Classifying Living Things

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SWBAT identify five reasons for why we classify living things.

Big Idea

Students will explain and justify ways to classify organisms.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Ecosystems and Interactions unit focuses on students recognizing the interrelationship between organisms and their ecosystems.  It engages students in understanding that organisms have observable characteristics that are fully inherited and can be affected by the climate and/or environment. Students participate in distinguishing structures that define classes of animals and plants, and develop an understanding that all organisms go through predictable life cycles. They learn that organisms depend upon one another for growth and development, discover that plants use the sun' energy to produce food for themselves, and that it gets transferred within a food chain from producers to consumers to decomposers. 

Lesson Synopsis

In this lesson, Classifying Living Things, students explore the characteristics of living organisms by examining a variety of items and group them based on their observations. After exploring these items, students take part in the Three stray, One stay strategy where three out of four members report to other groups to learn about how the classified the organisms. Meanwhile, the fourth student stays at their home group. The strays join them and the stay students explains how their group classified the organisms.  The strays take notes of what they learn as they are reporting back to their home group. The lesson wraps up with a teacher directed explanation on why we have a classification system and how we use it. This explanation is done through a studyjams video and a powerpoint. Students use their interactive notebook to take notes.  I collect their Three Stray, One Stay paper to use as a formative assessment for this lesson.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will indirectly address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s): 

2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

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

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.  

Why Do I Teach this Lesson and Address This Standard?

I teach the Classifying Living Things lesson because many of my students have very limited background in science since the elementary school's within my district do not formally teach science prior to my students entering the 5th grade (the middle school); therefore, they have not been exposed to earlier grade level NGSS standards or other previous state standards pertaining to animals, plants, other living organisms, and ecosystems.  I find it important to expose my students to parts of these earlier standards in order for them to truly develop a thorough understanding of how matter moves among organisms and developing models to describe how animals' food was once energy from the sun in future lessons. Students take part in inquiry based investigations and apply their evidence to explain justify their thinking. Providing my students the opportunity to practice this type of learning will help to facilitate their scientific thinking for future investigations in any lesson.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices 

2.) Developing and Using Models:  Students use a variety of living organisms images to classify them.

4.) Analyze and Interpret Data: Students compare and contrast how to classify living organisms. They observe other groups and discuss the similarities and differences with their team.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Classifying Living Things lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

1.) Patterns:  Students identify similarities and differences in order to sort and classify a variety of living things that distinguish them from other living organisms. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

LS1.A Structure and Function


Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirecting.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


10 minutes

Reactivating Our Prior Knowledge

I begin today's lesson, by saying, "in the last lesson, we identified the six characteristics of life.  Lets name them now."  As we identify them, I write them on the board.

  1. Moves
  2. Made of Cells
  3. Reproduce
  4. Grows and Develops
  5. Needs and Obtains Energy 
  6. Adapts to Environment

Then say: "We are going to investigate several kinds of living things today. All of these organisms are living things because they have these characteristics. 

Vocabulary Preview

I direct students' attention to the word classify written on the board and ask: What does it mean to classify? I ask students to turn and talk with their group. Then I call on groups to share out and we define the word on the board:

★ classify- to put things into groups

Activating Curiosity

At this point, I hold up a sealed container and share with my students, "This my box of living organisms. I have collected so many living organisms, I have forgotten what they are. I am going to ask you to help me identify some of these items."

Inside the box, I have models and replicas of organisms. (plastic mammal, reptile, a small plant, sea shell,a plastic fish, a bee, spider) I selected these living organisms because they model specific characteristics that would classify them into a specific groups.

As I hold up each item, I ask students to identify each one as I write it one the board. After about a dozen, I wrap up by saying, "I have so many living organisms, I really need to classify them into their own groups and I need your help to do that."


15 minutes

Preparing to Investigate

I start by asking a student to read the standards board aloud to focus the class on our purpose for today. "Today we will classify a variety of living organisms by examining their features.  Your task is to compare, sort, and identify each living organism.

