Animals Are Structures Too - Pre-Assessment

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Students will demonstrate what they know about how to classify living and non-living things. They will also define what they know about macro- and micro-structures of animals.

Big Idea

This formative assessment gives me information about the level of understanding students have about animal structures, and helps me plan the rest of the unit.

RAP - Review and Preview

2 minutes

At this point there is not much review as this is the first lesson in the unit. However, this is an important preview time as we go through the pre-assessment to see where students are in their understanding of what constitutes life and their understanding of how animals are structured, what holds them up, and together. In this unit, we begin with bi-peds (humans) and look at quadra-peds (four-legged) animals, and flying animals.

NOTE: with older students, this discussion of living and non-living can go to a philosophical level, which can be a deep discussion, but try to keep it to a scientific conversation at this point. I do try to go to the philosophic discussion at another time, if there is a lot of interest, but you have to be careful to respect student beliefs on this issue (or the spouting of parental beliefs that often comes from students in this type of discussion).

Working It Out

20 minutes

Have students fill in a graphic organizer with characteristics and examples of living and non-living things. This should be done independently so you get an accurate idea of what students know, independently.

Words of Wisdom

20 minutes

After students have completed their independent pre-assessment, I gather them together to watch the PBS Learning Media video, Is It Alive? This video shows students different images that they have to classify as living and non-living. They can write them down on their T-chart and we discuss them as a class.

I tell students that biologists look for 7 signs of life to classify something as living or non-living:

  1. Living things are highly organized, complex structures.
  2. Living things maintain a chemical structure that is very different from their surroundings.
  3. Living things have the capacity to take in, transform, and use energy from the environment.
  4. Living things respond to stimuli.
  5. Living things have the capacity to reproduce themselves.
  6. Living things grow and develop.
  7. Living things are well-suited to their environment.

(List adapted from,

Working It Out

5 minutes

We look at our T-charts and see if items from the video were correctly classified as living and non-living. Students make changes in another color so I can see how their thinking has changed.

Together we define living and non-living.

Some student definitions of living are:

  1. Living things must be able to move, eat in some way, and reproduce.
  2. Living things must be composed of Carbon 14 and eat, move, respirate, and reproduce. They must also use energy.


Some student definitions of non-living are:

  1. Non-living things do not need to eat, breathe, or have babies.
  2. Non-living things do not use energy, move independently, reproduce, or need food.


2 minutes

I assess student understanding from their pre-assessment and T-chart. These are pasted into their interactive science notebook and turned in to me.  

Wrapping It Up

3 minutes

Although much of this lesson is about classification of living and non-living, I bring students' attention back to the structure part at this point. I remind them that we have worked with non-living things in our previous weathering unit, and are now working with living things. I want them to see the differences and how this lesson helps us shift our thinking from observing non-living things to observing living things. I remind them that we are going to be looking at structures in animals and a few plants. We will be discussing if all parts of a living being are living themselves (ie. are bones living?)