Field Inscriptions of Natural Intimations

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OBJECTIVE:  To encourage and train participants to develop a habit of documenting their observations and impressions of their environment and introduce the convention of creating a field notebook 


For centuries, naturalists have kept field notebooks containing detailed field observations. Their thorough written accounts have become invaluable inspirations that stimulated many scientific revolutions. One notable example is Charles Darwin's influential journal on his voyage on HMS Beagle. His written observations stimulated his thoughts on evolution and natural selection and became the foundation of his subsequent investigations. Using this model, Field Inscriptions of Natural Intimations (FINI), the culminating module of ACTION, provides participants the opportunity to combine and apply their experiences and learning gained from preceding activities. "The palest ink is better than the best memory." (Chinese Proverb)

LOCATION: Anywhere!

TIME REQUIRED: FINI could be completed successfully in 60 minutes. It could also be extended to allow time to participate in small group reflection. 


Traditionally, the field notebook contains three sections: "Journal," "Species Accounts," and "Catalog." The field notebook that participants will create however will focus only on one section, the "Journal." Although this is the main goal of the activity, everyone is encouraged to create a section on "Species Accounts." Consider field notes as a travel log or a letter to a friend explaining what the participants see. Field notes are a participant's personal observations. They should reflect who the observer is.


Choose a site (e.g. natural reserve, park, football field, etc.) big enough to accommodate all participants to work independently.

For 30 minutes, participants will observe the site. They may choose to remain in one area or travel around. However, they need to move cautiously, so as not to disrupt the environment.

For the "Journal" section, follow the conventional format and provide the following information in the content:

Adopting a format ensures that certain types of information that are crucial will not be neglected.

On the top margin document the location of the investigation. The location should include specific site, city, county, and state.

Put the date in the left margin.

Write the name of the investigator on the left, top-most part of the page, while on the right, top-most mark the year.

The content contains general descriptions of a participant's trip including the world around and his or her movement through it. At the beginning of each new location entry, include a thorough site description. If the "Species Accounts" section will not be included in this module, instruct the participants to make their "Journal" section detailed, incorporating the information that should be included in the "Species Accounts." Information to be included in the "Journal":

A. Location - in addition to the location information at the top of the page, inform the readers where the journey or investigation begins and where it courses (e.g. the trail or road taken, the route traveled on, etc.); a drawing of the environment can also be included to clarify description

B. Elevation, topography, geology, soil, and water - describe as much as one is capable, do not be fixated on providing the specific types

C. Weather, temperature, humidity, visibility

D. Vegetation types and plant phenology

E. Evidence of disturbance (e.g. fire, grazing, cultivation, grading, etc.)

F. Purpose of trip

G. Species observed - create a species list of all the species you observed, do not be fixated on providing their scientific names; describe and/or draw the species observed and provide the number of each species sighted

H. Individuals involved in the investigation

Journal notes need not be written at the time of the investigation or trip. However, it is recommended to keep rough notes about the time and place where significant event occur. Journal notes should be completed during or as soon as possible after the investigation.

Be objective when documenting. Avoid attributing emotions to animal behavior.

For the "Species Accounts" section, follow the conventional format and provide the following information in the content:

For the "Species Accounts" format follow the format of "Journal" section, except write the species name on the top margin of the page.

The content of "Species Accounts" contains detailed descriptions on morphology, behavior, and habitat.

Because the "Journal" is usually cross-referenced to the "Species Accounts", the descriptions of the environment in "Species Accounts" should be more detailed than the information provided in the "Journal".

Make certain that observations are placed in context of the surrounding environments. Avoid ambiguous descriptions such as "The birds flew away." Instead, describe the event as "The birds flew 100 meters south and disappeared behind the oak trees."

Create explicit and detailed descriptions. Include sights, movements, smells, sounds, textures, patters, sizes, shapes, colors, and other descriptions that would help readers envision what the participants are observing.

Include information on abundance, microhabitat, and behavior.

If participants encounter a species that they do not know, encourage them to make a sketch of it. Conduct and record detailed observations of the unknown species so that they can research the species in a field guide upon their return.

Focus on distinguishing characteristics.

Participants may fasten a leaf or flower to their field notebooks. However, remind them not to collect endangered or sensitive species.

Write observations of species account immediately.

After 30 minutes, allow participants additional time to reflect or bring their observations to closure. If additional time is given, the facilitator should announce how much additional time will be allotted.

After completing their observations, the facilitator should gather all participants to an area within the environment and encourage them to share their observations to a classmate or the group.Each participant should be given the opportunity to share his or her observations or experiences.

This activity should be repeated several times in the same or different environments until participants are comfortable with developing questions and designing a scientific investigation to answer or find an explanation to the questions.

If the activity is to be repeated in the same environment, instruct participants to describe changes they observe.


Teachers are encouraged to develop their own learning extensions to develop students' skill of documenting their observations and impressions.

pen or pencil (colored pens or colored pencils are strongly recommended)
several sheets of paper (spiral notebook is recommended)
Hand lens or binoculars
Ruler or tape measure
Tape Recorder