Scientists learn to be good observers. In fact, science is learning about the world around us through observations, coming up with ideas about what is observed, and testing those ideas. There are lots of ways to practice observing and describing what you observe.
Put some things on a table and cover them up with a cloth. Invite some friends to play Kim's Game. Tell them they will have one minute to look at the things on the table and then you will put the cloth back. Once the things are covered again, have the players write down a list of what was on the table. How many do they remember? Play different times with different numbers and kinds of things. Do players get better?
What Is Wrong With This Picture?
Did you ever see a cartoon picture puzzle where there were things wrong in the picture and you had to find them? You can set up a room with things wrong or out of place and have some friends come in and look around quietly. Ask them to make a list of the "wrong things" they find.
What Are They Wearing?
Ask one member of your school class to go out in the hall. Ask everyone else to write a description of what that person was wearing. Have students trade papers. Ask the student to come back in from the hall. How well did students do? Try again another day or another time during the day.
Write It, Build It
Make something with Legos, Tinker Toys, or some other building set. Invite teams of two to play Write It, Build It. Let only one member of each team see what was built. Give that member some time to write directions on how it was built. Give the directions to the other team member and see if he or she can build something which looks like what the first team member saw. Give points for how much the two objects are alike.
Keep a record of things you see outdoors: what birds come to your birdfeeder, when the first and last snow falls, what trees turn what colors and when, the temperature each morning when you get up, anything that you find interesting. Ask yourself questions about what you observe. Try to figure out ways to answer your own questions through your own observations.
Do drawings of birds, animal tracks in the snow, insects you see, sea shells you find at the beach, anything and everything. Trying to draw something makes you a better observer. It helps you see more detail. If you are drawing a butterfly, you have to look at it carefully enough to draw the color patterns of the wings. Talk with your art teacher about drawing techniques to help you sketch things quickly.
The New York State Pupil Evaluation Test in Science Grade 4 requires students to describe an unknown object in detail and ask questions about it that could be sent to a scientist. A "parallel task" which has students compare descriptions to see which is best is outlined here. A second task has students practice describing an unknown object and writing questions about it.
See the American Museum of Natural History's musings for some tips on learning to observe better (adult reading level).