An activity which asks student to classify each other helps students to understand how Utah's plants and animals are classified.
- Pattern blocks
- Student journals.
Background for Teachers
This activity is meant to get students excited about grouping and
classifying. Students need to get up and experience classifying to help
them understand better how to use a classification key. This activity
can be done with or without prior knowledge of sorting. It would help
if students were familiar with the words classification and grouping.
Intended Learning Outcomes
1. Use science process and thinking skills.
2. Manifest scientific attitudes and interests.
Invitation to Learn
Take all of the students into a gym or a room with lines on the
floor. (If neither are available create lines on your floor, use stairs, or
find points of reference in your classroom.) Give each student a pattern
block (but don't use the rhombus, the most narrow block) and explain
that they need to follow your instructions based on what their block
looks like. Use the following instructions to sort the students by their
- If your block is a polygon, move to the first line.
- If your block has at least 4 sides, move to the next line (this
should leave those holding triangles standing on the first line).
- If your block has 6 sides, move to the next line (this should
group the hexagons together).
- If your block has 4 right angles, move forward 2 lines (this will
group the squares).
- If your block has 4 equal sides and 2 acute angles, move
forward 3 lines (this will leave the trapezoids alone).
Talk about how everyone moved at first, because they have one
thing in common, but then found that they had differences. Discuss
how the trapezoids, squares, and parallelograms were alike and
different. Make sure to point out how the triangle is similar and
different. After discussing, collect the shapes and return to class to
begin the lesson. This activity will work with a variety of objects, but
you should be able to get into groups in less than 6 steps or it will get
- Explain that classifying is a way to organize animals, plants, and
objects. It helps to see how things are similar and different.
- Talk about how everyone in the room is similar, yet different
and we can put them into groups based on these similarities
and differences. Give an example (Jenny and Penny are both
girls but one has brown hair and the other blonde, so they
could both go in the girl group but they could be separated into
hair groups). Then allow students time to point out as many
similarities and differences as they can.
- Ask students to talk with their group about how they would
group the class. Give them about 2 minutes to talk and then
ask them to write their ideas into their journal. Students write
the different groups they would use.
- Guide the students through grouping the class. Allow students
to volunteer the groups they thought of and have students get
up and move into these groups. This allows students to see
the groups and to clarify their thoughts. Divide the class into
3-5 groups. After finalizing the groups, have the students write
these groups into their journal. Students should include the
names of the students who fit into each of these groups for
- Model how to write a classification key to describe the student
groups. Use poster paper (plain or graph paper). Say each step
e.g., 1. if you are a boy go to question 2a, if you are a girl go to
- After writing the classification key, show students how to use it
to find each group.
- A dichotomous key is easier to use at first. If students have a
hard time following your model of a classification key, make a
dichotomous key first. Then use the dichotomous key to write
your classification key.
- Students that understand how to use the classification key can
create a new key using the students in the room in different
groups. They can present their key to their groups.
- Have students pull off a shoe, coat or backpack to use for
grouping to repeat the activity if students are still struggling
with the concept.
- Ask students to group their family the same way they grouped
- Have students complete a survey or interview about how people
use classification during their everyday lives. Create a bulletin
board to show the other ways it is used in real life.
- Have students copy the classification key into their journal and
explain how to use it.
- Play guessing games. Use the clues on the classification key to
guess different students around the room. Allow students to do
both clue giving and guessing.
- In math, have students group numbers or objects and write
about the groups.
Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain matters: translating research into classroom practice. Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA.
The brain processes abstract information best after experiencing
real things first and then symbolic representations. To analyze and
compare information, the brain needs to be able to base it on an
experience. When learning science, students need to be presented with
real-life experiences and meaningful context that build a base for the
abstract written problems we usually pose on tests.