The Animal Kingdom: Vertebrates (Day 2)

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SWBAT classify animals into phyla according to certain physical similarities.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students share their research as we complete the vertebrate animal section on our 6 Kingdoms of Life Posters. Then, students reflect and apply by writing a summary on the many types of vertebrates.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEMvery clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs. 

Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.  

At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.  

Summary of Lesson

Today, I will open the lesson by sharing a couple examples of high-level student summaries from a past lesson on invertebrates. Students will then share their vertebrate animal research from yesterday as we complete the vertebrate animal section on our 6 Kingdoms of Life Posters. At the end of the lesson, students will reflect and apply their new understanding of vertebrates by writing a summary, beginning with the topic sentence, There are many types of vertebrates.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-PS3-1.    Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  

5-LS2-1.    Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.  

In order to truly grasp an in-depth understanding of the above standards, it is important to students to understand:

  • what organisms are animals 
  • why an organism is a animal instead of a plant & how this changes the organism's role in the environment
  • how different animals take in energy
  • what types of environments different phylums of animals live within and how these animals interact with the environment


Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Yesterday, students obtained ideas through researching, viewing, and discussing vertebrate animals. Today, students communicate newly learned information as we classify and describe animals using the vertebrate animal phylums. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns

Students organize and classify the vertebrate animals into phylums. They also identify relationships, similarities, and differences between these animals. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

LS1.C:  Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)

LS2.A:  Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B:  Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.7: Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. In this lesson, students will use their research to write a summary about vertebrates.

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


15 minutes

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can classify vertebrate animals into phyla according to certain physical similarities. I explain: Yesterday, you completed research on the five phyla of vertebrate animals (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals). Today, I'm going to ask you to share your findings in order to complete the vertebrate section of our 6 Kingdoms Poster.


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show the following video featuring a variety of animals in the animal kingdom. At first, we watch the entire video without stopping and discussing. Then, we watch the video once more. Only this time, I pause on each animal and students work together to identify the phylum in which the animal belongs (focusing both on invertebrates and vertebrates). This worked out PERFECTLY and the kids loved it! 

Student Summaries 

At then end of today's lesson, I'll ask students to write a summary on the many types of vertebrate animals. When students wrote summaries on invertebrates a couple days ago, I noticed that some students elaborated more than others by providing exact details from their research. Today, I want to inspire all students to write detail-rich summaries.

So, at this time, I choose to share the following student examples to inspire all students to elaborate! I take the time to point out how each student used exact details to provide a very detailed summary. Even though students won't write another summary until the end of this lesson, I want students to begin preparing themselves now by taking accurate notes the next activity. 


25 minutes

6 Kingdoms of Life Poster

During past lessons, we have slowly completed a poster on the six kingdoms of life. Today, we'll complete the last section of the poster (Vetebrates Poster). Here's what it will look like when we are done: 6 Kingdoms of Life Poster.

Students will be completing their own notes on vertebrates (Student Notes on Vertebrates) as well. Here's an example of a student's completed poster: Student 6 Kingdom Poster.

Getting Ready

At this time, I invite students to join me on the front carpet with their posters and a hard surface. Looking back, I should have asked students to also get out their vertebrate presentations on their computers from yesterday so that they could easily recall facts on each vertebrate animal phylum. 

The Fish Phylum

We begin by discussing the fish phylum and taking notes on our 6 Kingdoms posters at the same time. During this time, I ask students questions and encourage students to provide the characteristics of fish: Are fish cold-blooded or warm blooded? (cold-blooded) What does this mean again? (They adapt to the temperature of their environment.) Can you explain the skin of fish? (They are covered with scales.) How do the fins help fish? (They help with movement and balance.) How do fish breath? (gills) Where do fish lay their eggs? (in the water) What are some examples of fish? (salmon & sharks)

As students respond to each of the above questions (using information they learned during yesterday's research), I write their answers on the class poster and students take similar notes on their own posters. 

The Amphibian Phylum

We then move on to the amphibian phylum. I continue asking similar questions as above. However, this time, I try to continually encourage higher level thinking by comparing amphibians to fish. Are amphibians cold-blooded or warm blooded? (cold-blooded) What other phylums have cold-blooded animals? (fish, arthropods, annelids) What type of skin does an amphibian have?  (smooth, moist skin) How is this different from a fish's skin? (fish have scales) 

The Reptile Phylum

Next, we discuss reptiles. We establish that reptiles are cold-blooded, have scaly skin, and sometimes spend time in the water, such as turtles. Where do reptile lay their eggs? (on land) Okay, so fish lay their eggs in water, amphibians lay their in water and on land, and reptiles lay their eggs on land? We know that most amphibians have four legs and no claws, like a frog. How does this compare with reptiles? (reptiles have four legs with claws, with the exception of snakes)

The Birds Phylum

As we take notes on birds, students point out that birds are warm-blooded and they have feathers, wings, and a beak. One student says, "They are similar to reptiles because they have scaly legs." We also go over the fact that, like reptiles, birds lay eggs on land, but the shells are harder than reptiles. 

The Mammals Phylum

Finally, we discuss mammals. Are mammals warm-blooded or cold-blooded? (warm-blooded) What are the only warm-blooded animal phylums on Earth? (birds and mammals) How are we different from birds? (Mammals don't have feathers. Instead, mammals have hair or fur.) Do mammals lay eggs? (No, mammals are have live births and they nurse their young with milk.) 

Animal Kingdom Review

To review and to promote the making of connections, I ask students to turn and talk: Which animal phylums have scaly skin? (fish, reptiles, & birds) Which animal phylums spend time in the water? (fish, amphibians, some reptiles, some arthropods, mollusks, cnidaria, echinoderms, some annelids, & porifera) Which animal phylums have fur or hair? (mammals) 

Reflect & Apply

30 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to complete a written summary about vertebrates. 

I model how to write the main idea sentence at the top of a lined sheet of paper: There are many types of vertebrates. I also remind students to elaborate by using fact-based details to support their thinking. To set an achievable goal for students to work toward, I encourage all students to write at least a one-page summary. Most students were able to accomplish this! 

Also, students use the notes on their Student 6 Kingdom Poster to construct evidence-based arguments. 

Throughout the writing process, students excitedly ask, "Can I share what I have so far with the class?" It is evident that students are engaged, giving 100%, and are proud of their work.

Student Examples

Here are a few student examples during this time: