Living or Non-Living?

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Students will classify items as living and non-living by completing a sort.

Big Idea

Sorting items as living or non-living is an important life science skill. This interactive lesson helps students build this foundational understanding.


10 minutes

This lesson is a foundational lesson that supports NGSS standard K-LS1-1, (Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive).  The students must discern what a living organism is, so they can then identify what these organisms need to survive.

For the opening of this lesson, you will need the Living or Non-Living sort cards included as a PDF with this lesson.  I print out and laminate one set of cards for each table group.  Cut out the cards on the lines.  Set aside the header cards that say, "living" and "non-living".  These cards will be used later in this lesson.

This lesson begins with a constructivist type activity in which students are given the group of cards and asked to sort them.  There are no "parameters" given for the sorting.  They need to figure out the basis for sorting the cards on their own. 

I distribute one set of the cards to each table group and I say to the students, You are going to be sorting some cards into two groups.  I am not going to tell you how to sort the cards. You need to figure out how to do that as a group.  Look at the cards and see how they are alike.  Make sure you can tell me how you sorted the cards.

The students begin working and I circulate around the room to observe their work sorting.  After the students have completed the sort, we go around the room and each table shares how they sorted the cards.  After they share, we gather the cards into a group, leaving them on the table.  We then move to the SmartBoard for the next portion of the lesson.

Direct Instruction

20 minutes

For this portion of the lesson, I use my SmartBoard.  If you have a SmartBoard, the file Living or Non-Living can easily be downloaded and opened.  If you have a different type of interactive whiteboard, you can still use this lesson by opening the file in Smart Notebook Express.  Click here to download. There is also a PDF of the slides so you can recreate this part of the lesson.  Click here to access them:  PDF of Living or Non-Living Smartboard Slides.

I gather my students in front of the Smartboard.  I have cards with each student's name printed on.  These cards are used for selecting who will come up to the Smartboard.  This helps me spread response opportunities across my entire classroom and eliminates any unintentional bias.

I open the first slide (SmartBoard Slide 1) with the lesson objective written in "student friendly" terms.  There is a content objective and a language objective to help focus on vocabulary expansion for my English Learners (ELs) to be congruent with SIOP instructional techniques (Click here to learn more about SIOP). I read these objectives aloud for my students and then we continue with the lesson. 

Content Objective
I can identify the characteristics of living things and classify things as living or non-living.

Language Objective
I can tell a friend whether something is living or non-living.

Slide 2:  Living things can do these things:  Grow, Move Reproduce.  I don't define these yet.  They will be defined in upcoming slides.

Slide 3:  Living things grow and change.  We discuss how each organism changes.

Slide 4:  Living things move.  We discuss how each picture shows a living thing moving.  The students are perplexed by the plant.  I share the information that is on the slide:  What??  Plants don't move!!  Yes, plants DO move.  They are able to turn their leaves toward sunlight.

Slide 5: Living things reproduce.  We discuss the pictures and how each one shows an example of reproduction.  

Slide 6:  I know invite the students to sort the pictures into the living and non-living categories by dragging them into the correct vortex.  If the picture is sorted correctly, it disappears into the vortex.  

Slide 7: It is now Turn and Talk Time.  Turn and Talk gives the students the opportunity to practice their academic language while building important conversational skills.

I ask them to hold hands with their assigned Turn and Talk partners and raise their hands in the air.  This allows me to check that everyone has a partner.    I then say to them, Look at the picture.  Is this living or non-living?  How do you know?      I give them time to talk to their partner and when it is obvious that they have completed their discussion, I call on student to share their response. I repeat the student's response as a complete sentence, The stuffed animals is non-living.  We discuss if this is a correct response.  I purposefully chose a picture that is a representation of a living thing.  This will give us the opportunity to discuss that there are representations or models of living things, but they are not living. We then move back to our seats to begin guided practice.  

Guided Practice

10 minutes

For this portion of the lesson, you will need the Living or Non-Living sorting cards that were used during the opening portion of the lesson.  You will need to add the "headers" or classification labels as the students will be using these to sort the pictures into the correct categories. 

I say to the students, You are going to be sorting our cards again.  This time, I want you to sort them into two different groups.  You will put the cards that show living things under this card (hold up the living header card) and the cards that show non-living things under this one (hold up on-living card).  I want you to take turns sorting the cards and to share why you are placing them where you are.  For example, I could say, "The lion is living because it moves."  or "The car is non-living.  It moves, but it does not grow and change or reproduce."

The students begin working (see Video).  I circulate around the classroom to observe their conversations and to assist them in telling the "why" behind their categorization.  It is important that they can justify how they are sorting the pictures to really demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of living things.

Independent Practice and Informal Assessment

10 minutes

For this section of the lesson, you will need the Living or Non-Living Sort Activity included as a PDF with the lesson.  The students will also need scissors and glue to complete the activity. 

I distribute the activity sheet to the students and have them write their name at the top.  I tell the students, Now it's time for you to show me that you know the difference between things that are living and non-living. You are going to cut out the pictures and sort them into living and non-living.  You will place the living things here (point to spot on the activity sheet) and the non-living things here.  When you thing you have them sorted correctly, raise your hand and I will come and check your work.  After I check your work, you can glue them down.

The students begin working and I circulate around the room to check their progress.  After they have them sorted, I ask them questions about why they placed things where they did.  I am trying to get them to articulate the characteristics of things that are living.  After I check their work, they glue the items down and place the work in their mailboxes.

As an exit ticket for the day, I ask each student whether different items are living or non-living to reinforce the concepts taught.