Classifying in Science: The skill of sorting

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SWBAT sort objects into groups based upon similar attributes.

Big Idea

What to do with the new information scientists gain is important. Learning to classify and categorize is a natural inclination for children.


10 minutes

"Let's come on over the rug and get ourselves comfy, I have a book I want to share with you."  

I show the children the book, Lots of Dots. I like this book to catch my students attention.  It has fun, bright pictures that are big and colorful.  The language in the book is also very simple and clean, however, the message is very strong. The author's intent in writing; is to expose children to seeing the world through an artistic point of view.  But through the eyes of a scientist, this book easily illustrates to children how to classify the world with attributes.  

I remind the children that we are going to read the book completely through without stopping the first time. We will come back and discuss our observations, thoughts and wonderings after we have read it through.  

After reading the book; "What did you think about this book?  Did you like it?  What did you like about it?  Turn to a partner sitting by you and share your thoughts with them."  

I give the children a few minutes to share their thoughts. This is a good way to help them to focus on the discussion I will begin just after their talking and sharing time.  Once the children have had an opportunity to share their ideas with each other, they are more likely to sit and listen and focus on the conversation we will all have together.  

"Well, what did we notice in the book?  Was it about clowns?"  "No, it was about dots!"  "Yes, you are right, it was about dots.  Just plain dots, or were they special?" 

"They were colorful and big."  "Some were floating."  All kinds of observations will be shared, because the language of the book is so simple the children will really remember a lot of the ideas.  

At the beginning of this lesson, I am careful not use any of the words: classify, sort, or group until I have introduced the entire lesson and the explore section.  While I have already introduced the word in an earlier lesson; I want to scaffold the vocabulary in this lesson. 

I will transfer to the scientific language later in the lesson.   

This lesson does not connect directly to a performance expectation, however, it does relate to the Science and Engineering Practice 5.  Within this practice, students are using the mathematical skills of comparing qualitatively.  I believe that before you can begin to teach young children to compare with numbers, students should be shown how look for qualitative attributes.  

Within in the National Science Standards, Science as Inquiry, Content Standards A and B focuses on explanations and properties of objects.  The standards specifically say that students should be able to construct scientific explanations based upon observations and evidence they gather. In order to make solid explanations, students show be aware of properties and attributes and how to find those characteristics of an object. 



15 minutes

"I am going to bring each of your teams a bowl with some fun insects.  I wish these good be real insects, but unfortunately, I couldn't get enough live ones for us to do this; so we are going to have to settle for plastic insects."

I pass out bowls filled with plastic bugs for the teams to sort and begin to classify.  It is important for the children to practice with real objects before pictures.  However, because life insects are difficult to work with and hard to keep alive with young children, the plastic representations work best.  The bugs counters from the Math Learning Center are the most realistic ones I have found.  

"What should we do with those insects when we get them? Does anyone have any idea they would like to share?"  

"I think we should look for bugs that look the same." 

"What do you mean by looking the same? Can you give me some more details when you say the same?"  

"Ok, let's give that a try.  Go ahead and work with your team and see if you can find some ways these insects are the same. We will share our ideas when you are done." 

I give the class about five minutes to work and then gather the children back together with the ringing of my bell. 

"Well, let's see who is ready to share?" Team Leaders  stand up and are ready to share out what their teams discovered. It is important to ask the children what they notice that is the same before venturing into what is different.  It is natural for children to look at similarities before they dive into the differences.  

I continue until each team has had a turn to share.  "I like all those ideas you have just shared.  I am wondering if maybe we could take this another direction and look at things make these insects different from each other?  Maybe finding ways to put them into to some groups.  I bet many of you already know where we might be heading with this." 

I am confident that the children do know the direction we are going with sorting and then classifying these insects.  However, I want to be confident all of the children understand why we are doing this.  

