K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • record, by drawing and writing in a nature journal, what they observe in nature.
  • learn to record the date, time, weather conditions (breezy, rainy, cloudy, clear, sunny, etc.) and temperature for each journal entry.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

45 minutes


  • Nature journal (three-ring binder and blank paper or blank paper tablet)
  • Pencils
  • Water color pencils
  • Water color paint/brushes
  • Objects found in nature
  • Weather thermometer
  • Field guides


Introduce students to nature journaling. Discuss some of the items that might be found in a nature journal entry such as an insect or a flower with labeled parts, the date and weather information, and reflections and observations.


After completing the pre-activites, pass out sheets of blank paper, then do the following:

  1. Ask students to close their eyes. With their eyes closed, place a leaf in each student’s hand. Allow them time to feel their leaf, noting the lobes or serrations, veins, stem, texture and size. It helps to talk them through this step. You might say, for example, “Notice how the veins of the leaf fan out from the stem to each lobe or serration.”
  2. With their eyes still closed, remove the leaf from each student’s hand and place the leaves back in bag so that they cannot be seen.
  3. Instruct the students to draw the leaf that they had in their hand, reminding them to put in the details that they felt. Allow time for students to share their sketches.
  4. Now, let the students color their leaf. The first response will be that they cannot feel color. Remind them how the leaf felt, the texture. If it is smooth and soft and you are doing this activity in Spring, most likely it will be green. If it rough in texture and it is late Fall, it probably is more brown in color.

The next time you do Nature Journaling, take the students on a walk around the school campus. Find a place of interest and have students concentrate on one object. We usually start with sunflowers that are growing in our garden. Then take the following steps:

  1. The recording of the date, time, temperature, and weather conditions (how it feels) are important to nature journaling. Have students record the date, time, temperature (bring along a thermometer), and weather conditions (cloudy, breezy, humid, hot, etc.), in the upper right hand corner. Let them know that each time the make an entry they will put those four things in the upper right hand corner of the journal.
  2. Allow fifteen minutes of sketching. Encourage those students who always finish fast to look closer at the object (in this case, the sunflower) noting everything that they can see, even the ant crawling up the stem, for example.
  3. When fifteen minutes are up, instruct students to write a factual or fictional story about how that sunflower grew in that spot. A fictional story might be similar to Jack and the Beanstalk, only in the case, he had sunflower seeds. Allow ten minutes for writing.

We have made Nature Journaling a regular part of our school year and try to sketch at least every other week. When we are working on poetry, the writing part of the journal entry might be a Haiku. See Haiku and nature photography: A natural connection from the the LEARN NC lesson plan collection. Haiku is a great way to express what you have seen and drawn because you only allow 5–7–5 syllables to convey what you have experienced. Keeping a nature journal is a great way to show growth throughout the school year. You will notice how students have developed their artistic and writing skills from the beginning of the year until the end.

Make sure that you take time to sketch, too. It is very relaxing and it might give you a new way to appreciate nature.


Although I believe that drawing or nature journaling should not be evaluated, a nature journaling rubric has been provided to guide assessment.

Supplemental information



  • Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover the World Around You, Claire Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth, 2000.
  • Illustrating Nature: How to Paint and Draw Plants and Animals, Dorothea and Sly Barlowe, 1987.
  • My Nature Journal: A Personal Nature Guide for Young People, Adrienne Olmstead, 1999.
  • Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals, Karen Skidmore Rackliffe, 1999.
  • Sketching in Nature, Sierra Club Books, 1990.
  • Nature Drawing: A Tool for Learning, Leslie Claire Walker, 1995.


We have used this lesson plan throughout the school year and the students look forward to going outdoors to journal. They have become more aware of their surroundings and their skills in drawing have improved dramatically.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Visual Arts Education (2010)
      • Grade 3

        • 3.CX.1 Understand the global, historical, societal, and cultural contexts of the visual arts. 3.CX.1.1 Exemplify how visual arts are used by various groups for artistic expression within the local community. 3.CX.1.2 Understand how art documents the history...
        • 3.V.2 Apply creative and critical thinking skills to artistic expression. 3.V.2.1 Create art through a process that includes generating ideas, planning solutions, and producing original art. 3.V.2.2 Use personal point of view and experiences as sources for...
        • 3.V.3 Create art using a variety of tools, media, and processes, safely and appropriately. 3.V.3.1 Understand how a single tool can be manipulated in multiple ways, safely and appropriately. 3.V.3.2 Use a variety of media with refined skills. 3.V.3.3 Create...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 3

  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.02: Use oral and written language to:
      • present information in a sequenced, logical manner.
      • discuss.
      • sustain conversation on a topic.
      • share information and ideas.
      • recount or narrate.
      • answer open-ended questions.
      • report information on a topic.
      • explain own learning.

Visual Arts Education (2001)

Grade 3

  • Goal 4: The learner will choose and evaluate a range of subject matter and ideas to communicate intended meaning in artworks.
    • Objective 4.02: Use knowledge and imagination to interpret environments.
  • Goal 6: The learner will reflect upon and assess the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others.
    • Objective 6.03: Express own ideas and feelings visually and with fluency.