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A Seashell Lesson:
Writing for Detail and the Scientific Process


  • Language Arts
  • Science
    -- Process Skills


  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Brief Description

Students use their senses to write detailed sentences about objects (for example, a seashell).


Students will

  • describe objects in detail.


scientific process, process skills, detail, seashell

Materials Needed

  • seashells of similar appearance (at least one per student, each shell must be numbered)
  • 4x6 notecards or paper
  • drawing supplies (pencils and colored pencils are best)

The Lesson

Our students participate in the county science fair each year. They are required to write a report about their science projects. When teaching students about the scientific process, I use this lesson as an introduction. It helps students to understand the importance of including details when doing or writing about an experiment.

To begin the lesson, I hold up a few seashells that are very similar in appearance. I ask the students to describe what I am holding. I push them to provide detailed descriptions.

After a few minutes of describing, I tell students that they are going to become Detail Kings and Queens. I give each student a shell. I point out that each shell has a number on it. I emphasize that they need to write that number down in a "secret spot" in their science notebook or daily planner.

They must not forget their number.

And they mustn't show their numbers to another student.

' Pass a note card to each student. Explain that they are going to write on that card a detailed description of their shell. That detailed description, I tell them, should include as many adjectives as they can squeeze into it. I share examples of the kind of detailed information they might include. For example,

  • "My shell has a hole in the right corner."
  • "My shell has a white dot in the bottom center."

    They write their sentences on one side of the card. They write as many details as possible.

    When they are done writing details, they can turn their cards over and draw -- using colored pencils -- the inside and outside of their shells. Again, as they draw, they should pay close attention to the detailed markings of their shell.

  • If their shell has a chip on it, they should draw it.
  • If their shell has a hole in it, they should make sure it is drawn in the correct location.

    When the class is done writing and drawing, make sure they have written their names on their cards. They should not include the shell number anyplace on those cards.

    Collect all the cards and shells.

    Then place all the shells on a desk or table. Shuffle cards and pass out a card to each student. (Make sure no student gets his or her own card.) When every child has a card, give them about 5 minutes to read the card and study the picture. Send groups of 2 to 4 students at a time to the shell table. Give them time to find the shell that has been described on the card they hold. Once they identify the shell that goes with their card, have them share the shell number with the student who wrote the description. That student can check the "secret spot" in his or her journal or notebook to see if the classmate correctly identified the shell. If not, the student might make another effort to identify the correct shell. Continue in the same way with other groups of 2 to 4 students. Continue until everyone has completed the "shell hunt."


    I use a simple rubric to grade the students' description cards.
  • Students must include at least five (5) adjectives in their descriptions.
  • Their writing must be legible. (I explain the importance of this in the scientific process).
  • The level of detail in their illustrations is graded too.

    You could also make this into a bonus point activity: If a students' shell is correctly identified from a description of quality on the first attempt, the writer and the guesser are both awarded a 10-point bonus on the activity or on their next quiz or test.

    Submitted By

    Jayme Steighner, Gregory Elementary School in Wilmington, North Carolina

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