This activity asks students to sort and classify an assortment of objects helping them to understand the concept as it applies to classifying Utah plants and animals.
Linking Science and Literacy in the K-8 Classroom, NSTA.
Background for Teachers
Classification is the scientific process of organizing organisms into
logical groups. Students need to know that they can discover the
identity of any organism by following classification schemes. These
schemes focus on similarities and differences. Students need lots of
experience classifying anything and everything. By providing lots of
exposure in various ways you provide more opportunities to succeed.
This activity is more beneficial if taught multiple times using various
objects for classification.
Intended Learning Outcomes
1. Use science process and thinking skills.
4. Communicate effectively using science language and reasoning.
Invitation to Learn
Invite students to pretend that it's 2030 and we know aliens exist.
Explain that 3 alien ships were fighting and they shot each other down.
The remnants of the ship are in the desert and need to be cleaned
up. The officers want to bury the bodies of the aliens with their ship,
but the aliens are scattered all over the place. The officials need your
help to determine which aliens went with which ship. Pass out the
Alien Cards and Alien Organizer to each group. Ask groups to cut out
the pictures and put them in the column with the ship they traveled
in. *The idea is for students to group aliens with the similar symbol
into the ship with the same symbol.* After allowing time for groups to
work, have them share their findings with another group and defend
why they did it that way. Discuss how students determined the ship to
put each alien.
- Have students get out their science journals. Explain that
they are going to do a Quick-Write. The purpose is for
students to write for 2 minutes about classification, to
get them thinking about the topic, drawing out any prior
knowledge. Tell the students that you want them to write the
whole time because sometimes we get more ideas as we write
our current ideas down. Sometimes this means they will be
writing about other things, but encourage them to keep it as
close as they can to classification. This might take practice to
keep them writing for 2 minutes (use writing time or do it every
day before some lessons).
- Explain that students are going to be learning about
- Define classification as grouping objects according to similar
characteristics. The purpose of classification is to provide a
way to look at similar objects but know which is which through
- Model classification by taking a group of objects and sorting
- Talk as you sort so students can hear your thinking.
- Point out characteristics and similarities.
- Name each group using the characteristics (make sure it relates
to why those objects are in that group).
- Defend the reason for making those groups.
- Show students the other groups of objects and explain that they
now have the chance to sort/group objects. Put the objects
around the room and allow students to decide where they
would like to work.
- Explain that groups need to discuss and decide how to sort the
objects. Then determine a name for each group of objects based
on the characteristic for that group.
- Allow groups time to work while you monitor and listen to
their thinking. Make sure students are talking to each other.
Ask questions where needed.
- After sorting, ask groups to create a chart that shows the objects
in each group and has a written defense for placing those
- After all groups are completed, have a spokesman from each
group travel to the other groups to share what they did. The
spokesman moves in a clockwise motion and spends about 30
seconds at each group.
- Model how to single out each object. If the group has more
than one object, then they need to single each object by a
difference. Show how each object is in the same group but a
little different. Then give each object a name.
- Allow each group time to single out and name each object.
- Show students a classification key and explain that scientists
use it to identify objects. Model how a classification key works.
Show students how to read the characteristic and then look at
the object to determine if it fits the characteristic. Then follow
the directions on the key.
- Model how to write a classification key for your objects. Make
sure to focus on characteristics (if an object is round go to 2a,
- Have groups create a classification key for their objects. Provide
assistance and support as needed.
- Provide a center for students who finish early to continue
with the same activities by grouping new objects and creating
classification keys. They must have someone use their key
- For early finishers provide a classification key and an object.
Students must identify their object using the key.
- If students are struggling, make sure they continue to work with
a student who knows how to create the key successfully.
- If students are having trouble spelling or writing, allow them to
record the instructions or script them to another person.
- Sort words by homophones, prefixes, suffixes, plurals, etc.
Students group the words and identify similar characteristics.
- Show a group of numbers and have students sort them based
on mathematical characteristics (try to avoid the shape or
size of numbers). e.g. (2, 4, 5, 9, 12, 13, 20. 2, 4, 12, and
20) would be in the even group. (5 and 13) would be in the
prime number group. (9) would be in the square number
group. Students could also sort different types of fractions by
congruency, less than 1⁄2 or larger than 1⁄2, etc.
- Give students different triangles to sort by angles, types, or
- After reading a story with lots of characters, have the students
group the characters together.
- Group books/stories by genre, plot, setting, theme, etc.
- Ask students to classify something from their home. Pass out
Home Classification Sheet to complete as they classify.
- Have students teach the alien classification activity to someone
else in the family. A family member sorts the aliens, the
student write about what the family member did, and the family
member signs off.
- Assign students to write a paragraph explaining what
classification is and how to create a classification key.
- Students create a classification key using objects at home and
share the key with a fellow student the next day at school.
- Written assessment: Students must describe their groups and
defend their reasons for making those groups.
- Performance and written assessment (can be done individually
or as a group): Provide students with a new collection of
objects, have them group them and create a classification key.
- Use the Quick Write as a pre-assessment. At the end, ask
students to answer the question again to see if understanding
has changed, improved, deepened, etc.
- Have students create a classification key and then pass it on to
a neighbor. The neighbor must use the classification key to
identify the objects. To go even further, the neighbor could
provide feedback on whether the key was helpful or if more
work needed to be done.
Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain matters: translating research into classroom practice. Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA.
Writing should be combined with other learning activities to
provide different cognitive experiences. Having students write their
results or procedures extends the scientific thinking, because writing is
a more complex skill.
Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D.J., Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works:
Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA.
Comparing, classifying, and identifying similarities and differences
are effective instructional methods that encourage scientific thinking.