Naturally Teaching

An elementary teacher science blog

10 Science Activities for Elementary Students That Aren’t Experiments [Ep. 1]

10 Science Activities for Elementary Students That Aren't Experiments [Episode 1]

Science activities for elementary students

Science activities for elementary students are often thought to be limited to experiments. As children that grew up in the era of the scientific method, as teachers, we think:

question —> hypothesis —> experiment —> data —> conclusion

But the reality is – scientists explore, learn, and explain new discoveries in many different ways. In this episode I’m going to introduce 10 science activities for elementary students that aren’t experiments.

We talk through the benefits of the different activities with examples on how you can use them in your classroom to enhance your students’ science learning. And if you’re a teacher that feels like you can’t teach science, hopefully, this episode will change your mind and get you pumped up to share science wonders with your students.

Activity types covered include:

  • Questioning
  • Practicing with science tools
  • Data collection
  • Observations
  • Phenology studies
  • Science notebooking
  • Modeling and engineering
  • Research
  • Discussion and presentation
  • Non-fiction reading

Giveaway Alert: To celebrate the launch of this podcast, I’m giving away three physical copies of some of my favorite picture books along with electronic copies of coordinating picture book companions filled with science and ELA activities. Listen to the episode for details on how to enter!

Episode Highlights:

  • [3:42] Activity #1: Questioning 
  • [5:10] Activity #2: Practicing with science tools
  • [6:12] Activity #3: Data collection
  • [7:17] Activity #4: Observations
  • [8:15] Activity #5: Phenology studies 
  • [9:39] Activity #6: Science notebooking
  • [10:36] Activity #7: Modeling and engineering
  • [12:04] Activity #8: Research
  • [12:49] Activity #9: Discussion and presentation
  • [15:15] Activity #10: Nonfiction reading
Children enjoy watching things like this girl using binoculars, so science activities for elementary students like observations are an easy and natural way to help students to begin developing their scientific skills.
Observations bridge the gap from student interest to science skill development.

Resources mentioned in the episode:

Related Episodes/Blog Posts:

Connect with Victoria:

Victoria  0:04

Teaching science in elementary school is crucial for nurturing young minds. But as educators, finding the time and resources to create engaging lessons can be a challenge. That's where this podcast comes in. Welcome to Naturally Teaching Elementary Science, the show dedicated to supporting elementary teachers in their quest to bring authentic and place based science experiences to their classroom. I'm Victoria Zablocki, a certified elementary teacher turned outdoor educator. With over a decade of experience coaching teachers and effective science teaching methods. I'm passionate about making science accessible, understandable, and fun for educators and students alike. Join me as we explore strategies for teaching science in elementary school with practical teaching tips, insightful interviews, picture book reviews, and more. Whether you've taught for a long time or just started your teaching journey, this podcast is your trusty resource for enhancing your science curriculum. So let's grow together.



Welcome to the first episode of the Naturally Teaching Elementary Science podcast, I am so excited to finally be getting this off the ground. This has been an idea in my head for the past two, almost two and a half years. So, it's been a long time coming. So I want to start this off with a bang. If you're listening to this podcast, you likely know the value of teaching science in elementary school. So instead of trying to convince you that science is important, what we're going to do is we're going to jump right into a topic that I feel doesn't get talked about enough when it comes to teaching elementary science. In this episode, we're going to talk about the fact that science activities for elementary students don't have to be just experiments.



But before we get into that episode, I want to let you know to celebrate the launch of this podcast, I'm doing a picture book giveaway. I love picture books. So I wanted to give three people a physical copy of either Worm Weather by Jean Taft, Miss Maple's Seeds by Eliza Wheeler, or Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner. And also with that, I'm going to be sending an electronic copy of my coordinating picture book companions that have science and ELA activities already made to go along with whichever book is chosen. To enter this giveaway, write a review about Naturally Teaching Elementary Science on whichever podcast player you're listening on, screenshot that review, and then send it to me on Instagram at naturally.teaching or to my email at Plus, for a bonus entry, take a screenshot of your favorite episode and share it on Instagram and tag me. Entries will be accepted until June 23 2024. And winners will be notified shortly thereafter.



