Investigating Classification: Minnesota Vertebrates

Stan Mraz, North Park Elementary School, Fridley, MN Columbia Heights ISD #13
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In this classroom biology lesson, students will use the OKWHL approach. First, the students will observe a PowerPoint slide show of a variety of vertebrates from Minnesota. Then, the students will list as a class what they know about vertebrates. After, the students will list what they want to know about vertebrates. Finally, the teacher will tell them how they will do this by playing an interactive game that will teach them about the five groups of animals that are vertebrates. After the game, the students will determine what characteristics are needed of each animal to place it into its proper vertebrate group.

Learning Goals

The students will learn that classification is a way of organizing or placing animals into certain groups due to certain characteristics that the animals have in common. Students will learn that the animals that we are learning about in this lesson share one common characteristic, they are all vertebrates or animals with backbones. Through observation (in the motivation set/introduction to the lesson) and questioning each other (during the game) students will realize that each group of animals has five common characteristics that we will be observing. Concepts that will be focused on are: warm or cold blooded, body covering (scales, skin, fur or feathers), breathing (lungs or gills), birth (live birth or egg), and vertebrates (which all 5 groups share). Key vocabulary words in this lesson will be: classification, characteristics, vertebrates, and the names of five groups of vertebrates (fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals).

Context for Use

This activity is most appropriate for the intermediate grades with the standard ( for third grade. The ideal class size for this activity would be 25 students allowing five groups of five students to represent five animals of each of the five vertebrate groups. This would allow for a total of 25 Minnesota vertebrates to be observed. This activity could be used in either a classroom setting or in a lab. The instructional time for the lesson is approximately one hour. Special equipment that would be necessary for the activity would be: a computer with a projection system for the introduction, 25 laminated Minnesota vertebrate pictures (5 from each of the 5 groups)mounted to construction paper with the animal checkoff list under each (attachment) and an interesting fun fact about each respective animal. Students should have mastered the concept that there are groups of animals without backbones (invertebrates) and groups with backbones (vertebrates). Due to the fact that not a lot equipment is needed, this activity could be adapted in a variety of educational settings.

Description and Teaching Materials

I. Introduction: The students will observe a slide show of a variety of projected vertebrates from Minnesota.

II. The students will list as a class what they know about vertebrates.

III. The students will list what they want to know about vertebrates.

IV. The teacher gives the following instructions: "What are some of your ideas of how we could learn about the five groups of animals that are vertebrates? (Teacher gives time for responses.) Well, you have many great ideas, but today you are going to be part of a Minnesota Vertebrate Party! Each of you will be given a picture hung like a necklace of one of the five groups of vertebrates. All of the animals are native to Minnesota. On the back of the picture there will be five vertebrate facts about it. I will put these animal necklaces on so they are hanging on your back. Keep your eyes closed while I do this and you will not be able to see the picture throughout the game. You will each be given an overhead marker and you will use this marker to go up to any student and mark on their card what clue/fact you want to read about their animal on their back. Check off the box next to the number of the clue/fact that you read. Then the student does the exact same procedure to you. Do not guess the animal; just think about what your vertebrate might be. When you have finished exchanging clues/facts with five different people, go to one of the following vertebrate signs that you think your animal belongs to. I will give you further directions once everybody has found a vertebrate category that they think they belong to (Teacher models the activity with some extra pictures in front of the class with a few student volunteers.) Are there any questions about the activity?"

V. The cards are now given out and the game begins once everybody has their card placed on their back.

VI. After all the students are next to the vertebrate sign that they think their animal belongs to, the following directions are given, "Now you may all look at your animals. If your animal does not belong to the group that you are in, locate the group that your animal belongs to. Discuss briefly with the other students in your group what all your vertebrates have in common. (A few minutes of discussion is given.) What have we done? What is it called when we put animals into groups because of certain characteristics that they have in common? (Classification)

VII. "Finally, you may have noticed that each of you have a number above your picture. You will be finding new groups with these same numbers but with a vertebrate that is classified in a different vertebrate group than yours. In your groups, share what each of your animals have in common and what is different about them." (A few minutes of discussion is given.)

VIII. The students return to their seats and they share what the learned from the activity. They may also share interesting facts that they have on the front of their card about their Minnesota animal. Vertebrate Checkoff List (Microsoft Word 23kB Aug3 09) Example of Possible Minnesota Vertebrates (Microsoft Word 20kB Aug3 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Ideally, this lesson is for 25 students. However, it will work to partner students if you have more than 25 students or reduce the number of animals in each group if you have fewer than 25 students. In the lesson, it is not necessary to use laminated photos. However, since a significant amount of time was probably used to find the assortment of vertebrates, it is strongly recommended that you laminated them along with the check-off sheet for protection and for future use. Also, if the focus is not on Minnesota vertebrates, but just on classifying vertebrates, many other picture possibilities of animals from around the world opens up for the teacher to use. As a teacher in an urban setting, I wanted to use Minnesota animals due to the fact that many of our students are not familiar with the animals in their own state. I have not done this activity yet; however, as a follow-up or a thematic connection with language arts, students could do a report, poem or a presentation on a Minnesota animal that they are interested in either from the activity or another animal that they may have heard about. As a safety tip, students should be advised that the game is not a competition and that walking slowly and carefully around the classroom is a requirement.


Assessment strategies are observing if the students are engaged in the game. Each student needs to approach and have an animal fact read by five other students. Therefore, all five boxes on the student's vertebrate check-off list sheet under the animal photo should be marked off. In addition, at the end of the activity, each student should have determined which group their animal belongs to. Students can also be informally assessed during the discussion. Finally, a simple formal assessment could be given by holding up or showing a variety of vertebrate pictures. The students would be asked to write which one of the five groups does the vertebrate belong to.

Standards Identify common groups of plants and animals using observable physical characteristics, structures and behaviors.

References and Resources