Cultivating Keen Observers
Teaching with Journey North Photos, Video Clips, the Natural World

Questions to Inspire Close Observation
As you come across photos and videos on the Journey North Web site, try using some of the following questioning strategies. It's best to ask these types of questions before students (or you) have read photo descriptions or explanations from experts. You can have the class observe entire photo sequences (e.g., nest building) or focus on just one image at a time.
(Also see our Gallery of Student Observation Handouts.)

Observing Details

The more time and opportunities students have to carefully observe photos, the more detailed their observations will be. Here are some questions and instructions to engage them:

  • What do you see? (Record one thing you notice and one question you have about the photo.)
  • Keep looking for another minute (or more). Now what do you see?
  • Add to your list one new thing you notice and another question you have.

  • Make a “tube” with your thumb and fingers so you can look at just one small area or look at the photo from a different angle. What new things do you notice when you change perspective?
  • What do you wonder about what you see? How could you find answers (e.g., observe more closely, conduct research)?
Making Comparisons
Interpreting What You See
  • What do you think just happened? What do you think might happen next?
  • What do you know from looking at this photo?
  • What do you assume/infer from looking at it?*
  • How would you explain _______________?
  • What’s your hypothesis?
  • What caption would you write for this photo?
  • What do you think would happen if _______?
  • How has what you’ve already experienced or learned influenced your response?
  • How might someone else see or interpret this same photo? (As students share ideas with classmates, ask, Have your ideas changed after hearing from your classmates? Explain how.)
* Help students distinguish between observations (which are made by the senses and can be verified by other people) and inferences (interpretations of observations, which can vary greatly among people).
Considering New Information
After students have mined all they can from a photo, consider adding a new bit of information (or show the next photo in the sequence) to spark new thoughts and interpretations. For instance, consider this photo from the Mexican Monarch Sanctuary. If your young observers didn't wonder about the batch of monarchs perched at the top of a branch, ask these questions one at a time, as necessary:
  • Do you notice anything surprising or unusual? Describe what you see.
  • How would you explain it?
  • What if I told you it was a cold day? (Give students time to come up with explanations.)
  • What if I said if it’s too cold, monarchs can crawl but not fly?

Student Journaling and Discussion Questions

  • What new questions did your observations spark? How might you uncover the answers?
  • If you were teaching younger students to be good observers, what advice would you give them?
  • Do you look at photos differently since we’ve explored them up close? Explain what has changed.