Boy with notebook

Why Practice?

Conducting science involves careful observation and drawing what you see. Most students won’t know where to start if you ask them to sketch a crayfish, a beaker or even a rock. Lay the foundation for sketching by explicitly teaching the following techniques. That way, students will build the confidence and skills they need to sketch during science investigations.

Blind contour drawing

Exercise #1: Blind Contour Drawing

In this exercise, students sketch just the outline of an object. They can sketch from an image or a 3-D specimen. This exercise works especially well with skulls or pictures of animals. There are only two rules: 1) don’t look down at your paper; and 2) don’t lift your pencil off the page until you are finished. It’s hard! Students will probably laugh a lot when they see what they drew. It’s a great exercise for drawing what you actually see, as opposed to what you think is there.

Breaking into shapes

Exercise #2: Breaking Into Shapes

Sketching an object or organism becomes easier if you break it into basic shapes, like ovals, rectangles, and triangles. Encourage students to look at the object, and then blur their vision so that the basic shapes emerge. They shouldn’t focus on details or contours for this exercise, just shapes.

Disappearing images

Exercise #3: Disappearing Images

Sketching quickly can be liberating; there’s less time to worry about making a pretty picture. When scientists are studying animals in nature, they often have only a few seconds to glimpse an animal before it bounds away. So, they have to learn how to make quick observations and then sketch from memory. This exercise gives students the opportunity to work on this skill. Show an image for just 15 seconds. After it disappears, students try to sketch what they saw.

Student sketch

Exercise #4: Quadrant Drawings

To sketch an artifact that is the size of a piece of paper or smaller, students can practice the quadrant strategy. Instructions: Fold two pieces of paper into quarters and then open them back up. Trace the folds on each page with a pencil so that there are 4 quadrants and a center point where the lines intersect. Center the object on one page. Use the other page to draw the object, one quadrant at a time. Dividing the object into quarters can make drawing it feel more accessible. (credit Betsy Rupp Fulwiler, Writing in Science in Action, p. 28)

Appropriate for: 3rd Grade - 12th Grade
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Activity Time: 45 minutes
Subjects: Science Notebooking, Visual & Performing Arts

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