Species Accounts

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Species Accounts - Learning to See


Students will practice being naturalists by learning different drawing techniques to use in real life observations of forest species in order to create a species account. 


  • Students will use drawing to help them observe their environment closely and explore what it is like to be a naturalist.
  • Students will be able to implement new drawing skills to draw details of a new plant to such a degree that they can identify it with field guides.
  • Students will be able to share information learned about their species and through this process with their peers.



Brainstorm with your students, "Why do you think drawing a species account is still powerful now that we have cameras?" 

Students responses should include references to scientific details, for comparing and contrasting to find similarities and differences between other species, etc. 

Summative (15 min):

Have students teach their peers about their species. You can do this as whole group, in pairs, or in smaller groups. Students should be referencing the species' role in the ecosystem, as well as how it interacts with other ecosystem components. 

Age: 4th-6th graders

Venue/s: Most outdoor places work!

Materials: Pencils, drawing boards, paper, erasers, field guides/E1T1 cards, any drawing materials as see fit

Time: 1 hour 40 mins

Lesson Plan:

Introduction: (~5 min)

Being a scientist is more about the way you view the world, and not just where you work. It is about being curious, observing the world, asking questions, and looking for answers through your observations. 

When you are drawing, you scan the environment for things that catch your attention or for things you are curious about. Explorers would draw species accounts of all the new species they found in order to learn more about them and to share with others. 

The Core Lesson:

  1. Introduce and practice drawing skills  (~10 min)
    • Holding the pencil (not like writing)
    • Using your whole arm
    • Stepping away from your work
    • Line Quality
    • Sketching first then adding darker lines and shadowing
    • Shadowing techniques
  2. Warm Ups (~15 min, 5 min each) These are skills and warm-ups, not a final piece of art. A sketch is just a quick drawing that gives the general idea of something. Do not worry about mistakes, we're just warming up our drawing muscles, connecting our eyes to our hands. 
    • Gesture Drawing: Have a student stand in front of the group for 30-45 seconds in a pose. The other students will practice quickly drawing the student, looking for proportions, angles, and movements in the pose. These drawings are messy and quick but they get your eye moving all over the page and looking for big patterns. 
    • Contour drawing: This is a slower activity. Pass out leaves and sticks and have students practice drawing every little bit of detail that they see. They should not be worried about proportions, or the bigger picture, but instead should be focused on the finer details. They are practicing using their microscopic vision!
    • Practice putting these two methods together as a final sketch. Make sure to emphasize making a quick gesture drawing very lightly first, and then coming in with darker and darker layers of contour drawing. You should also emphasize that this drawing should fill up the page. 
  3. Practice Drawing Species Accounts (~40 min) 
    • Head outside and find a species that you are curious about drawing. Find a good comfortable space (don't forget sit pads and layers!). Students will need drawing boards, erasers and drawing pencils. Students should practice gesture and contour drawings first, gradually adding lines and shading later. 
    • Once students are done they can use field guides to try to identify each others' species. E1T1 Cards are great for this too. 
    • They should then add the following information: 
      • Species Name (common and scientific)
      • A few characteristics (ex: size, lifespan, colors, etc)
      • What ecosystem it can be found in 
      • What the species' role in the ecosystem is
      • What questions they have about it
      • Anything else they are curious about

Conclusion (15 min):

What was it like to share your knowledge and your art with your peers?

  • Students' species accounts can be used during E1T1! 
  • Leaf in a Bag
  • Watercolor illustrations

Background information/Additional Resources:


Created by  Ashley Young, EEC Alum 2014   in   February 2014