To be living or not to be living! That is the question?

6 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT identify whether objects are alive or not by developing a set of criteria that defines what is alive.

Big Idea

Young children think that many non-living things are alive and that many living things are not. This lesson requires kids to define life through criteria and use that criteria to identify things as living or non-living.


10 minutes

I ask the kids if they are alive. Of course they laugh and say yes. I then ask them if there are things in their house that are alive. They all agree there is still giggling.

I ask the kids to tell their talking partner what kind of things in their house are alive. I set the timer for 30 seconds. Once the timer goes off, I call them back to attention and call on students randomly by pulling name sticks from a name stick can. This allows me to avoid bias and call on students who might not normally volunteer to answer.

Posing the question followed by wait time and partner talk supports mid to low achievers and second language learners in answering successfully. Using a sentence stem is also very helpful in developing necessary language skills that kids need to state and defend what they know and learn. This is a critical skill that kids need to develop throughout their years in school because it develops critical thinking skills for life and the work place.

Example sentence stem:

"My ______ is alive because ___________ ."

If the because part is a challenge for your kids at the beginning the year, break this stem into two pieces and have the kids tell their partner part one and then part two:

"My ______ is alive." (Both partners share)

Next, "My _______ (same answer) is alive because ________ ." (Both share again)


15 minutes

Now that the kids are thinking about what is living and what is not, it's time to get them to define what living means.

I ask the kids to share ideas on what they think qualifies something to be considered living. I ask them to give me criteria to list on chart paper.

I record everything they say without influencing them. I want them to decide what makes something alive and what doesn't. Later we will look at pictures of living things and discuss what makes them alive. We will revisit the list later and make additions and deletions if necessary.

If the kids stall and seem like they are not able to generate a list of criteria that is effective enough to use in the next lesson, prompt them by having them verbally list a few things that are alive and then ask again what makes them alive.

This activity supports the Common Core standard of K.W.2, "which addresses writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic." The teacher models the writing while the kids generate the ideas.


10 minutes

This part of the lesson will go unresolved.

I take out my living and non-living flashcards and have the kids tell me which group each picture belongs in.

I hold up one card at a time and ask if it's living or non-living. I also ask random students why they think it is living or non-living.

I don't debate their decisions. I place the cards where they tell me to. In the next lesson, we use the criteria list that they develop to re-evaluate whether the objects are living or non-living.


5 minutes

This explanation doesn't clarify what is living or non-living. Instead I explain what we are going to do for the next two lessons to get a clear understanding of what is living and what is not.

I tell the kids that during our next science lesson we are going to explore some living and non-living things and refine our list of criteria. We will discuss and clear up any misunderstandings we may have. We will then revisit our sorted cards and edit our list based on our discussion.

I explain to the the kids that real scientists study things over long periods of time to learn about them and this lesson is like that. Each time we get together to learn about living and non-living things, we are going to learn a little bit more until we understand it well.


5 minutes

Since this is a three-day set of lessons, I don't evaluate the kids on the first two days. I do an extension of learning so far activity instead.

For this lesson, I ask them to draw a picture of something they think is alive and label it. Since this lesson takes place during the first few weeks of kindergarten, I don't expect them to be able to write much as most don't even know the alphabet yet. I ask them to label it as best as they can on their own. For some, I write what they want to label their picture with a highlighter and they trace the words with their pencil. This helps them gain letter formation and directionality in print concepts.