Standard Lesson

How Does My Garden Grow? Writing in Science Field Journals

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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Science field journals have been in use for many, many years. In fact, Lewis and Clark were asked to keep a field journal by President Thomas Jefferson. Their journals included detailed observations of the land, plants, and animals they saw. This lesson plan invites students to observe and explore their environment in much the same way. After being introduced to both gardens and field journals by reading picture books, students work together to plant a garden and study its growth using the inquiry process of questioning and exploring. As they research and study, students record their observations in a field journal, to be shared with others—just like Lewis and Clark!

From Theory to Practice

As David and Phyllis Whitin explain in their "Inquiry at the Window: The Year of the Birds," inviting students to observe, comment on, and question the things that they see in the world around them leads to "significant inquiry learning." Their article outlines four ways that a fourth-grade classroom's observation and experimentation of the birds that visited a bird feeder outside their classroom window lead to learning. They discovered with their students that inquiry

"begins with looking closely."
"involves really living the lives of scientists."
"generates an endless spiral of questions to pursue."
"involves a flexible use of various nonfiction resources."

Based on planting a class garden, this lesson plan engages students in similar inquiry learning which can result in a year-long study of plants and flowers, comparisons of living things, and application of the inquiry process to other activities in the classroom.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Selected books about gardening

  • Science field journals

    • These can be commercially purchased, a spiral notebook, or a student-created book.

    • You can print blank Stapleless Books and ask students to devote one day of their observations to each page of the book.

    • For a more structured journal experience, create a Flip Book with the desired labels already made for the students. Example labels might be "Day 1, Day 2, etc." or "Drawings, Measurements, Observations, etc." Assemble the books for students to use as they record their observations.

  • Writing and drawing materials

  • Location for a class garden or a windowsill or containers for container gardening

  • Chart paper or Board and writing materials

  • Gardening tools, such as shovels, hoes, seeds, and watering cans

  • Measuring supplies and magnifying glasses

  • Camera (optional)



Student Objectives

Students will

  • observe and write about their observations in a science field journal.

  • pay attention to detail in all types of observations.

  • formulate questions that could be researched or that could lead to investigations.

  • seek out answers to those questions through observation, exploration, and research.

  • record and share information learned.

Session One

  1. Share a selection from the booklist to introduce students to the topic of gardening.

  2. After reading the book, invite students to brainstorm things that they observed about gardening in the reading.

  3. Collect their responses on the board or on chart paper.

  4. Working from the ideas that students have shared, explain that the class will cultivate a class garden, windowsill garden, or individual container garden.

  5. Allow students time to talk about and share their excitement about having a class, windowsill, or container garden.

  6. Also provide time for students to browse books on their own.

  7. If possible, take a walk and look at gardens in the neighborhood, or go on a field trip to a location where students can explore a garden. Another option is to take a Virtual Tour of The National Arboretum.

  8. After the students have had time to explore the books and/or to take a walking field trip, introduce the idea of science field journals to the students.

  9. Introduce the idea of field journals as a tool that scientists use to record their observations as they work on a project. You might share a book that shows the use of field notes, such as David Wiesner's June 29, 1999 (of course, your class's experiments will turn out a little different from those in Wiesner's book).

  10. Ask students to share what they already know about writing notebooks, reader response journals, math journals, and diaries.

  11. Making connections to the students' responses, describe the idea of a science field journal:

    Science field journals are often used to describe inquiries, investigations and experiments. They provide a place for students to record observations and data, as well as make predictions and come to conclusions. In science field journals, students can also draw or write what they already know about the area of study. In addition, students can list questions they may encounter. They can also collect artifacts from what they are studying.
  12. In their science field journals, students will be documenting their garden, from beginning to end.

  13. As a class, brainstorm plans for your garden. Questions for this discussion can include the following:

    • What will we grow?

    • What time of year do these items need to be planted?

    • How much sunlight and water do they require?

    • Is there a location that is best for planting?

    • Where will the garden be-in a plot, on the windowsill, or in a container?

    • What materials will we need for the garden project?

    • How will we divide the responsibilities for the garden?

    • What will happen to what we grow in the garden?
  14. Invite the students to write their answers in their science field journals.