Student Led Inquiry

I reiterate to students, "I have so many living organisms in my box, I need your help to classify them into groups."  I hand out a box to each group (each one containing images of living organisms.)  I explain their task, "Once you open your box, spread all the cards out on your table. Then identify, compare, and classify each living organism. After you group them, name each group and write it on a title card."  Once I finish reviewing the task, I tell students to begin.

While they are sorting and classifying the organisms, I walk around the room checking in and monitoring groups. I notice some similarities and difference in the groups arrangement of the images. Some groups classify organisms by physical features such as wings, whereas another group classifies some by the categories they already know like birds or fish.  

(Instruction Note)- I do not tell the students how to group the organisms and emphasize that there is no one correct way to classify them.  I also tell students their classification should be secret so other groups do not overhear their ideas for classifying and copy them.  I tell them this because I want them to justify the way they grouped the organisms when they share their method of thinking.



20 minutes

Classifying:  Analyze,Obtain, Evaluate, and Communicate  Information

Once groups have finished classifying the organisms, I tell my students they are taking part in the Three Stray, One Stay strategy to observe and learn from other group's arrangements.

I hand out a recording sheet and explain their task.  "First, as a group you are writing notes on how your group went about classifying the organisms.  Together, discuss how you decided on the categories you made and determined how organisms would be placed in them." I continue explaining, "Now, in the second part, this is where three of you are straying to different groups to observe and take notes on how those groups classified their organisms. (Each of you reports to a different group, ) Meanwhile, one of you is staying at your group. You are staying because students straying from their original group are coming to your group. Your task is to explain to the stray students who are at your group, how your group classified the organisms. You are using the notes you wrote in part 1 as part of your share."  As the members listen, they write in part 2 on the sheet how this group classified the organisms. They are encouraged ask the stay student questions for more information and/or clarification.   

During this, I am checking in with groups and listening to stays explanations on how their group classified the organisms and how they justify the arrangement they made.

After spending time at other groups, the strays report back to their original group. I further explain, "all stray students, your task is to report the information you learned from another group's classification to your home group.  Don't forget to use the notes you took while at the other group to help you."  Each stray student talks about the classification process the other group they were at used to arrange their groups.  

I continue, "For the stay students, you are listening to your stray members tell you about their experience.  This is where you are writing notes about other groups' arrangements according to your stray members."

At the end of gathering and sharing information about other classification arrangements, I direct students to part 3.  Here, students are synthesizing the information they written in parts 1 and 2.  As a group, they discuss the overall term classification write their final thoughts about it.



15 minutes

Guided Discussion Using Media

Once groups finish their group discussion, I say, "Think about the differences in how each group classified the organisms." I want them to recognize that many groups and categories were created. Then I ask, "So Why Do We Classify?" and call on students to share out why they think we do.  

I then direct them to front board so they can view the studyjams video on classification. This video is a quick synopsis of reasons scientists classify and the kingdoms that currently exist.

After the video, I guide students through a discussion to identify why we have a classification system. To help students remember, I ask them to open their interactive notebook, write the question: Why Do We Classify? at the top of the left side page. Then I ask them to trace their hand, making sure they leave space between their fingers, under the title. As we go through each reason and discuss, students write a reason on each finger of their hand.

classify hand     Reasons to Classify Hand


Through our discussion we identify the five reason to for classify living organisms

  1. Easier to communicate 
  2. Organisms have an assigned name
  3. Unknown organisms can be classified
  4. Group new organisms with old ones
  5. Groups keep changing- new organisms are discovered; others become extinct

I move on and ask the class, "How do scientists classify organisms?"  While students are quick to say, "their features" or "their characteristics", I explain "there is more to it than that." I continue asking them to think of scientific skills scientists might use to when looking at organisms' characteristics. I want them to recognize that scientists use the skill of observation, comparing and contrasting, and analytical-meaning they ask questions.