Classification, part 1

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Students will examine the evolutionary basis of modern classification systems and compare how structures and function vary between the six kingdoms of life.

Big Idea

Organisms are classified for many of the same reasons we classify things in our lives every day.


5 minutes

Warm-Up: What types of things do you organize and why?

Allow several students to share briefly about what they classify and why.  Expect to hear things like clothes, shoes, hats, and music.  Be sure to ask each student who shares the reason that they organize those things.  Expect to hear a common reason; “It makes it easier to find what I am looking for.”  Listen for this point and emphasize the commonality of this purpose for categorizing things.  Also, ask students to explain their method(s) for organizing.  Listen for reasons like: by color, by style, by genre, etc….

This type of sharing serves to display the purpose and various rationales for how we organize.

Ask students to consider all that they have heard and respond to this question, “Why might it beneficial to classify/ organize living things?  Listen to students’ responses and determine if they are able to make the connection between why and how we classify things every day and why and how  biology classifies living things.

Explain that today’s lesson will examine the reasons for the classification of living things and learn the methods that are used to classify (or organize) life.  

Introduce New Material

20 minutes

Begin the lesson by distributing envelopes of animal cards.  Note: In preparation for this activity, you will need to copy and cut sets of animal cards.  Place sets of animal cards into envelopes for students to use.

Display the instructions for the Classification Activity as verbal instructions are given. 

Classification Activity, part 1 

  • Use the animal cards to classify the animals into groups of your own choosing. Groups will have 5 minutes to complete this part of the activity.
  • On a sheet of paper, label each large group. Give each group a broad description name.
  • List the names of the animals you group together under each broad heading.
  • In 2-3 sentences or less, explain your reasoning for grouping animals as you did. Leave the cards as your organized them on the table for part 2 of this assignment.

Classification Activity, part 2- Carousel:

  • Turn your paper over on your desk so that your group’s description is not visible.
  • Rotate once to the table behind your table and observe how the group organized the animal cards.  Try to figure out how they organized the animals based on what you see. 
  • Look at their description ONLY after you have attempted to figure out the organization.

Depending on the time, allow students to make 1-2 rotations to other groups.  After completing the carousel activity, ask students to share what they observed when they visited other groups.  Listen for students to note that other groups did not classify the organisms the same way that they did in their own groups.  Ask students if it was easy to identify how the groups classified the organisms.  Expect that students will note:

1)    Groups did not classify the organisms the same.

2)    It was not easily identifiable what reasoning other groups used to classify the organisms.

Now ask, “Based on what you just experienced, why do we classify organisms?”  Look for students to note that there needs to be a universal way to classify organisms because everyone has their own reasons for classifying the way that they do.  Emphasize this reason before moving into the instruction.

Introducing the vocabulary associated with the lesson: taxonomy, Linnaeus, binomial nomenclature, morphology, kingdom, phylum, class , family, order, genus, species

Say each word aloud and ask students to repeat the term after you.  Clap out the syllables for the terms with 3 or more syllables.  This helps students hear the word parts of more complex words so that they can pronounce them correctly. 

Instruct students to add those bolded terms to their vocabulary maps. These terms contain Greek or Latin root words, prefixes or suffixes that we want to highlight and learn. Provide explicit instruction of each term when it arises during the course of instruction.

Inform students of the learning targets for this lesson:

  • I understand the significance of taxonomy.
  • I know what binomial nomenclature is and how to identify the genus and specis of organisms.

Display visual information as you instruct and ensure students take notes using guided notes that you provide or use a note-taking strategy that you have taught.  Note: I use a Concept Map format for this lesson as a way to show students that information can be captured using various formats.  The varied note-taking approach is a useful way to engage students.

End the discussion with a video clip, “How living things are classified”.

Video clips at the end of instruction can reinforce the learning or help students learn the concepts, if they need to hear it presented a different way than it was taught.

Guided Practice

5 minutes

Display the 6 Kingdom chart. Explain that students will use the 4 header columns of the grid (kingdom, cell type, number of cells, nutrition, extra notes) to record the differences between the 6 kingdoms of life.


Cell Type and Example

Number of Cells


Extra Notes

Using a LCD projector, model how to complete the table for the kingdom archaebacteria.

Use the “think aloud” strategy so that students will be able to see the thought process used to complete each of the 4 areas of the table.

Example Think Aloud script:

Let’s start with the kingdom, Archaebacteria.  Archaebacteria has a root word in it.  Archae means old like the word archaeologist so I know that these are considered old or primitive cells.   I think I will write this point in my extra notes section of the table.  Archaebacteria are prokaryotes since the first cells are thought the be prokaryotic. Prokaryotes are single-celled so I will write the term, unicellular in the Number of cells section of the table.  I  just read that they can be autotrophic or heterotrophic so I will add that to the nutrition section of the table. And, lastly, I will add one more interesting fact I learned while reading; their cell walls do not contain peptidoglycan like eubacteria cells.

Independent Practice

20 minutes

Having modeled how to complete the task, instruct students to work together to complete the remainder of 6 kingdoms table.  Allow them to use textbooks or the computers to research each kingdom for specific information to complete the table.

While students are working, make periodic checks for understanding during the independent practice by asking questions.  Here are two common misconceptions that should be assessed and corrected if found to exist:

  • Do humans belong to the animal kingdom?
  • Are mushrooms plants?

Listen to the students’ responses to determine if instruction is needed to help students arrive at the correct thinking. 

It’s important to note that independent practice does not always mean individual practice.  This type of assignment is best completed with students collectively working together as some students are better readers than others and the collective effort will allow everyone to complete the assignment.  Walk around and assist students as needed.  



5 minutes

Display a Ticket out the door:  Why is classification important?

Distribute slips of paper and instruct students to write their responses on the slips of paper. Note: I like to recycle paper and cut it into smaller pieces for activities like this. 

Give students 2-3 minutes to write their responses.  Collect the responses and as time permits, read the responses aloud without identifying individual student names.  This allows students to hear what their peers gained from the lesson and helps reinforce the learning.

The student responses indicate the learning targets for the lesson were met as students were able to list reasons why classification is important. The key theme that is found in all four student responses is that classification is a way of grouping and naming based on relationships.  This common knowledge shows that the learning target for the lesson was met and tells the teacher that the lesson can move forward knowing that students possess a basic understanding of a key concept of classification.