How Do You Define Spring?
(Spring Survey)
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"One swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day."

3+ periods

* Sample Spring Survey Form (optional)
* Results of Spring Survey: Blank Form and Sample (optional)
* Pencil & clipboards or cardboard to lean on

Overview: Students think about the signs that tell them spring has arrived in their region. Next, they survey others, organize their data, and try to interpet it.

According to the calendar, the Spring Equinox in this hemisphere marks the first day of spring — the day in March when the most direct rays of the sun are above the equator. After that, they appear to head north. On that day, daytime and nighttime hours are about equal everywhere on earth. (Equinox means "equal nights.")

But people tend to have very different ideas about spring. Some say it's "spring" when the dogwoods bloom or first robin appears, or when they can finally go outside without a jacket. Of course, ideas about spring's arrival are also influenced by where we live.

Laying the Groundwork

  1. Ask, What signs tell you when spring has arrived? What do you see, hear, smell, feel, and do? Have partners write or draw responses and then exchange them.
  2. Each pair can contribute items to a Signs of Spring list on the board or chart paper. Ask students to try to put a general date or month when the event happened or usually happens.
  3. Ask the class to group the answers into categories as they see fit. They might, for instance, suggest plant signs, animal signs, calendar events, and human activities.
  4. At this point, you can go on to discuss patterns students notice (see Making Connections, below), or challenge the class to conduct a survey to find out how other people define spring's onset.


  1. Students can design their own survey questions or use the sample form. Ask, What kinds of data or information shall we gather? How should we word our questions? (Encourage them to routinely ask interviewees the approximate dates at which their selected signs of spring occur.)
  2. Ask, How should we go about gathering our information? Who should we interview? Discuss the interview plan and survey techniques. For instance, Will you ask open-ended questions or give people items to choose from? How will you record answers? How will you avoid influencing people's responses (e.g., don't ask leading questions or suggest answers).
  3. Pair students up to practice survey techniques. Get back together and refine your survey questions and form, if necessary.
  4. Students can work individually or in pairs to interview families, neighbors, friends, and students and teachers in other classrooms. Remind them that the more data they collect, the more reliable it will be.
  5. Have students compile and organize all the data they collected. They might, for instance, tabulate the most frequent responses by age or geographic location, average dates for each event, and so on.

Making Connections — Discussion and Journaling Questions

  • How does the definition of spring vary from person to person? From region to region?
  • What was the most frequently mentioned sign of spring in your region? Why do you think so many people notice that one?
  • Which signs of spring do you think occur at about the same time each year regardless of weather? For which events does the date vary from year to year?

Challenge students to arrange the "signs of spring" for a region in chronological order as defined by interviewees. You might also list them on a calendar. Ask:

  • What patterns do you notice?
  • What general statements can you make based on your survey?
  • In what general sequence does spring seem to unfold (i.e., Which types of activities happen when)?
    Discuss whether and how items near the beginning of the list (e.g., longer days) affect items lower on the list. Help students identify how the chain of seasonal events unfold beginning with an increase in sunlight.

Digging Deeper

  • Share and compare your results with a partner class in a different geographic region. Go to our Maps page and click on any map. Click on the map's "i" tool and then on any dot (report). From there, you can read about and e-mail the observer.
  • Save the surveys. At the end of the school year, have students respond again to see how their views have expanded and changed.


  • Check that students' statements and conclusions are based on evidence from their survey.
  • Challenge students to try to write a definition of spring for a dictionary.

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