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Elementary Science Activities: Process Skills, Part One


Never underestimate the beginning of a lesson. How well a lesson is introduced has everything to do with how well it ends. A good start develops positive expectations in students that will increase understanding and participation.

A Review of Scientific Inquiry and Process Skills

A review of process skills is often necessary to avoid confusion, as the skills vary from place to face. The National Science Foundation recognizes seven process skills. They are:

  • Observing — using the senses to gather information, recording information, comparing/contrasting;
  • Questioning — forming and asking productive questions;
  • Hypothesizing — providing tentative explanations that support observations;
  • Predicting — using observations to make a future-statement;
  • Investigating — planning and gaining information systematically;
  • Interpreting — making conclusions, explaining phenomena by recognizing patterns;
  • Communicating — accurately informing others regarding results or observation using the written or spoken word or formulas, tables, graphs, etc.

Activity for Questioning and Hypothesizing

The old guessing game “Twenty Questions” is an effective and fun way to demonstrate to students how proper questioning leads to solutions.

Simply tell students that you have an object in a box — big or small — and they can ask a total of twenty questions to find out what the object is. Another version doesn’t require that the actual object be present. It can be represented by a picture or written on a card. The teacher should choose something with which students are reasonably familiar.

The old version of the game requires that the questioners be given a hint by telling them something about the mystery article. The class is told only that the object is animal, mineral, or vegetable.This doesn’t require living animals or plants but usually means an animal or plant product such as bone, leather, wood, etc., although living things are options. Also, the choice could be animal and plant, or plant and mineral, or any combination of the three constituents.

If students have a poor understanding on “mineral,” the word can be defined, or simply use an object that is not in part or whole mineral.

The teacher then proceeds to allow the class to ask a total of twenty question which can be answered by only “Yes” or “No.” A student can guess if they wish, but a wrong answer eliminates them from participating in the game. The teacher can make brief notes about the questions to discuss later.

Analyze the Questions

Typically, questions become more specific as students use information gained. The students, as a group, are demonstrating a type of deductive reasoning. Solutions to problems in science and other disciplines often use deductive reasoning.

Deductive inquiry is based upon the logical incorporation and processing of information. Students in elementary school may not be ready for comparing deductive and inductive reasoning and the words can be omitted. Teachers can help students understand how their questions changed to make them aware of different ways of thinking and questioning. Detectives work in a similar fashion. They begin with all the evidence and through deduction arrive at a specific solution to a crime.

Students — and scientists — form hypotheses through deduction. As students ask questions in the game, they are “hypothesizing,” and that is the purpose of the game — each question represents a hypothesis based on information previously known. The teacher may wish to have the students work through describing the way their questions changed as more information was gained.

Activities for Interpreting and Predicting

Weather is an excellent means to teach interpretation and prediction. Students of any age have some familiarity with weather and associated phenomena. The teacher can describe various conditions that generally precede thunderstorms, snow, sunny days, or changes in the seasons. Students will be asked to predict the weather change that follows.

This activity can be extended by following weather as the year continues. Pictures of weather can be used with good effect, as well. The key feature that is often difficult for elementary students to grasp is that predictions are statements about the future.

Elementary students enjoy participating in a game of Twenty Questions, although they may not need to ask twenty questions to guess the object. Or they may need more than twenty questions, but the important issue is that students come to realize how to “shape” their questions so that the questions become more specific as in deductive reasoning. Weather is one of the best topics for acquainting students with prediction.