Making Observations and Generating Hypotheses and Expectations Using Our Senses

Authors: GK-12 2006-2007 folks

Overview: In this lesson, students practice how to approach a problem scientifically. They use their senses to make a detailed description of a natural object and to generate hypotheses about the identity and features of the object hidden within a box.

Lesson Concepts:

  • Scientists rely on using their senses to make observations in order to construct hypotheses.

  • A working hypothesis generates expectations/predictions that can be tested.

  • Additional information (more observations) can alter and/or refine hypotheses and expectations.

Grade span: K-12


  • One box with an object hidden inside of it per group of three to four students, plus a teacher's box for demonstration.

  • Handout (pdf), tailored to fit inside their three-ring journals

  • Tools to assist in making detailed observations and description (e.g., hand lens, ruler) for each group of students

Advance preparation:

Prepare a box with an object hidden inside of it. The box should have one hole. This hole will serve as an access for the senses to the object. The hole should be large enough to allow one finger to feel the object inside, yet small enough to prevent peeking (see box instruction download from website).

Time: One class period (40-50 minutes)

Grouping: Students work in groups of three or four

Teacher background:

The teacher should keep in mind during this lesson that science is an iterative process and that we are modeling the way scientists approach a question/problem.


  1. Introduction: This brief, five-minute introduction should introduce students to the major concepts to be covered in the lesson. Begin by asking the class to guess what is inside the teacher's demonstration box (do not handle the box or give them any hints…best to leave the box on a table undisturbed). After a few guesses, suggest to them that it will probably be more efficient and helpful to determine what is in the box by approaching the problem scientifically. To do so, they will employ their senses to gather information about the object inside, and to pose hypotheses about the object's identity. Ask students to name the five senses. Discuss with the students that they can use these senses to make observations with which they can generate hypotheses and expectations. Further observations can refine these hypotheses and expectations. This discussion can coincide with a demonstration of this process using the teacher's demonstration box. Do so in a conversational manner with your teaching partner, emphasizing each step and differences between "observation" of the features you detect with each sense and the "hypothesis" you formulate based on the observations and expectation — what you expect using the next sense to test your hypothesis.

  2. Four minutes: Hand out the handouts; have them fill out the header of the handout. Write the goal of the lesson on the board so they can copy it onto their handout (Goal: The goal of today's activity is to use your senses to generate hypotheses about the identity of an object hidden inside the box). Form groups and hand out the boxes; instruct them not to touch the boxes until the next step in the procedure.

  3. Five minutes: Each student within the group shakes the box (they have to wait their turn) and records his/her observations/descriptions. Encourage them to talk amongst themselves to share their observations. Have them make a hypothesis about what might be in the box. Based on this hypothesis, have them write down their expectations of what their hypothesized object should smell like.

  4. Five minutes: Each student smells the object in the box through the cloth-covered hole. Record and share observations, refine hypothesis, and write down expectations of what the hypothesized object should feel like.

  5. Seven minutes: Each student feels the object through the cloth-covered hole. Record and share observations, refine hypothesis, and write down expectations of what the object should look like (or draw a picture).

  6. Two minutes: Each group must now discuss amongst themselves and come to a consensus about the identity of the object in the box.

  7. Eight minutes: Open the box. After a few minutes observing the object, have a five-minute quiet writing period where students make a detailed description of their object (include drawing this time, you can pass out rulers to encourage making measurements of the object). They can also reflect on their previous observations — how accurate were their previous hypotheses? Which sense was crucial in identifying the object?

  8. Five minutes: Quickly have each group name the most important sense that helped them identify the object. Write these on the board to see if there is a general consensus, and to springboard into a closing statement about how making detailed observations — using as many senses as possible — helps in making new discoveries and generating hypotheses. Students will be using these skills all year!

  9. Five minutes: Have students place the object in the box and close the box. Have students bring the box to the teacher (or have them put it away or stored where the teacher wants them stored). Their handout should be placed in their notebook as their first entry. The notebooks should be returned to the teacher.


If time permits, you can have the groups do this more than once. If you do a second box before you discuss the contents, you can just have groups swap boxes (as long as they are careful to keep the objects hidden).

Potential objects to put in the boxes:
Noodles, seashells, rubber bands, bagel chips, flowers, fur, hair, feathers, coffee beans, honeycomb, tortillas, bones, snake skin, spices (cinnamon sticks), herbs (rosemary, mint, fennel, anise, etc.), or onion

Other ideas for objects should not be sharp, wet, or so small that they can come out of the hole in the box.