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Classifying the Unusual

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Helping students understand how organisms are classified

Did you know that thousands of new species are identified each year?! Scientists around the world have the arduous task of correctly classifying these organisms based on anatomy, behavior, DNA etc. I wanted my students to take on the role of scientists who have been asked to classify 15 unique animals based on a few clues about the animal's habitat, behaviors, diet, and anatomy. I chose to use this game before introducing the 9 most common animal phyla because I did not want my students to rely on memory but to utilize critical thinking skills and rationale. However, this game would be a great way to review the different phyla as well. Students began by reading the "Scientist Scenario" which gives some background information and instructions for grouping their animals. I broke up the class into small groups and gave each group a set of the animal cards and several "justification cards."

Each team had to decide how they were going to group their animals together and provide a justification for each animal grouping. They also had to make at least 4 animal groupings (even though there are actually all 9 phyla in the game.) After each team finished classifying their animals I had each team explain how they grouped certain animals together. It was interesting to see the many different ways students grouped the animals! I also loved hearing students explain their rationale for classifying certain animals together. After each group presented I gave the students a second set of animal cards. This set included the same animals but this time each card also included the scientific and common names, the phylum, and additional characteristics of the animal that explain how it is classified. The students were surprised to see which animals belonged to the same phylum, which led perfectly into a discussion about the classification system, diversity of life, and principles that scientists use when classifying animals. Overall, this activity took about 45 minutes to complete but you may want to set aside an hour just to be on the safe side. If you would like more information about this activity click here.


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