Educators Smithsonian Education
Introduction to the Nature Journal
Getting Started

This Smithsonian in Your Classroom is the third in a three-part series that brings together writing and other disciplines. In the lessons here, students exercise the observation skills that are essential to writing, visual art, and science. First, they try to use evocative language in describing pictures of birds from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They go on to record observations and to make hypotheses as they follow the behavior of animals on the National Zoo’s live webcams. They can watch the giant pandas, the tigers, the cheetahs, the gorillas, or any of a dozen other species.

These classroom activities are intended as a preface or complement to a project increasingly popular in elementary and middle schools—the keeping of nature journals, whether on class outings or when the students are on their own. Included in the issue are words of advice for students from journal-keeping Smithsonian naturalists.

The term nature journal seems to resist definition until we realize that the broadest definitions all apply. In Keeping a Nature Journal, the most popular recent book on the subject, Clare Walker Leslie puts it simply: “whereas a diary or personal journal records your feelings toward yourself and others, a nature journal primarily records your responses to and reflections about the world of nature around you.”

With a subject as great as all outdoors, nature journals lend themselves to a wide range of expression. Sketches are often the most immediate way to capture the way things look. Deeper, written observations can be the basis for all kinds of creative writing.

Nature Journal Download "Introduction to the Nature Journal" (PDF).

Electronic versions of the previous issues in this series are available for free download here:

Mark Twain Download "Portraits, Visual and Written" (PDF).
Langston Hughes Download "The Music in Poetry" (PDF).
Required Materials

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Introduction to the Nature Journal

Smithsonian in Your Classroom is produced by the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. Teachers may duplicate the materials for educational purposes.

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