Learning About Classification

Authors: Dan Schmidt and Jennifer Hernandez

Overview: This lesson introduces the students to three main organismal divisions: invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants. The lesson emphasizes the differences and similarities between these groups. The skills enforced in the lesson are the ability to closely observe morphological differences of organisms and to group specimens accordingly.

Lesson Concepts:

  • All organisms have both similarities and differences.

  • Scientists group and classify organisms according to morphological and ecological characteristics.

Grade span: 6-8


  1. The following materials are to be placed in box, 1 per group.

    • 8-9 plant specimens: these should vary with regards to leaf shape, flowers, and plant type (i.e., grass, shrub, herb, etc).

    • 8-9 vertebrate specimens: can include bird, rodent, reptile, etc.

  2. 8-9 invertebrate samples: include a variety of insects, winged, non-winged, beetles, true-bugs, grasshoppers, aquatic invertebrates, etc.
    **photos can be used to represent organisms in the absence of actual specimens.

  3. Large sheet of white butcher paper

  4. Markers (preferably three different colors)

Advance preparation:

  • The boxes will be prepared in advance of the class. Specimens must be obtained and any photos should be done in color and laminated for durability. When creating the boxes it is important to select organisms in each group that can be further divided based on visible morphological characteristics.

  • At each workspace tape a large piece of butcher paper to worktable.

  • Separate the paper into three sections and label each section "Group 1, Group 2, and Group 3," Each "Group" heading will have a line following it. This line is for writing down the characteristic of that group.

Paper will look like this:

How to label the paper

Time: One class period

Grouping: Three to five students per group


  1. Introduction (5 minutes)
    Consider playing off of your mystery box. Hold up the box of items you will be using and indicate that you will make things easier for them — they can use their vision right to begin with. Then demo what will be in the box — at the same time you can show how specimens are handled; e.g., The box contains 20 number of organisms (plants and animals). Sometimes you will just have the photo (pull out a photo), sometimes a body part (pull out a feather), or sometimes you will have the entire organism (pull out samples and talk about handling).

  2. First grouping (15 minutes)
    Divide class into groups of five, with each group having their own butcher paper and box. Tell students that they are going to divide the specimens in their box into three groups. It is not necessary to tell the students the characteristics to observe; this will give them the opportunity to be creative.

  3. Brief discussion (5 minutes)
    Ask each group how they divided their groups — what characteristic did you use. After students have classified their specimens they must come up with one characteristic for each group.
        a. All the specimens in the group must share this characteristic
        b. Have them write the characteristic on the line next to the "Group" heading

  4. Second grouping (5 minutes)
    Next students are going to divide each group into three subgroups. If time is short then you can have the students do subgroupings for one of the main groups only. After all the specimens have been classified, students should come up with one characteristic for each subgroup.

  5. Discussion (10 minutes)
    Ask the class general questions about their classification experience.
        a. As scientists, how did you classify your specimens? In other words, what characteristics did you use to determine which specimens went in which group?
        b. As scientists, why do we classify living things?
        c. Is classification helpful when trying to learn about a lot of living things?
        d. Do specimens seem different when they are organized into groups rather than in one big pile?

  6. Cleanup (5 minutes)