they moved to sensory activities. After that, they discussed picture-based activities. Finally, they addressed drawing and journaling.
“I’ll take these notes and pull out the best activities,” Ms. Sneed said. “I’d like to come up with enough activities for a full nine-week period.”
Mr. Grow gave her a thumbs-up. “Great! Without a doubt these observation activities will be a hit with our kids.”
Nine Weeks of Observation Activities
The following Friday afternoon, Ms. Sneed clapped for her students’ attention. “Today we’re trying something new. To improve your powers of observation, we’ll do some fun activities – and maybe even play some games.”
Her students sat up taller and grinned at one another.
Memory Activities and Games
Week 1 – Items on a Tray
Ms. Sneed pulled out a tray with 30 items on it. “I will place this tray under the document camera for 30 seconds,” she said. “Then I will turn it off, and you’ll list as many items as you can remember. Get ready, get set, go!”
The teacher turned on the camera and watched the clock. The silent students stared at the screen. Some silently mouthed the names of items. Ms. Sneed secretly smiled. They were already more attentive!
“Time’s up! Now list what you saw. You have two minutes.”
Week 2 – Details in a Picture
“Can we play the memory game again?” Ms. Sneed’s students asked the following Friday.
“This week I have a variation,” she replied. “I’ll show you a picture – again for 30 seconds. Then I’ll ask a series of questions.”
The students positioned themselves to concentrate on the screen. Quietly, a girl at the back of the room said, “This is fun!”
Week 3 – Teacher Features
“Take out a piece of paper,” Ms. Sneed said the following Friday afternoon.
She walked over to her closet, opened the door, and went in. “Now,” she said, “I am going to ask a series of questions.”
“We can’t see you,” said a boy with blue glasses.
“Yep. Let’s see what you can remember about me.” Ms. Sneed proceeded to ask them 10 questions about her eye color, clothing, jewelry – even the part in her hair.
As she walked out of the closet, they all stared at her. “I knew it! She’s wearing sandals,” and “How could I forget that she had brown eyes?” could be heard.
Ms. Sneed grinned. These games and activities were doing the trick!
More Memory Activities – Moving an Object in the Classroom
“Let’s continue to challenge our memories,” she told her class. “Each day I’ll move something in the classroom. The first student to notice it can choose a prize from our prize box.”
Ms. Sneed moved the filing cabinet, the globe, and the flag. She moved her laptop, the electric pencil sharpener, and even a set of Harry Potter books. As her students became more observant, she moved smaller and smaller objects.
Week 4 – Blindfold
On the fourth Friday, Ms. Sneed changed gears. “Today’s observation activities,” she told her class, “will test your sense of smell. Let’s see if you can name these common scents.”
At each table, the students took turns with the blindfold. Their teammates held different objects for them to smell: bubble gum, a lemon, chocolate, an orange, and more. Afterward, they graphed their findings.
Week 5 – Sensory Box
The following week, the class tested their sense of touch. Ms. Sneed gave each group a box with a hole in the side. “First, one person will place an object from the bag at your table in the box. Second, the other people at the table will take turns. One at a time, they will put their hands in the box and feel the object. Finally, the entire group will discuss what the object is and how they determined it.
For this activity, Ms. Sneed chose to use fruit: an apple, a pear, an orange, a lemon, and a lime. When the students finished their discussions, she asked them to list touch-related similarities and differences of the five fruits.
More Attention to Sensory Details
One day, Ms. Sneed tried something new. “Let’s take 30 seconds of silence to use our senses. Close your eyes. If you’d like, lay your head on your desk.”
Ms. Sneed watched the clock and enjoyed the silence. When the time was up, her students shared what they heard:
- children talking
- an engine
Then they described what they smelled:
- green beans
- a hint of grass
What was happening? Outside the door, the first grade classes ate lunch. Beyond the windows, a worker mowed the lawn.
Over the next few days, Ms. Sneed asked for 30 minutes of silence at different times of the day. Short activities like this helped her students focus on sensory details.
Week 6 – Hidden Pictures
“More observation activities!” Ms. Sneed said the following Friday. Everyone cheered.
” Today you will look for hidden pictures. I’ve sent you the link for Highlights Kids. Have fun!”
As her students worked on the hidden pictures, Ms. Sneed walked around the classroom. “See if you can find the wrench,” a student challenged her. Ms. Sneed scanned the picture. Eventually she pointed to the wrench.
“This is fun,” the student added. Ms. Sneed smiled and nodded. She had enjoyed hidden pictures as a child too.
Week 7 – Find the One That’s Different
The following week, Ms. Sneed used another online activity, “13 Find the Difference Activities That Can Make Your Brain Work Faster.”
Again, she walked around the room. She noticed that some students could see the differences immediately while others struggled. “For a greater challenge,” she said, “try the second link I sent you: Photo Analysis Challenge.”
Drawing & Journaling
Week 8 – Quick Impressions
On the eighth Friday, Ms. Sneed addressed her class. “This week, we’ll do something different. At each table, I’ve placed a bag. In it, you’ll find four common items. When I blow this whistle, you’ll have just 15 seconds to sketch the item. Then I’ll blow it again. Pass the item to your right, and draw the next.”
Organized chaos prevailed. Each time the whistle blew, kids groaned and shrieked.
After a full round with four items, Ms. Sneed paused. “Turn and talk to your group. Determine the three most important attributes for quick sketching.”
After a quick discussion, the class came back together. Ms. Sneed listed the top attributes as they reported back. Shape prevailed as the top response.
Week 9 – Journaling
“Today you’ll describe our classroom. Each of you will draw and/or write on a 9 x 12-inch paper,” Ms. Sneed said on the final Friday. She distributed the paper without another word.
“Wait,” said a girl with a long braid. “How do you want it to look?”
Ms. Sneed smiled. “That’s up to you. Consider that you’d like to share it with someone who has never seen our room before.”
Some students looked around to see what others were doing. “Can we talk to other people?” one asked.
“Can we measure?” another student queried.
“Good idea. I’ll get out some meter sticks.” Ms. Sneed noticed that her students had settled down. Some huddled on the floor in discussion with small groups. Others drew and wrote at their desks. Still others measured the length and width of the room.
The following Monday, Ms. Sneed let her students continue the project. “I guess journaling takes a while,” she said.
“Journaling?” said a boy who was measuring his desk. “We’re writing on a big piece of paper, not in a journal.”
“True,” said Ms. Sneed, “but this is the essence of journaling: drawing and writing to explain.”
More Drawing Activities
One day in the teacher’s lounge, Ms. Sneed explained her observation activities to the art teacher, Mrs. Patel. “Ironically, we’re doing more intricate line drawings in art class next month,” the art teacher said. “I’ll mention their importance in journaling.”
“Our weekly activities really helped my students pay more attention to detail,” Ms. Sneed told Mr. Frank. “Furthermore, I’m noticing strong application to academic success.”
“In what ways?” her co-teacher asked.
“For example, kids’ scientific observations are much more detailed. This year, when I asked them to dissect a flower, they added specific drawings and used numeric data.” Ms. Sneed pulled out a student’s lab sheet to show him.
Mr. Frank nodded his head. “Maybe this is the year to add those long-term scientific observations,” he said. “I’m ready to a weather station – or ask kids to observe the moon each evening.”
Ms. Sneed’s face softened, and she exhaled a contented sigh. “Yes, my students are ready – and so am I.”
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.