Student Designed Investigations Part 1 – Observations

Author(s): Linda Akiyama

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Elementary School (K-5), Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5


Biology/Life Science, FOSS-Related


Designing a scientific investigation

Big ideas(s):

Organisms interact with their environment.

Vocabulary words:

Before lesson: vocabulary introduced in previous lessons of the unit

environment, interact

What you need:

Before Part 1- paper and pencils for each student, choose a selection of living things from a pet store (Animal Connection in San Francisco has all of these) -night crawlers (big worms), meal worms(they are the larvae stage of Tenebrio beetles), elodea(water plant), crickets; or collect a selection of living things from a compost pile or garden - roly polies(isopods), slugs, snails, worms. Make or buy terrariums(Pet Store) to keep the animals in for the next several weeks(see attachment for what goes in the terrarium).

Part 1 - List of names of partners and the living thing that they will be investigating, 1 copy of "Living Things Sense and Respond" sheet (attachment) for each pair of students, 1 basin(FOSS kits or SEP) for each pair of students with the a living thing that the teacher has chosen for each pair (see Before Part 1 above), magnifying glass

Part 2 - "Investigation Plan Sheet" (attachment) for each pair of students





Time needed:

Before Part 1 - 15 minutes

Part 1 - 30 minutes

Author Name(s): 
Linda Akiyama

This lesson is from the unit, "What is a Living Thing and How Does a Living Thing Respond to Its Environment?", that is designed to be taught prior to teaching the adopted FOSS curriculum on life sciences. In this unit students are given time to think about and discuss the fundamental question, "What is a Living Thing?" They are also introduced to a method for doing their own science investigations on the topic of how different living things interact with their environment. The unit ends with students deciding on a testable question, designing an investigation, doing the investigation, collecting data and drawing conclusions. Students then create poster presentations of  their investigation and findings for a grade level science fair.

In Part 1 of this particular lesson, students work in pairs to observe a living organism and to brainstorm changes in the living thing's environment that would be important for the living organism to sense. They think about what structures their organism can use to sense and respond to its environment.

Prerequisites for students: 

A prerequisite for this lesson is teaching the previous lessons of this unit:

1)What Do Living Things Have in Common?

2)Living or Non-Living?

3) Introducing Cells

4) Introducing the Process of Investigative Science

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

In pairs, students will be able to plan their own science investigation. They will decide on a testable question, make predictions, decide on materials, and plan a procedure.

Getting ready: 

Before part 1- Have a sample of each living thing that you plan to let students use in their investigation.

Part 1- Make a list of names of partners and the living things that they will be investigating. Make 1 copy of "Living Things Sense and Respond" sheet (attachment) for each pair of students. Label each basin with partner names and the living thing that that partnership is going to investigate (example: Dexter and Sania - elodea). Put one or two specimens of the living thing into the correct basin. Prepare basins so that the living thing is not harmed during the lesson. Make or buy terrariums(Pet Store) to keep the animals in for the next several weeks(see attachment for what goes in the terrarium).

Lesson Implementation / Outline


A day or two before part 1: Review with students what they have learned so far about living things. Tell them that they will soon form a science team with another student to make their own investigation about how one living thing responds to one factor of its environment. Give a few examples of environmental factors such as light, temperature, dampness, saltiness. Let students know that today they will look at the living things that they choose to use in their investigation. Show examples of the living things. As you show each one, write the name of the species on the board. After you finish showing all of them, have students write down three that they might want to use. Let them know that they will be given one of the three living things to use in their investigation. Collect their choices and use them to pair students who will work together for the rest of the unit, designing, carrying out and presenting their own science investigation.

Part 1: Tell students that today they will team up with another student to do scientific observations of one living thing. Announce student pairs and the living thing that each pair will investigate (see above).


Hand out the "Living Things Sense and Respond" response sheet and go over it with the class. Introduce new vocabulary as neccessary.

Have one student from each pair get a magnifying glass, and the basin labeled with the pair's name and containing the living thing to be observed.

Have students observe the living thing, discuss what they see, and then fill out the sheet together.

Have pairs share their answers from the response sheet with the whole group.

Checking for student understanding: 

Circulate from pair to pair, asking questions, clarifying if there are problems with vocabulary or concepts and taking notes.

Use student response sheet to check for understanding of sensing, responding and living structures.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

Have pairs share their answers from the response sheet with the whole group. You may want to make a Class Brainstorming Chart:

Living Things - sense and respond brainstorming.doc25.5 KB
Keeping Slugs, Snails, Roly Polies, Worms, and Mealworms.doc35.5 KB
NGSS Topics
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: 

Standards - Grade 3

Life Sciences: 
3. Adaptations in physical structure or behavior may improve an organism's chance for survival. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know plants and animals have structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction.
d. Students know when the environment changes, some plants and animals survive and reproduce; others die or move to new locations.

Standards - Grade 4

Life Sciences: 
3. Living organisms depend on one another and on their environment for survival. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know ecosystems can be characterized by their living and nonliving components.
b. Students know that in any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.