Institute of Human Origins - March 2024


Forums / Early Childhood / Teaching about observable features of animals

Early Childhood

Teaching about observable features of animals

Author Post
Victoria Wang Victoria Wang 630 Points

Hi Guys!

I am a preservice teacher who is trying to plan some lessons out about how to explain to students about grouping plants and animals according to observable features. I have a few activites planned, but I am struggling to think of different activities to do to help with teaching them. Providing reasons for them is really difficult for me to think of how to come about that.


Megan Doty Megan Doty 11847 Points

Hi Victoria,

I've found an article here in the Learning Center that may be of help! It discusses an activity to help with animal classification, and gives ideas for both younger and older students. Let me know if you use it in your classroom! 

Does anyone else have any ideas?


Elizabeth Steele Elizabeth Steele 445 Points


    Recently I read somewhere about using community examples to teach this concept to students. By this I mean that you could give students the terms we use to classify (kingdom, phylum, class, etc.) and connect them to words the kids will understand like, 'immediate family, extended family, community, country, etc.) so that they way we group classifications might make more sense to them. I hope this is helpful in some way!

          Lizzy Steele 

Taylor Hogan Taylor Hogan 10 Points


One thing you could do is use pictures of certain animals that they are familiar with and have them list the similarities. From there you can describe the classification of animals and have them collaborate and sort the animal cards in groups. You could even turn this into a stations activity and do different types of animals like those who live in the ocean, the forrest, the jungle, ect. I think childre, especially of the younger ages, would benefit with the hands on activities. 


Gabe Kraljevic Gabe Kraljevic 4564 Points

Our classifications have undergone many changes as we discover more about life and technology allows us to gather more facts about organisms. It is the nature of science to adjust our beliefs in the face of new evidence. You can mirror this in the lessons you are planning about grouping.

A popular introductory activity is to classify shoes! Search the Learning Center and online for plans. (There are many shoe classification lessons to create dichotomous keys - you may want to avoid those for now.)  This activity starts with each student putting their right shoe on a table or counter. (Warn them the day before so they aren't embarrassed by their socks!) In small groups, they go through the pile and determine what characteristics they will use to sort them for store shelves. Tell them to start with large, broad classifications and create subclasses as they feel necessary to guide customers to specific shoes. The groups should present a “family tree” of their final shoe categorization. The differences between groups can lead to a great discussion on how classification in science is debated and changed with new evidence and scientific arguments. Have the class agree on a classification system and test it out.

You can now move to biological classification by doing this same activity with photos or, better yet, live observations of plants, animals, fungi, and slides of bacteria. Compare what your students created with the currently accepted classification system used by scientists.

Hope this helps!

Gabe Kraljevic


Emily Williams Emily Williams 20 Points

Here's a lesson I found!


Post Reply

Forum content is subject to the same rules as NSTA List Serves. Rules and disclaimers