Describing observations

Grey clouds in blue sky

What's brown and sticky?

Describing things is a good way to increase vocabulary and improve observational skills.

Sometimes it’s hard to get those conversations going though. Ask a five-year-old what she sees and the reaction may be disbelief. Are you having me on? Is this a trick question? You do have eyes, don’t you? Or even that eye-rolling “huh, adults!” 

“What can you see?” is not the only (or best) starting point for encouraging children to describe things. Try asking more specific questions, such as, “Can you see any patterns?” Narrow questions down, scaffold them rather than using blanket question like, “What’s happening?”

You can also play a game where one person describes something and everybody has to guess what it is. A set of cards with pictures or a basket of objects on them can help with this. Make it extra fun by seating the person who is describing something behind a screen or asking the group guessing the answer to turn their backs on them. Perhaps the children can describe something (animal, vegetable) to you and you can try to draw it?

Activities and provocations also work well where you have to use your imagination, such as cloud watching or looking at soap bubbles, describing images seen in modern art or creating your own scribble pictures. Encourage the children to spot or imagine something no one else has noticed.

By the way:

Can you think of other starters for prompting children to observe and describe?
We’d love to hear them! Let us know using the comments below.

Hayley Bates
Article author: Hayley Bates
National Certifications Coordinator

This passionate mathematician and former science teacher will inspire you with her enthusiasm for inquiry-based learning and her determination to provide high-quality hands-on and fun professional development.

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