Naturalist Notebook Challenge and Competition

Now open to all grades K - 12
Naturalist Notebook Challenge and Competition
Now open to all grades K - 12
Deadline Extended to July 15

For the past two years, our school-based Rice Rangers program has included a naturalist notebook challenge for students participating in the program. This year, we are opening the challenge to all K-12 students interested in participating!  

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To enter the competition, students will need to complete at least 10 pages of a "naturalist notebook".  We recognize that journals may be hard to come by for a number of reasons during this time, so students may use whatever paper or other materials they have available at home.  Notebook pages must be mailed to AWS offices (Attn: Naturalist Notebook Challenge; 4302 Baltimore Ave. Bladensburg, MD 20710) no later than July 15th for consideration.  Winners will be announced over the summer and presented with awards and prizes in the fall.

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The purpose of a naturalist notebook is to observe the natural world and record observations in a meaningful way.  The first step scientists take when trying to find answers is to carefully observe the world around them!  We can all be good observers and fill our notebooks with excellent observations. What is an observation?  An observation is simply “something that you notice.”  It is important to note that we can observe with all five of our senses.  We can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste the world around us (but please don’t just go around tasting things).   An observation should be something *real* we notice out in nature.  This means not from a book and also not from our imaginations. 

Read below for some tips to help make a really good notebook entry based on what you have observed.  Remember, all notebook entries should “WIN” (have words, illustrations, and numbers)! 

Use descriptive words and emotions to describe what you are seeing (ex. “The bird was large, red, and had yellow feet. It reminded me of a toy my brother has.”  NOT “The bird I saw looked cool.”).  Describe any actions you are seeing (ex. “The bird flew from the ground into the tree and back again.”).  Each notebook entry should include the title (what are you calling this entry?),  the date, the time, the location, the temperature,  and the weather.  When writing in your notebook, consider completing the following sentences (hey will really help you take a close look at what’s around you):

  • “I wonder if/how/why/when/where . . .”
  • “I notice that . . .”
  • “It reminds me of . . .”

Illustrations and Diagrams:
Draw what YOU see, not something you’ve made up or copied.  Use shapes to help simplify what you are seeing into a drawing (what parts of what you are seeing look like a triangle? square? circle?).  Use colors if you have crayons, markers, or colored pencils at home.  Remember to use words to label your drawings. Words will help you remember what you observed and help others understand your drawing.

Be sure to include how many or how much or something are you seeing? Try to count if you can (ex: "There were 13 birds on the ground.” NOT “There were a lot of birds on the ground.”).  Remeber to describe how long you observed something.  You can capture this in the required elements as part of the time or you can write down how long you noticed something (ex. “The bird flew from the ground into the tree and back again for five minutes.”).  Also remember to describe the size of what you are seeing. If you aren’t sure how many feet tall or inches long something is, compare it to a body part or something familiar (ex. "The bird was bigger than my mom’s phone.”)

More nature journaling resources are available below:

  • The BEETLES Project offers free, online nature journaling materials on this webpage.
  • The California Native Plant Society offers free natural journaling materials by request on this webpage.
  • The Smithonian Center for Learning and Digital Access offers free, online nature journaling materials on this webpage.
  • One local school, Brent Elementary, recently held a Nature Week and put together a great set of resources you can view by clicking here.

This is the rubric that will be used to judge any notebooks entered into the competition.  


(0 points)

(1 point)


(2-3 points)


(4 points)

Required Elements:  Title, Date, Time, Location, Temperature, Weather

None of the required elements are included in your journal.

A few required elements are present, but inconsistent.

Most of the journal entries have a complete set of required elements.

All required elements are included throughout the journal.

Content Accuracy

Contents are entirely made-up or demonstrate little to no understanding of natural concepts.

Few entries are based on personal observations and some entries are made up.  Entries demonstrate an understanding of natural concepts but very little science vocabulary is used.

Most entries are based on personal observations, demonstrate an understanding of natural concepts, and some science vocabulary is present.

Journal entries are based on personal observations, demonstrate a clear understanding  of natural concepts, and use science vocabulary.

Neatness and Organization

Handwriting is sloppy and journal is dis-organized, making it very difficult to understand.

Handwriting is somewhat sloppy and journal organization is a challenge to understand.

Handwriting is usually neat.  Journal is organized and fairly easy to understand.

Handwriting is neat.  Journal is organized and easy to understand.

Illustrations and Diagrams

Illustrations and diagrams are unclear, sloppy and poorly labeled.  Illustrations are copied from a book or are otherwise not original.

Illustrations and diagrams are somewhat clear.  Some labels are missing.  Most illustrations are original.

Illustrations and diagrams are usually  clear, accurate and labeled, with few missing labels.  All illustrations are original.

Illustrations and diagrams are clear, accurate and labeled. All illustrations are original.

More in this category: « Wetland-themed Activities
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