  15. As a class, draw out the garden on the board or on chart paper. Students can include this drawing in their journals as well.

Session Two

  1. Once you have decided on the location for the garden and collected the materials, begin planting the items.

  2. Together, read the back of the seed packets for instructions, or read any directions on potted plants. Visit the Gardening in Containers Site to learn more about container gardening.

  3. When students are done planting, they should record the day's activities in their science field journal. You can ask students to write freely in the journals as an open-ended writing assignment, or you can ask them to respond to the prompt "Describe how and where you planted your seed. Add an illustration of the seed." If desired, the students can also tape or glue the seed packet or label from the potted plant into their science field journal.

  4. At the end of every session, invite several students to share what they have documented and recorded in their science field journals.

Session Three, and additional observation sessions as needed

  1. Before the seeds begin to grow, invite the students to make predictions by responding to questions such as the following:

    • What will happen to the seed?

    • What is the first thing we will see?

    • How tall will the plant grow to be?

    • What colors will we see?

    • What if the plant doesn't grow?
  2. While waiting for the plants to sprout, students can use their science field journals to try the following projects:

    • Write creative stories about gardens and gardening.

    • Write poetry about plants, including cinquains, haiku, and acrostics.

    • Publish a garden newsletter, documenting your progress, using the Printing Press. Distribute the newsletter to other classes, parents, and the community.

    • Write a description of a garden they have seen, focusing on what they liked about it and some of the details they remember about it.
  3. Once the plants have sprouted, students can use their science field journals to try the following projects:

    • Draw what the plants look like as they sprout.

    • Record daily observations, measurements, and comparisons of plants grown under different light conditions.

    • Measure the plants and record their data, perhaps using a class growth chart on the wall.

    • Write about the rates at which the different plants grew and why think they think the growth happened at the pace that it did.

    • Compare the young plants with the mature plant pictures-students can write, draw, or complete a Venn Diagram of their findings.

    • Collect and press a few leaves, flowers, or other finds.

    • Describe other things that live in the garden and talk about their purpose in the garden.
  4. Looking at more mature plants, students can use their science field journals to try the following projects:

    • Describe the leaves on the plants, considering vein pattern, color, texture, shape, and leaf size.

    • Observe the flowers-list their attributes, dissect the flowers, separate the parts and pieces.

    • Describe the plants using as many of the five senses as possible.

    • Write about a change they noticed in the garden since the last time they observed.

    • Write a description of the garden from the point of view of the root, stem, leaf, or flower of a plant.
  5. As questions arise from the observations and experiments, use them as teachable moments by finding the answers together.

  6. In case the plants do not sprout, students can observe growing plants online. This site can also be an opportunity for teachers to model how to observe growing plants: "I notice that the leaves are growing from bottom to top."

Final Session

  1. At the conclusion of this gardening experience, the journal entries the students write can describe in detail the class's garden-related investigations and experiments.

  2. As a culminating activity, students can have a party and serve the food they grew in their gardens, or if non-edible plants and flowers were grown, they can give them away as gifts to other teachers in the school or to organizations such as nursing homes.


  • For a math connection, measure the growth of each plant. Also, calculate the area and perimeter of the garden.

  • Students can work more on the sequence involved in gardening. For additional ideas, refer to this lesson about pumpkins.

  • For an art connection, students can design seed packets, garden signs or garden stepping stones.

  • As an experiment, subject some of the plants to extremes-over water them (to explore floods) or do not water them (to explore droughts). Water some of the plants with salt water, or slowly remove soil to simulate erosion.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Students’ engagement in these inquiry-based observations will be documented in their observation journal entries, class discussion, and their engagement in additional research in books and other nonfiction resources. A basic checklist of questions can focus assessment of the activity:

  • Do students look closely at the garden, plants and flowers? Are they making meaningful observations?

  • Do students write notes about what they see (make factual observations)?

  • Do students share and present their observations to the class?

  • Do students engage in discussion of the observer’s entries?

  • Do students work as scientists in the classroom, questioning and testing their observations and resources?

  • Do students question the facts of their observations and explore the possible conclusions they lead to?

  • Do students consult other nonfiction resources for additional information about their research? How do they work with these resources?

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