Observation Practice


  • To practice unobtrusive observations


  • “Assets and Issues Documentation” handout (1 per participant)
  • “Observation Notes” handout (1 per participant)
  • “Doing Unobtrusive Observations” handout (1 per participant)
  • “Single Location Observation” handout (1 per participant)
  • List of locations for observations

Prepare Before

If you are a school-based program, make sure the students have hall passes to be out in school during class time.

Warm Up

Today we are going to observe at different places in the school/organization.  What are 3 places that you think would be good places to observe.  Why do you think that?


Share answers back from the Warm Up and make a list of ten places to observe.  They do not have to be places that are busy and active, but they should be places where it is okay to be and where you might not stand out.

Pass out and review the “Doing Unobtrusive Observations” and “Observation Notes” handouts. Read these together and discuss any questions or concerns they might have. Assign people to locations. There should be at least two people at each location, BUT they should not sit together or work together. They will be observing and taking notes for fifteen minutes, and everyone should be back in your meeting room/class in twenty minutes.


Once everyone has returned, people who went to the same location should pair up and share their observations, noticing what is similar and what is different in what they noticed. They can use the following reflection questions:

  • What did you notice?
  • Did anything surprise you or was unexpected?
  • How did your observations compare to the other people at your location?
  • Did you feel comfortable or uncomfortable doing your observation?
  • Did people notice that you were observing? Do you think your presence changes the behavior of the people around you?
  • Did people try to talk to you when you were observing? How did you handle that situation?
  • Did you have assumptions about this location? How do you think this impacted your observations?


Unobtrusive observations can give a lot of information.  Observations take practice, and they can be a way to collect data that people would not talk to you about, or information that they don’t notice or don’t know about themselves.


In your observations, did you see any issues?  Any assets?  List any issues and assets.  If needed, review the definitions of issues and assets.  Ask for examples of things/objects, activities, and ideas/concepts that are assets at the school/organization and that are issues at the school/organization so that everyone understands.   Now we are going to begin to look for assets and issues in our school/organization’s community as the start of gathering data.

You will do two different types of unobtrusive observations — 1) a specific location and 2) between now and the next time we meet for class.

For the specific location, everyone will get an Single Location Observation Form and a location and time of day (i.e., bus stop in front of the high school at end of school day, bus stop at start of school day, cafeteria during lunch, cafeteria after-school).   It is best if they are assigned a location and time that they are less familiar with and it is not a place and time when they would typically be there.  In this observation, you wlll observe for at least 15 minutes, but not more than 30.  Write down a list of what you see that is an asset and a list of what is an issue. After you have finished observing, add the last column: Why.

For the all-day observation,make a list of the issues and assets you see throughout your time at school (for students) from now until the group meets again. Include what you see, where you see it, and the time you see it. This means students might be doing this during other classes. Make sure you are still paying attention in your other classes, but make a note of anytime you see an asset or an issue.  This will give a snapshot of the assets and issues you see in your day.

The following day, ask each person to give a 5-minute presentation on their observations that includes:

  • What did you learn about our community?
  • What assets did you see?
  • What issues did you see?
  • What, if anything, surprised you?