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5 Tips for Teaching Observation, Inference, and Prediction in Science

Observation, inference, and prediction in science are important skills to learn about the world around us. Check out these ideas to get started!

Making observations about the world around us is an important skill for a young scientist. It is also one of my favorite topics to teach!  Here are some easy ideas that you can use to engage and interact with your students, while having fun in the classroom

Expect the Unexpected

Inference candle demonstration
This is a huge hit every year!

The “string cheese” candle is a great activity to kick off your lesson. The element of surprise at the end is something that your classes will talk about all day!

Place a piece of string cheese in a candle holder.  Then place a piece of slivered almond at the top to appear as the “wick.”  

Light the “candle” and place it in the front of the room.  Ask students to make observations about the object.

After two minutes, blow out the candle and discuss observations as a class. This is a great place to start addressing misconceptions between observation, inference, and predictions.

Students will often confuse observations with inferences and will need to be reminded that observations use the five senses to gather information and describe facts.

When the discussion is finished, tell the students they have one more observation to make – pick up the candle and eat it! Their eyeballs will be poppin’!

This is a great segway to inferences!

Direct Instruction With Embedded Practice

Students sometimes struggle with learning the difference between the three similar terms (observation, inference and prediction.) I like to use direct instruction in a PowerPoint with lots of images built in for conversation and practice. Think, pair, share is a great strategy to use for engagement and it can get pretty competitive!


Observation Vocabulary Tricks

Students often get confused with the difference between qualitative and quantitative data and subjective and objective data.

I used to skip over these terms, thinking that they really weren’t necessary. What I’ve learned is that using the vocabulary associated with these terms is a really useful way to coach students into making descriptive observations.

For example, you ask the student to observe a marble. They respond with the observation, “It looks like a ball.” An easy way to redirect is by asking them to give you an objective observation. Something that EVERYONE will agree with. Not everyone thinks it looks like a ball!

Here are some tricks to help students to remember these difficult vocabulary words:

  • QuaLitative – I have students circle the “L” in the word. By associating the letter “L” with “looks” it helps them to remember that qualitative data is based on a characteristic.
  • QuaNtitative – Circle the “N” in the word. We associate the “N” with number
  • Subjective – Circle the “S.” We associate the “s” with sad, which is a feeling, or opinion.
  • Objective – Circle the “Object”. We associate the “O” with object which you can describe with facts.

Digital Interactive Notebook for Observation, Inference, and Prediction in Science

If you are involved in distance learning this year, using a digital INB to teach observation, inference, and prediction is a great option.

I have created a digital interactive notebook that has lots of practice embedded. Plus, it is easy to assign through Google Classroom!

If you are thinking about diving into into digital interactive notebooks, take a look at my post for tips for getting started!


M&M Mini Lab

I have been using this activity for years, and every year, it is a hit with my sixth graders!

Give students an m&m and ask them to make several observations. You may want to include a ruler for them to gather quantitative data too!

When they are finished, have them predict what would happen if they dropped the m&m into room temperature water (m side face up).

Instruct students to drop their candy in the water and place and observe for one minute. Then write their observations. Note: the warmer the water, the faster this happens!!!

Students will notice that the “m” will release and float to the top.

Have the students infer what caused this to happen.

This happens because the candy is made of sugar which is dissolved by the water. The “m” is made of additional ingredients which do not dissolve as fast as the candy coating does. This is why the letter stays intact and releases to the top.

This is also a great activity for practicing CER!

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