Alright, so let's get into this. Just like everyone else, when I was going through the teaching program in college, I'd write 10 page lesson plans, including pages on pages of descriptions for how I was going to teach each lesson. In reality, we don't write 10 page lesson plans for the classroom, we often write a couple of sentences to remind us what we're going to teach and then move on with the 100 other things we're teaching that day. Also, while I was working toward my major in integrated science, there was a lot of importance placed on teaching experiments in the elementary classroom. Then, when I was in the schools, I kept hearing teachers worried about finding an experiment for every science concept they were expected to teach. But the reality is, science is more than just experiments. Scientists learn through a variety of practices, and experiments are just one of those practices. So, today, I want to take the pressure off your shoulders and introduce 10 different science activities for elementary students that aren't experiments.



First one, questioning. The basis for all science investigations is questioning. So, you might be wondering, what does that even look like? You could do something like practicing "I wonder..." statements. "I wonder why that rock looks like that." "I wonder why the clouds look like that." "I wonder why this magnet sticks to the playground, but it doesn't stick to wood." You could have a jar full of general science questions that students can pick from if they're stumped, right. If you're asking them to ask questions or write questions, if they're feeling stumped, you could have a jar that they could pull suggestions from that would help them start to get thinking. Maybe they could take that suggestion and make it more specific to whatever you're working on. You could wrap up an observational experience with a class discussion where your students share a question they had about their experience. You could create a question bulletin board in your classroom before you start a science unit. And then, after creating all those questions, as you go along and discover information, you can have the students add the answers in. I do want to note though, that these questions don't need to be followed by a hypothesis. I know that we're taught with the scientific method that you ask a question and then you follow it with a hypothesis. It's healthy to practice questioning without trying to figure out the answer immediately. This will help your students develop a healthy relationship with not knowing all the answers, and it will help them develop their curiosity.



Second type of activity I want to talk about is practicing with science tools. Having authentic and repeated experience with science tools will allow your students to become more comfortable with them and then will allow their analysis to be more accurate in the long run. But they need that repeated practice in order to feel comfortable so that they can then move on to understanding. So some examples of science tools that you can use in elementary school include things like thermometers, wind sticks, rain gauges, cloud charts, rulers, measuring cups, scales, binoculars, magnifying glasses, microscopes, collection tools, like terrariums, collection cups, bug boxes, nets, and so many more. If your school doesn't have a large budget for science tools, consider checking out my blog post, "Reusing Recyclables: 10 Science Tools to Make for Students". I'll make sure to link that in the show notes. But in that one, I cover 10 different science tools that you can make using recyclables. And that'll help save you a whole bunch of money but give your students the experience they need to feel comfortable with science tools.



Another science activity for elementary students is data collection. So again, making sure you have those authentic and repeated experiences with data collection and your science tools. So there's actually two different types of data collection in science. There's quantitative, which are the things that you can measure, count, calculate. And then there's qualitative, which are things more like observations, descriptions, drawings. So as far as quantitative, some examples would be using science tools to measure; so keeping track of weather data over time. You could survey; you could count how many worms you can find on the sidewalk in the grass and on the playground after you read the book Worm Weather by Jean  Taft. You could count; if you were to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, and then count the birds that visit your school, that would help towards a citizen science experience. Or you could test; so trying out different materials to see which are magnetic and which ones aren't. Some qualitative experiences would be things like observations, which I'm going to count as our next science activity for elementary students.



So for observations, you could have different things like planting a Monarch Waystation and watching for monarchs to visit. You could watch flowers in your school yard to see what kind of pollinators visit. You could walk around your school yard and look for birds nesting in the spring. You could watch the sky in the fall to see what animals are migrating. Observations are a really great way to introduce students in a low risk setting to science. They love to watch things anyways. And so when you put them in a situation where they get to do something that they love, but it also works towards developing their scientific skills, they're gonna feel more comfortable with the idea of being a scientist or a student learning science. It can be intimidating to teachers to teach science, but it's also intimidating to some students to learn science. And if you provide them some of these more low risk activities in a comfortable way, then they're going to be more likely to be interested and excited about science.



