In K12 education, classification is a topic stemming from biology and related life sciences. The key outcome at the middle school level is to give students a basic understanding of how and why nature is categorized into classes. Classification activities can be used to reinforce the importance of biological grouping and strengthen students' knowledge of the animal kingdom.
As an introduction activity to the classification of living animals, students can classify shoes. This is a group activity in which your students gain an understanding of the importance of animal classification using materials much closer to home. Begin the activity by asking students to take off their shoes. Alternatively, you can assign homework the day prior that instructs students to bring a spare pair of shoes to school (this avoids discomfort students may have taking shoes off in class). Ask for four volunteers; one volunteer will record the classification scheme on the board while the other three students will collect shoes into a pile and arrange them with instructions from the rest of the class. Ask students to group the pile of shoes into three categories (kingdoms) such as boots, sandals, tennis shoes. Record their decisions on the board and then instruct students to divide one category into subcategories (phylum). Continue until each shoe is a species by itself. Once the task is complete, launch into the lesson of classification of living things using the work the students recorded on the board as a road map.
This activity is useful in teaching students to construct dichotomous keys, which are helpful in understanding how living things are classified. Prepare by putting enough (one for each student) donuts in plastic sandwich bags. Start the activity by reviewing what a property is and illustrate that by examining the qualities of a donut. Give each student a donut and instruct them to write their names on the bags. Next, ask the students to create two categories for all of the donuts (i.e., round and not round). Record this as the first key on the board. Next, ask students to divide round donuts into two subcategories. Do the same for non-round donuts. When you can identify an individual donut, name whose it is and allow students to reflect how the keys they have created can be used to identify other donuts. Continue until each donut can be identified by a set of keys. Check for understanding by allowing students to eat their donuts after they identify it using the keys created by the class.
Build-a-Fish combines concepts of natural selection and classification in an interactive multimedia activity that can be used as classwork, individual assignments or homework. The flash-based game challenges students to design fish with categories of adaptations that help them survive in coral reefs. Students choose from ten options of fish bodies, mouths and color patterns before releasing the animals into the reef amongst the elements and predators. For an in-class activity, allow students to create three to five different classes of fish and then compare and contrast how different categories of fish survive.
Animal Characteristics Interactive
Animal Characteristics is an online, Flash-based interactive that tests students' understanding of basic animal classification. Students are given five buckets--mammal, reptile, bird, fish and amphibian--along with 23 traits that they must click and drag into each bucket. When students fill each bucket with the appropriate traits, the animal appears on top of the bucket. Check for students' knowledge with a compare and contrast discussion, noting the differences and similarities category of animal and their traits.
- National Science Digital Library: Exemplary Resources for Middle School Math and Science
- National Science Education Standards pp 106 - 107, National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment; National Research Council, 1996
- biologie image by Danielle Bonardelle from Fotolia.com