Field Trip to a Local Habitat


Children go outdoors to explore a local habitat. They see, feel, and think about the living and nonliving things in the water. Science notebooks are used to gather information about what they find. Students use their background knowledge from prior classroom experiences, the initial field trip, classroom investigations, and other observations to notice and observe the living and nonliving things in their environment. Students have plenty of time to explore and discover before being asked to write and draw in their science notebooks.

Field trip to a local habitat.

Activity Type
Game, Hands-On


Class Time
Two 30-40 minute class periods plus 1-2 hours on field trip

Focus Question

  • What can we find in the water?
  • What are the characteristics of living and nonliving things?
  • How can we discover what is in the water?

Enduring Understandings

  • Living and nonliving things in Alaska waters come in a great assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes.
  • Living things move, grow, and change.


30 minutes

Create a scavenger hunt checklist (Sample scavenger hunt list #1, Sample scavenger hunt list #2 ) to organize a hunt that will prepare children for the aquatic field trip. This scavenger hunt is an important experience so that expectations for the aquatic field trip are clear and understood. It can be inside or outside, and specific to your local environment and/or classroom. This is an enjoyable way for students to learn to make careful observations, to stay in one place to “find” living and nonliving things, and to zoom in on small and not as obvious characteristics. During a scavenger hunt debriefing session, support students to use vocabulary they will need for the aquatic field session. Using a properties chart to note colors, shapes, sizes, and other characteristics can provide scaffolding for this experience.


1-2 hours or more

Discuss field trip etiquette with students prior to the field trip. Helpful sources:

On the field trip, students will work in small groups along with a parent volunteer to discover living and nonliving things in the water. Children will have an opportunity to discover and explore for the first 30 minutes, and then have time to explore, draw, write, and label the living and nonliving things that they find in one small area.

Gather students together, explain the boundaries, and remind the students of field trip etiquette. Agree on a signal for gathering (such as a whistle) and let students know they will have 30 minutes to explore before they take part in a more focused activity. Be sure that each volunteer has a list of the children in their group and all of the possible tools they will need (nets, pencils, rulers, magnifiers). Students will explore the freshwater or saltwater habitat, using skills of observation, documentation, and connecting the information they have had in the classroom investigations to these outdoor experiences. Allow students to use the first 30 minutes to explore freely and notice animals and/or plants, rocks, sand, mud, etc. (living and nonliving) that are in the area. After 30 minutes, bring students back together with a signal.

Next, each group of students will choose one area in which to gather data, make observations, and record information in their science notebooks. Move between groups to support students by asking questions such as “Can you take a closer look?” “What kinds of colors can you see?” “What is bigger?” “What are the living things you see?” “What is not living?”

Afterward, gather the students to share their data with each other. With the help of the adults, be sure that each child shares something from their exploration. Compare and contrast information from each observation. Later, graphs can be made to organize these data and make connections to what is living and what is nonliving.

After the sharing time, encourage students to return to a different area to focus more closely. Students will be instructed to once again choose one small area in which to draw, write, and describe specific animals, rocks, plants, and other things they can see. Encourage them to label, include descriptions, and note the weather, time, and other observations of what is around them. Let the children know they will be sharing their information with other children and adults, to help them understand their audience and purpose. Visit each student and take a digital photo to assist with the documentation of what they see. Be sure to keep track of the photos taken, so that students can access their own photo back in the classroom.


30-40 minutes

When students gather during the aquatic field trip, have them pair-share their notebooks with a partner from another group. As a child from one area describes different characteristics, children can compare and notice differences. Guiding questions from adults can include: “What is the same?” “What is different?” “Why do you think so?” This supports students to use vocabulary and share evidence from their observations. Students should also be supported to ask questions: What else do they wonder about from this observation? See sample questions to encourage scientific thinking.

