Comparing and Contrasting in the Great Outdoors: An Introduction to Field Journaling

Lesley McKillop - Prairie Elementary School

Subject Area: English Language Arts, Science, Art, Media Literacy
Grade Level: 4th Grade

Overview: Students will find two specimens of the same species, branches, flowers, leaves, rocks, etc.; draw them side by side; and delve into the “incredible variety of things to observe” through field journaling, movie making and audio casting (VoiceThread).


  • Students will note, in their drawings, the similarities in the specimens.
  • Students will note, in their drawings, the differences in the specimens.
  • Students will analyze, through a Venn diagram, the variability within a single species.
  • Students will write a compare-and-contrast paragraph, based on the observations recorded in their Venn diagrams.


  • Begin lesson by reminding students that they are used to seeing the differences between human beings everyday, and the same concept applies to species in nature.
  • Discuss the need for students must train their eyes to look carefully for differences, as many differences are very subtle or small.
  • Head out to the school yard and challenge the students to find two similar appearing flowers, leaves, grasses, or rocks.
  • Demonstrate (on an overhead or document cam) how to make careful diagrams in their Field Journals, with specimens placed side-by-side. If their specimens are very small, they may want to draw them on a larger scale.
  • Instruct the students look for as many differences as they can find; detail those differences in their diagrams; and then record their observations as notes in their field journals.
  • Students are now ready to complete a Venn diagram noting the similarities and differences between the two specimens. The information in the Venn diagram will help scaffold and transform their observations into a paragraph.

Note: This lesson is based on Going for Gold: Comparing and Contrasting, a lesson from the excellent online curriculum developed by author, illustrator, and naturalist John Muir Laws. Lesson is best done in a location where students have access to many types of plants or minerals.


  • Specimens from similar species (leaves, stems, rocks)
  • Note paper our journals
  • Pencils, crayons or colored pencils

Lesson Resources:

Student Products:

Extensions Activities: Now that the students are experts on observing and explaining similarities and differences of plants and animals, pose the question: Why are individuals, despite our differences, members of the same species?



  • Demonstrate creativity and innovation
  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions
  • Use technology effectively and productivity

Common Core Standards:

  • With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.

California Content Standards

  • ELA Grade 4 - Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3
  • ELD Grade 4 -Listening Speaking beginning and intermediate; Writing beginning and intermediate; Reading beginning and intermediate.
  • Science Grade 4 - 6 a