Using Properties to Classify

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SWBAT classify objects based on physical properties.

Big Idea

Students will investigate items in a basket to determine how they are similar and different to help classify them into groups.

Rationale and Preparation

The Why Behind Teaching This:

Classification is a process used by scientists in many fields.  Students will be using this strategy of grouping based on similarities throughout the year.  I am setting the foundation for this at the beginning of the year so that when students are required to classify minerals, powders, and conductors in standard 5-PS1-3, they will already have the background knowledge necessary.  They will also be classifying stars, based on similarities, in standard 5-ESS1-1.  Classification can also help them when analyzing data during experiments they will be conducting throughout the year.

Lesson Goal:

The goal of today's lesson is for students to be able to identify physical properties and use them to classify objects. 

Success Criteria:

  • Students will demonstrate success by connecting what they learn about classification to a real world exampe of how scientists use classification.  They will be completing a worksheet that goes along with a website about animal clasDsification.  


Warm Up:

  • You will need a large paperclip or other item for students to describe

Guided Practice:

  • A basket with several items in it, I used the large paperclip, a marker, an index card, a clip magnet, a playing card, a pencil, and a clothes pin


  • Print a copy of the classifying charts sheet to use on the overhead
  • Put together 5 baskets of at least 6 items in each basket for students to classify (exampes are in the explore section of this lesson)  

Wrap Up

Warm Up

10 minutes

Activating Background Knowledge

I begin the lesson by holding up a large paperclip and asking students to describe the paperclip using as many different words as possible.  I randomly call on students and begin hearing terms such as: flat, metal, curved on the ends, straight on the sides, magnetic, etc.  The purpose of this is to show students that even though they may not have ever heard the term “physical property,” they already know what those properties are. 

Guided Practice

10 minutes

I explain to students that terms that describe the physical state of an item, such as those they just gave me, are called physical properties.   Things such as color, texture, shape, magnetism, etc. are all physical properties.  They already have their science notebooks out, and as I record the definition above in my notebook on the overhead, they copy it down.  I write things in my notebook for them to copy so that the ESE and ELL students have a visual for spelling and proper note taking.  It also allows me to have a copy that I can refer back to when we are reviewing the concept later. 

I explain that scientists use these properties to help them classify items.  Classification is important to scientists so that they can group things based on similarities.  I grab a basket of items that include: the large paperclip, a marker, an index card, a clip magnet, a playing card, a pencil, and a clothes pin.  I inform them that the items must be separated into at least two groups, but can be divided into as many groups as they would like.  Some groups may have many items in them while other groups may only have one item.  If an item does not fit with any others based on the property chosen to classify by, then this item would be an outlier and would fall into a separate group by itself.  Students are already sitting in cooperative groups in the classroom and begin discussing all the different ways these items could be grouped together.  I give them about 5 minutes to record all possible ways on their white boards while I circulate to listen to discussions.  I have students hold up their whiteboards after 5 minutes and I go around to each group and share what they have recorded.  


30 minutes

Setting Up the Notebooks

Now that students have heard a variety of different ways to classify items in a basket, I provide them the opportunity to practice on their own.  I place the classifying charts document on the overhead and explain that this is how I would like them to organize their work.  We have discussed several times how important it is for scientists to organize their work so it is easier to share with others.  I explain that they will need to create a chart for the groups they divide the items into.  For right now, they do not know how many groups that will be.  I ask them to write basket one as the heading, and draw a large rectangle.  Then below that, write basket two, and draw a large rectangle.  Continue doing that until they have five baskets with a rectangle for each.

I explain that they will divide their rectangle into how many groups they have.  For example, in the charts I created, I classified the items in basket one into three groups, the items in basket two into two groups, and the items in basket three into four groups.  Every group may do this different and I encourage them to try to come up with an idea they don’t think any other group will have. 

I show them my complete chart for the basket we just went over (at the bottom of the classification chart paper) so they can see one completed.  I purposely used the classification of “material items are made from” so that I could show an example of classification with an outlier which we discussed in the guided practice.  The paperclip is in a group by itself because it is the only item made of metal.  I want students to see that sometimes, items don’t fit with other groups, and thus make up their own group. I make sure there are no questions about how to complete the charts.

Cooperative Group Activity

I provide each group with a basket of items, each basket is numbered. You can put any items you want into the baskets, I use items I can come up with several ways of grouping.  I have them begin grouping them and completing the charts. While they are doing this, I circulate to observe and check work in notebooks.    

picture of basket 1        picture of basket 2        picture of basket 3    

picture of basket 4         picture of basket 5

Students get about 3 minutes with each basket, and then I ask them to pass the baskets to the next group.  Once all groups have had all five baskets, I collect the baskets.

Video of group classifying

Video of group classifying

student completed notebook page for classifying charts

Sharing Their Classifications

I hold up basket one so everyone can see what is included and ask group to share how they classified the items in basket one.  We see similarities in some classifications, but some groups picked a characteristic that even I had not thought of.  We shared our classifications for each basket one at a time.  If any groups had questions I allowed them to ask, and often asked groups what made them select that classification, and made suggestions on how it might be seen differently by other scientists.  For example, the basket with the cookie cutter, scissors, glue, painters tape, scotch tape, paper clip, and chip clip in it, a couple of groups use the characteristic of their jobs to classify.  They divided into items that cut, items that stick, and items that clip.  I asked if other scientists might put the paper clip and chip clip in the same group as the glue and tape as things that stick because they do stick things together such as paper.  The groups agreed they could have been seen that way.  

Wrap Up

10 minutes

Connecting It To The Real World With Technology 

After each group has shared their classifications, I explain the wrap up activity that all groups will be completing at their seats.  The wrap up activity is connecting classification to real world science by having students look at how scientists classify animals.  I ask students why they think classifying animals would be important for scientists.  We have a discussion for a couple of minutes over this topic.  While we are discussing, I ask one group member from each group to get a laptop while I pass out the discovery page to each group.  I already have the Kidzone website on classifying animals saved in favorites to save time but it is also written on the classification in the real world discovery page.  I direct them to open that page from the favorites tab and begin the activity. 

Video of Group doing exit activity

While they work in groups on the computer activity, I circulate to listen to conversations and to offer assistance.  Students turn in the discovery assignment when complete, and bring their notebooks up with them so I can check for completion.  I check them off if all charts in their notebook are complete.