Again, I let the children work to find ways that the insects are different: stripes, spots, red, green, big or little are all possibilities.  These are all qualitative ways to sort, not quantitative. If the plastic creatures are all insects, they will have six legs, three body parts, four wings, etc. I believe it is much easier to focus on the obvious attributes before jumping into the more complicated.  This is also allows for the ELL students to be a part of this activity. 




10 minutes

“Thanks for sharing all those observations, I would like for all of you to look up at the screen now.  If you need to adjust your chairs to see better, feel free.  Ok, look at the screen, what do you on this screen?”

I want to begin using the language that I used in the observation lesson, so it will naturally become part of the children's speaking vocabulary as well. 

I have created a Classifying Power Point that will systematically take the children through the steps to explicitly teach this skill.  (Within the Power Point, I always add the blacklines to any work I will have the students create. This way, I keep it all in one place and do not have a lot of papers floating around to file and keep track of. It is a system that works well for me).

Slide one is the title screen…”I am going to move on, keep watching…. I am going to read this to you and let’s think about what it says.  ‘The scientific skill of classifying uses your eyes.  Take a moment to think about what  that might mean to you.” 

I proceed through all the slides; each slide reiterates the five senses and explains how scientists use these skills to make observations.  Eventually, someone will notice that the slides are pointing out the five senses. 

“Hey, this is what we talked about  when we learned about observing in science.” 

“You’re right, it is.  Good scientists, use their senses to make good observations. In order for us to classify objects, we have to be good at observing too.  I am going to ask your teams to do this again, but this time we are going to be a bit more organized about it.  Your teams are going to make observations again, but this time we are not going to use the plastic insects, we are going to use paper insects.  I want you to sort them into two groups. We are going to begin calling those groups categories.  Remember to work together in teams and really respect each others ideas." 



10 minutes

“In your teams, you are going to practice classifying some insects.  The insects are up on the screen, (slide 10) but I also have them  here for you to use in your team too. “  I pass out the groups of insects for the teams to begin sorting.  I also pass out plastic  picnic plates for the children to place the categories of laminated insects on.  I want them to make two categories to begin. After teams have made their two categories, I  bring up slide 11.  It has a T-chart with two columns on it. I choose one group randomly and ask their team leader to explain to the class how they classified their insects.  

Slide 14 in the Power Point, has the insects ready go download and laminate. Cut the insects apart. I have enough for each team to sort.  

I allow the teams to work together and begin sorting the insects. They have had practice now with the plastic ones and looked simply at their qualitative characteristics.

I write the sorting descriptors in the top two boxes on the T-chart and then ask them to tell the class which insects they put into those groups. 

Teams work together to sort the insects.  While they are working, I am circulating the classroom and listening to all the dialogue.  I am careful not offer any suggestions.  I want the groups to work together, as teams.  I also want to encourage dialogue between team members.  This is a good way for students to learn from  each other and build confidence within themselves and each other. 

Up to this point, we have not recorded any ideas in how to classify. The T-chart will provide a graphic organizer to share all the ideas the children have gathered.  After a couple of minutes work time, I ring the bell and call on one team randomly.  I ask for their suggestions and record the ideas on the Power Point on the Smart Board.  (I frequently, write directly on to the Power Points with the use of the Smart Board. This allows me to save the work if we need to refer back to it for any reteaching).  

After filling in the two column chart, I challenge the children to see if they can create a third category and sort the insects one more time.  Again, a group is randomly chosen and their results are recorded on the screen for all to see their thinking. 

While the group is sharing out their ideas, I ask them to talk through their rationale for the classifying.  I want them to be able to begin the practice of communicating their thinking.  



10 minutes

As a final evaluation, I want to see if they children have internalized the concepts of sorting and classifying.  I share slide 13 with the students.  

I explain that I want them to work independently this time to sort and classify the insects on the page.  When we are finished, we will add this page to our journals.  Allowing us to go back and look anytime we need to see it.  

It also offers me a quick view of who was able to grasp the concept.  If any students appear to have not understood completely, I will be able to reteach at a later time.