If it's Not Living, Does it Mean it's Dead?

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SWBAT to determine the difference between objects that were once living and those that are inanimate by using a set of criteria to classify them.

Big Idea

The lines between what is living, non-living, and never living are very blurred for young children. For them, their toys can be alive or their car because it moves. This lesson clears the lines between living and non-living.


5 minutes

I begin this lesson by helping the kids review what we did in the last lesson. We review the list of criteria that we made for what makes something alive.

We also review the picture sort that we did and I ask the kids if they still agree with how we have them sorted. I point to the picture of an object in a pocket chart and refer to where it is recorded on the t-chart.

I still do not influence their decisions or thinking. I want them to discover through discussion what makes something alive. Critical thinking is our ultimate goal.


10 minutes

I bring out some objects for the kids to see. We discuss if they think they are living or non-living and I place them in separate piles by their collective decisions.

List of items:


small plant



jar of Sea Monkeys

small stuffed bear

beta fish in small travel container

Since this concept is such a challenge for young children, it's important that they methodically work their way through the thinking and deduction of what attributes qualify something to be living. This will stay with them.

I hold up a rock. I ask the kids to think SILENTLY in their heads about if the rock is living, dead, or never living. They are asked to show me one finger on their hands against their chest if they think the rock is living, two fingers if they think it has never lived and three fingers if it was once living, but now is dead.

I ask them to keep their fingers showing until I count them all up. I record the tally on the board as I count the fingers (1's, 2's, 3's). I choose random students from the name stick can to share with the class which one they chose and why. I support them with vocabulary and prompting if they struggle with sharing. I also provide the sentence frame "I think the rock is ________(living, dead, never living) because ________.

I use a name stick can to avoid bias when choosing students to answer. All students are accountable for learning and my students know that. I use the sentence stems to support developing language skills.


15 minutes

Once the objects are sorted, we examine the objects that they deemed to be living. We discuss what makes them living and we begin to critically examine our list of criteria.

As we discuss, we begin to remove items off of the list and are left with the following attributes:


goes to the bathroom





The kids did not observe the Sea Monkeys or plant breathing so they did not have me write it on the criteria list.

We focus on the list and refine the list until we come to an agreement that all living things must have those things.


5 minutes

I read a book titled, What's Alive.

We talk about the information gained from the text as we read it. I stop at key points in the text to discuss what we've read so the information being delivered to the kids is clear.

We narrow down our list even more.

By the time we are finished we have the following left on our list:





The list is posted in the room for future use. The kids can access it and refer to it any time they are unclear about what is living or non-living.


5 minutes

The kids are asked to use what they've learned and decided to determine whether an object is living or non-living.

Your criteria may look different based on the list your class comes up with. Please just make sure the list is scientifically correct.

Each student is given a picture to glue on to the top of their page. They then circle their answers to the questions below it, which is the criteria we came up with on our list from the previous lesson. They are taught the sight words "yes" and "no" at the beginning of the year to support them in completing tasks such as this one. They are two of the first five words I teach them.

I read each question as they track the words. They circle yes or no for their object. They then determine if it is alive or not.

I have them do this activity because it allows them to apply the information they have gained through our discussions and research. They are given the opportunity to look at a random object and use their list to determine whether is is alive or not. This supports synthesis and application.


10 minutes

I roam the room and monitor as they finish the form in their science journal. If I see a student struggling with an answer or responding with the incorrect answer, I stop for a quick one on one.

The 1:1-

First I determine if they know their sight words yes and no. It could be as simple as a word confusion.

If I find that they do know their sight words, I ask them questions about their objects to get them to come to the correct conclusion. If they are struggling with the concept overall, I meet with them at a later time when I can do a mini lesson. This rarely happens because of how we spent so much time working our way through the process of coming up with the list of criteria and then using it.