Classifying Fossils Using Everyday Objects

Elizabeth Rhenberg,
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Students in a groups determine which everyday objects are related to each other.

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For an undergraduate paleontology class. No previous course required, though having a introduction to earth history class would help.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

Early lab, likely the first.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goal is for the students to use visual clues to place random objects in a group. This uses a very basic skill in paleontology of figuring out what you have.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

As the groups compare notes, they will see differences in what is placed with what. The idea here is that the students see that using only visual clues is not enough in determining true relationships and that other characters need to be considered.

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in group and coming to a consensus.

Description and Teaching Materials

Materials used is up to the instructor. The more materials the better, but each group must have the same materials to work with (i.e. if one group has a Slinky, all groups should). After working for awhile in placing the objects into higher groups, the students share the groups with each other (written on the board or having the class move around to the different groups). Afterwards, start asking questions as to why group 1 put the sunglasses with the paper clip and group 2 put the them with plastic cup.

Teaching Notes and Tips

After the activity is completed, it would be useful to give examples of how things have changed over time as more detail was looked at. Like, ichnofossils were often thought to be plants which is why many end with "phytes" and show them a clam and a brachiopod to illustrate how the two organisms can look alike at first glance, but closer inspection shows major differences.


Have the student do a short write up at the end of the period discussing the basic concepts they learned.

References and Resources