Teacher Resource


Treehouse Building Lesson 2: Documenting Research

Kathryn Orzech and Lisa Schwartz


This lesson provides an introduction to the process of documenting research, with an explanation and examples of different ways learners can document their research, as well as activities for students to brainstorm, plan and try out different types of documentation.

Learning Information

  • ToL Learner Level:
    • Intermediate; Advanced
  • Target Grade/Age Level:
    • All Grade/Age levels.
    • Can be modified for many age/grade levels
  • Learning Objective(s). Learners will:
    • Review and discuss;
    • How they can document their research projects to in a manner that will help them to analyze their work and present their work in the form of a treehouse ;
    • Reasons for documenting data with multiple forms of media ;
    • Their own past experience and expertise with documenting research and creating multimedia;
    • Engage in activity that allows them to practice and plan for documenting research
  • Type of Activity
    • Classroom resource; Web-based resource; Informal learning resource
  • Science Subject / Key Words
    • Methods, Techniques, Apparatus
  • Suggested Time Frame
    • 30 minutes to introduce basic ways to document research - longer if students will engage in a class discussion or brainstorm ways to document their own project.
  • Sequence and Context
    • This lesson could stand alone but is designed to be part of a set of lessons guiding students toward conducting research in small groups and publishing their process and results on a Treehouse webpage on the Tree of Life website. As part of that plan, this is lesson #2, following a basic introduction to the Tree of Life.
  • Curricular Areas:
    • Language Arts;
    • Technology
  • Language:
    • English
  • Teaching and Learning Strategy:
    • Inquiry Learning;
    • Hands-on Learning;
    • Technology Integration/Computer Assisted Instruction;
    • Discussion;
    • Presentation
  • Grouping:
    • Large Group instruction;
    • Small Group instruction


When beginning a science investigation or project, students may wonder how to document their research. Documenting research is an important part of being a scientist. Keeping written, visual and sometimes audio documentation about your research is critical for several reasons:

  • You need to collect data in order to analyze what is occurring in your research. Collecting data goes hand in hand with documenting research. How you go about collecting data and documenting research will depend on the research questions that you have, as well as how you want to present the outcome of your work.
  • You will want to present and/or publish your research process and results at the conclusion of your investigation or project. In order to do this, you need text, images and other kinds of media to show others what you have done.
  • Scientists sometimes like to replicate experiments, oftentimes in order to test whether the results will vary.  That means they perform the experiment again, exactly the same way the original scientist did. In order for experiments to be replicated, the group of scientists doing the replicating needs an accurate set of instructions, and written, visual and audio documentation can provide these instructions.


Students should have completed ToL Lesson #1: An Introduction to Learning with the ToL

Physical Materials and Tools

  • Science Notebook or Journal
  • Optional/Recommended Items:
    • Digital Camera
    • Digital Recorder

Prior Knowledge

Students and instructors should have a general familiarity with the ToL and ToL Treehouses.


  1. First, choose one of the options below for presenting the material to your students (either one of the online options or the offline option).
    • Online Options
      • Teacher with computer only:
        • Present to students the Learner Section (accessible from the top of the page and the support materials section) and the ToL page Documenting Your Work with the use of a projector or TV monitor plugged into a computer.
      • Teacher and students at computers:
        • Present to students the Learner Section (accessible from the top of the page and the support materials section) and ToL page Documenting Your Work. Ask students to go to these pages also.
    • Off-line Options
      • Print out copies of the page Documenting Your Work and the Learner Section (see link at the top of the page or in the support materials section) for students to review and follow during the lesson.
  2. Next, go over the section at the top called: "Why Document Your Work?" and discuss:
    • What are some reasons you may want to use multimedia (text, images, movies, and sounds) to document your research?
    • What are some ways you have used multimedia to document research in the past?
    • When you tell a story what are your favorite ways of communicating (e.g. what types of media do you prefer to communicate your message)?
  3. Then, review with students the following sections: 

Review the Text (Written) Documentation Section


Ask Students: 

  • What type of information do you think would go into the three types of written documentation listed (science journal, personal journal and formal report)?
  • Why do you think each type of documentation is necessary or advantageous?
  • What types of written documentation have you done before, what are your opinions and preferences?

Tell Students: 

  • Visit some of the example sites in the Text Section of Documenting Your Work. What is being documented with text?
  • Set up your own science journal, labeling pages for research ideas, hypotheses and research process steps.
  • Brainstorm some things you might be interested in researching and write them down/share.

Review the Visual Documentation Section


Ask students:

  • What kind of media would you prefer when learning about something? Do you think visual media adds to your learning experience?
  • Why might scientists want to use visual media?
  • Establish expertise: What is your experience with digital cameras? Who has used a digital camera and then loaded pictures onto a computer?
  • Establish expertise: What is your skill with drawing? Who considers themself an excellent illustrator? Who draws from observation and who from their own imagination?

Tell Students: 

  • Visit some of the example sites in the Visual Section of Documenting Your Work. What is being documented with images/video?
  • What are some organisms that you could study that would be easy for you to document visually? What are some organisms that you would like to document visually? Write them down/share.
  • (Time allowing) Divide students into pairs or groups of three and ask them to go on a brief in-classroom scavenger hunt to take a digital picture of the following items in some form, or if no camera is available to draw the following:
    • an animal,
    • a piece of scientific equipment,
    • a science journal,
    • a plant

Review the Audio Documentation Section


Ask students:

  • Why might recording sounds of organisms be very useful for research and for presenting information?
  • What other audio documentation might be good to communicate a message?
  • Does anyone in the class have experience recording sounds?

Tell students:

  • Visit some of the example sites in the Audio Section of Documenting Your Work. What is being documented with audio?
  • What are some organisms that you could study that would be good for audio documentation? What are some organisms that you would like to document visually? Write them down/share.

Final Activity

Brainstorming media for a project:
  • Create the chart below on the board, and/or have students create a chart in their notebook, or pass out the handout of this chart (see support materials below). The top columns should represent the different types of media that could be collected. You can use the projects listed here or have students generate projects they are interested in pursuing.
  • Have students work in pairs or in groups to brainstorm the types of media they would use and why.  Share as a class and have everyone fill in as much of the chart as you would like.
  • During the discussion remind students that the point of documenting research is not just to make a pretty presentation, but to show others what they did, how and why they did it, and what they discovered. Challenge students to explain why they chose the types of media (both form and content) that they have brainstormed.
Project Text  Images Movies Sounds
Local Weeds        
Insects of the Schoolyard         
 A Glass of Pond Water        


Learners are able to name at least one way they can document their research in each of the three documentation categories discussed: written, visual, and audio. Learners are able to relate at least one reason documenting research with multiple forms of media is advantageous.

Information on the Internet

About This Page

University of Arizona

Lisa Schwartz
University of Arizona

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Kathryn Orzech at and Lisa Schwartz at

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