Activity number five is kind of an observation as well. But I'm going to call it phenology studies. And a phenology study is a seasonal study, typically of plants and animals. So some examples of phenology studies that you could conduct in your classroom would be something that my fourth grade teacher did when I was younger, and I absolutely loved, which was picking a tree to watch and make observations on over the course of a school year. You could visit a school yard meadow or edge over the course of the year to see how it changes. Or you could survey the sky over the course of the year to see how the clouds and the weather changes over time. The important part to note about these science activities for elementary students is the observation over time; phenology studies happen over an extended period of time. So something that would be really cool, and if you're working towards STEM, this would integrate technology for your science, that would be taking pictures on an iPad or with a digital camera. And this would make it so that you have that visual reminder of the changes over time, that would make your study even more impactful.



So far, we've covered five of the science activities for elementary students that aren't experiments, and I'll remind you what they were number one was questioning; number two is practicing with science tools; number three is data collection; number four is observations; number five is phenology studies.



So getting into number six, we're going to talk about science notebooking. It's a great way to integrate writing into your science time and if your school requires you to include STEAM in your teachings, science notebooking is a beneficial way to naturally integrate art into your studies as well. So some examples of science notebooking could be making notes of observations like drawing a bird nest and making a list of what materials were used to create that nest. Keeping track of plant specimens; so you could collect invasive exotic plant species from your school yard, press them, and then paste them into their notebooks. You could do mapping; you could create a map of where water can be found in your school yard. Nature journaling; if you haven't seen nature journaling before, it's a lot of diagramming observations with pictures and labels. So it would be really good going back to our observation activity, weaving this in and extending that activity.



And then this also leads me to the next activity on our list of 10 science activities for elementary students, which is modeling and engineering. So when people hear the word modeling, they think the age old solar system model or a baking soda volcano. But scientists use a variety of models to understand science. So it's important to note that some models are made before a study is conducted; some are made during the investigation; and others are made as a result of their exploration. So some examples of modeling, you could have 2-D models like drawings of atoms, a blueprint, a graphic organizer. You could have 3-D models, like a rock layer profile or that solar system model. You could have computer simulations, like how weathering and erosion may affect a riverbed over 50 years. Or you could have graphing data that you recorded from an experiment. Many times modeling comes before engineering; some of the models that your students create can then be used to make physical representations. So some of these examples of engineering that could go along after the modeling experience would be something like designing a habitat for a local animal, including a place for shelter and water, where food can be found and space and then building it out of natural materials from your school yard. You could have your students design a snowflake and then create it on a geoboard with rubber bands. You could also have them design a scientific tool that they would use out in the field.



Number eight on our science activities for elementary students list is research. We often think about research in respect to writing a report, which you most definitely can do. So you could use a nonfiction picture book and have your students write about pollination, right. But you could also use a field guide to write a report about an animal. You could read section 404 of the Clean Water Act and decide how to mitigate a wetland that was destroyed by a mall being moved in. You could also use your watershed map to determine where the water that leaves your city travels to be able to get to the ocean. All of these are examples of research, but it extends past just the traditional nonfiction picture book.



Number nine on our science activities for elementary students list is discussion and presentation. So scientists rely on having discussions with other scientists in order to verify their work and to have community support. And so it's important to have your students have some of those discussions as well. So an example could be having your students use their data from a schoolyard survey to create a trifold poster, and then they could explain the results at an exhibit. We've seen that before. But it's a powerful experience for your students, especially when it's their own data that they've collected. You could have your students research the weather and conduct a weather report in front of the rest of the class. It'd be a different form of teaching, but it would also show their understanding of the material. You could hold a class wide discussion using talk moves. The NGSX model uses four different ways to help a class discussion keep moving. I'll make sure to post a link in the show notes with a PDF of the different talk moves. But, as examples one of their goals is to help individual students share, expand, and clarify their own thinking. An example of that would be by using wait time; giving your students time to be able to think, right, don't rush the thinking process. Another goal of the talk moves from NGSX is to help students listen carefully to one another. So, an example of a way that a teacher could help the conversation continue to move would be, "Who can repeat what Victoria just said, or put it into their own words.?" Another goal from the NGSX trainings is to help students deepen their reasoning. So you could ask, "What's your evidence?" That would give your students an opportunity to explain why they think something. And then the last goal that the NGSX training covers is to help students think with others. So you could say something like, "Does anyone want to respond to that idea?" And that encourages other students to respectfully address their classmates. All these things were covered in an NGSX training that I had taken a few years ago. And once I saw the talk moves in action, it totally makes a difference, and the respectful conversation and the aha moments that come out of it are really impactful. So I encourage you to take a look at that PDF that I'll link and see how you could use it in your classroom.