After returning to the classroom, provide time for additional discussion and explanation. Gather students to share their information and debrief the field session. Ask them: “What went well?” “What else do you wonder now?” “What kinds of questions can we answer in the classroom?” “What could we answer if we had another opportunity for a field session?” Guide the students to ask more questions: what else do they now wonder about? How will they find out more information?


This activity provides students with opportunities to use vocabulary, ideas, and skills that they learned and practiced during the initial exploration of living and nonliving things in earlier parts of this unit. Students document learning in the science notebooks to reflect their understanding.

As homeworkchildren may take home information from the field trip and compare to the environment around their home. What is the same? What is different?


If desired, use a checklist during and/or after the field trip to document children’s skills and accomplishments. During the classroom debriefing, have students share their science notebooks, showing and discussing the general as well as specific information of the day.

This may be a good time to complete the OWL chart (refer to Investigation 1 charts). First brainstorm about living and nonliving things. What did we notice? What characteristics did we observe? What didn’t we see? What could we see if we were able to go to a different area? Then, “What did we find out about living and nonliving things?” “Did we see any living things that were moving?” “How do you know?” “What other questions do we have?” Note how students connect book and classroom learning with the field session experiences.

For formative assessment, use science notebooks for specific information from the field session. Have children draw and write about their new understanding from the experience, adding labels and information. Additional questions and “wonderings” can be added either by students writing and/or teacher taking dictation, with the objective of getting student’s thinking into the science notebook. Use a rubric to assess depth of understanding, creating the rubric with students if possible (see rubric ideas).

Curricular Connections

Literacy is supported through the use of science notebooks.

Explorations of local geography can be tied in with the field trip.

Math skills can be built through sorting, counting, and finding differences and similarities.

Art is incorporated as students draw from observation.

Ideas for adapting to different local environment or context:

Sea: Establish beach boundary and awareness of tides. Teach children how to turn over rocks to observe and notice, putting them back in the same place afterward.

River or creek: Establish boundary and awareness of zones.

Puddle: Create small groups for investigations.

Teacher Needs

Teacher Prep

Read the Teacher Background for information.

Set up pages in science notebooks for the field observations. See science notebook sample page

Create a scavenger hunt for students. Prepare a scavenger hunt for students by assembling small pictures and sketches onto a sheet of paper. Example 1  Example 2  The students will circle or check the objects that they can find.

Scavenger Hunt Resources: Intertidal organisms line drawings  Freshwater organisms line drawings

This activity might be used indoors or outdoors. Indoors, you can include sketches or pictures of specimens that are in the room, as well as things that students can find on posters or displays, or even books. Outdoors, you can include things that students would be able to find such as barnacles, rocks, seaweeds, and shells.

A different type of scavenger hunt that could be used outdoors allows students to find things and draw them themselves. Older students or adult volunteers would need to work with small groups of students to help them with reading.

Prior to the field trip make a quick visit to the site for information and ideas. If possible, go at a time of day or tide similar to the planned trip. It will be valuable to scope out bathroom possibilities, areas to gather the group, potential dangers, and natural boundaries. Shelter may be necessary for inclement weather and if none is present it may be desirable to set up a tarp.

Organize parent volunteers and transportation as needed, and if possible find naturalists or scientists to come along on the field trip. Locate field guides (beachcombers guide, insect guide) and other tools for the trip, making sure there are plenty for small groups or pairs, and organize backpacks to carry them. Bring snacks and water if desired.

Materials List

  • Copies of Scavenger Hunt list
  • Nets
  • ID charts
  • Magnifiers
  • Buckets
  • Science notebooks
  • Writing tools (pencils, colored pencils)
  • Small rulers
  • Thermometer
  • Digital camera

Student Needs

Prior Knowledge

Prior field trip experience will familiarize students with expectations.

Children will have had experiences with books, photos and identifying living and non-living things. Support to connect “book learning” with field learning will be useful.


boundaries, data, etiquette, living, non-living, observation, recording

Related Lessons

Invertebrates, Oceans/Coast


Science GLEs Addressed

  • A1, A2, A3, C2, C3, G3

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