Learning to Observe

Look at this picture. What do you see?

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Most people’s answer to the question above is “I see a living room.” But if we were to ask “What do you observe?”, then would your answer change?

The Modern Oxford English Dictionary describes the word observation as “the action or process of observing something or someone carefully or in order to gain information.”

What information can you gather by observing the picture displayed above?

  • Can you tell if this room belongs to a family or a single person?
  • Does the family have kids?

What evidence or proof can you provide to justify your inference?

If you were to compare your observation and inference of this picture with another person, would it be the same or would it be different?

Observation is an essential life-skill and forms the base for inquiry and curiosity. Observation leads to enquiry, and enquiry leads to reasoning and discovery. Most scientific discoveries were a result of keen observation and enquiry.

Observation is not just looking at something or watching something. Good observation requires us to use all our senses,and also requires us to articulate our findings and support them with evidence or reasoning. Observation, thus, is a skill that must be taught, especially to young children.

Children need to be given specific directions to guide their observation, and each time they report a finding, they must be taught to reflect on it and come up with an inference. By encouraging/teaching children to observe, we help them develop curiosity, and curiosity will lead them to discover and learn.

In this article, we will look at some activities that will help children develop observational skills; inference and reasoning skills will be introduced in the next set of articles.

Here are some activities that you can try to help children develop good observational skills.

  • A Lemon of a Lesson: Try the activities in this lesson to introduce the need for observation.
  • Observation Prompt Chart: Prompt charts are especially useful for elementary children, and serve as a useful guide to aid the observation process.

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  • What Is It?: Play the ‘What Is It?’ game. Have students think of an object in the classroom. Ask them to observe and describe the object. Then, ask them to exchange their notes with their partners. The partners have to guess/identify the object described.
  • What Changed: Have children stand in two rows facing each other. Ask them to observe the person standing in front of them. Then clap your hands and ask everyone to turn, so that they are standing with their backs facing each other. Ask all children to change three things about them (they could maybe untie their hair, remove a watch). After few minutes, clap your hands and ask them to turn back, observe the person in front of them, and name three things that changed.
  • What Does The Picture Say? They say ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ Display a painting or a newspaper advertisement in class. Ask children to observe it and then describe/write their thoughts about what the picture communicates.
  • Copy It: Display a picture on the board. Ask children to observe it for five minutes. Then, take off the picture from the board, and ask children to recreate the picture in their books. This can also be played like the ‘Chinese Whisper’ game. First ask one child to recreate the picture from memory. Then show the recreated picture to a second child; cover the picture and have the second child recreate the picture from memory. Repeat this with a group. At the end compare each person’s drawing with the others as well as with the original picture.

Are observational skills essential only for science or do they apply to other subjects and fields also? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Kanchan Shine

Kanchan Shine

Passionate about everything related to education. I believe that the best kind of learning happens through play, experiments and fun! I love watching how children learn and love to implement play-based, hands-on teaching approaches. I get my thrill by planning activities for my children (6 yo girl & 3 yo boy) and watching them learn while having fun!

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