And then number 10 on our science activities for elementary students list is nonfiction reading. And I ended with this one, because it is one of my favorite ways to be able to talk science with students. So it's hard to get elementary students into nonfiction reading. But if you integrate it into your science, it's an easy and natural fit. Although many of us think about the traditional reference book as nonfiction, there are actually a lot more categories of nonfiction picture books than you think. Some examples of nonfiction picture books would be a nonnarrative picture book. That's what we traditionally think of; that's another term for like reference books. Nonfiction magazines, like the National Geographic for kids, kids love those. They love the pictures and there's a lot of humor in them. But there's also really interesting facts. There's narrative information books, these are hybrids between storybooks and nonnarrative information books. So these are things like A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long, or A Wood Frog's Life by John Himmelman. Both of those present factual information but in a narrative storyline. There's also dual-purpose books, which is a picture book with a storyline, but it has diagrams and insets that share the scientific information. So an example of this would be The Secret Pool by Kimberly Ridley, or we all know The Magic School Bus series; that's an example of a dual-purpose book as well. If you want to read more about each of these types of picture books, go to my website and read the article, "Teaching with Books: How to Integrate Science and Literacy for Elementary Classrooms". And again, I'll make sure to put the link in the show notes. And if you're excited about the idea of using books to teach science, go check out episode number three, which came out the same day as this episode. And it's called "Teaching with Books: Thinking Outside the Box with Steve Frisbee". Spoiler alert: it's an amazing interview, I had so much fun.



So that was a lot of information. Let's recap real quick. Today we talked about 10 science activities for elementary students that aren't experiments. These activities were number one: questioning; number two: practicing with science tools; number three: data collection; number four: observations; number five: phenology studies; number six: science notebooking; number seven: modeling and engineering; number eight: research; number nine: discussion and presentation; and number 10: nonfiction reading. As you can tell, I get pretty excited about teaching science to kids. Hopefully at the end of this episode, you're just as excited to use some of these science activities for elementary students that aren't experiments. Thanks for taking the time to listen today. I know you're busy and the fact that you have chosen to spend your time listening to this podcast is wonderful. I super appreciate it. If you have any questions, wonderings ,or science activities that you use, get a hold of me on Instagram at naturally.teaching or you can email me at



And don't forget about the picture book giveaway. Remember, to celebrate the launch of this podcast, I'm giving away either Worm Weather by Jean Taft, Miss Maple's Seeds by Eliza Wheeler, or Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner to three different people. I'm also going to send with those an electronic copy of my coordinating picture book companions of science and ELA activities already made to go along with the book of your choosing. And to enter the giveaway, write a review about Naturally Teaching Elementary Science on whichever podcast player you're listening on, screenshot that review and then send it to me on Instagram at naturally.teaching, or to my email at And for a bonus entry, take a screenshot of your favorite episode and share it on Instagram and tag me. All these entries will be accepted until June 23 2024. And winners will be notified shortly there after. So thanks again for joining me today. And until next time, keep exploring, keep learning and keep naturally teaching. Thank you so much for tuning into today's episode of The Naturally Teaching Elementary Science podcast. I hope you found it informative, inspiring and full of actionable insights to enhance your science teaching journey. Connect with me on social media for more updates, science tidbits, and additional resources. You can find me on Instagram and Facebook at naturally.teaching. Let's continue the conversation and share our passion for elementary science education together. Don't forget to visit my website at for all the show notes from today's episode. If you enjoyed today's episode, please consider leaving a review on your favorite podcast platform. Your feedback helps me improve and reach more educators just like you. Thank you again for listening and until next time, keep exploring, keep learning and keep naturally teaching.

Episode 1 10 Science Activities for Elementary Students That Aren't Experiments
10 Science Activities for Elementary Students That Aren’t Experiments [Ep. 1]
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