What is taxonomy and why do we need to study it?! Taxonomy is the science of classification. Our biosphere supports more than 7 million known species and probably 4 or 5 million more unknown species! Taxonomists work on organizing the vast quantity of species. They are continually updating the classifications to keep up with new research and new discoveries.
What is in the Scientific Classification and Taxonomy Packet?
As we started off this unit, we started off by talking about why we classify things. We learned about the dichotomous key and did a number of activities to understand how they work. We talked about why classification is useful and how we can do that in a way that is organized and logical.
Then we went into more detail about the history of classification. Scientists have been grouping and categorizing different species for most of human history. In the past 300 years or so, scientists have worked on developing a logical, organized system for classifying the species around us.
All living organisms are classified by their characteristics. We keep adding to and adjusting the classification system as new evidence become available through DNA research and molecular studies! We talked about Linnaeus and his contributions to the classification of animals and his system of naming organisms (binomial nomenclature).
We talked about the current system of classification and by the end of the unit, the kids were readily able to identify the types of organisms that have been classified as Bryozoa, Platyhelminthes, Porifora and other phyla in the Animalia Kingdom.
We did a number of hands-on activities studying and observing various species and even did some simple dissections at the end of the unit.
Classification – How and why we classify animals; Dichotomous Key Activities
When we started on this unit, I wanted the kids to understand how difficult it is to classify organisms into groups that make sense. We started with a silly exercise – classifying the letters of the alphabet. They learned about the classification tool called a dichotomous key. They used a key to answer a series of questions to find out the proper names of a set of cartoon characters (see the middle sheet below). After going through the series of choices they came up with the correct names for all of the cartoon characters.
Before creating their own dichotomous key, they brainstormed about all the different ways birds can be grouped (by size, beak shape, foods they eat, and so forth). See the picture above right.
Monster Dichotomous Key Activity: Then they were given a set of monsters. They had to cut them out and place them into groups:
They all came up with different criteria. We all spent time trying to figure out just how they had grouped their monsters (that’s why there is a paper over the title/characteristic in the pictures below!)
History of Scientific Classification: From there we went on to talk about Linnaeus and how much the classification system has changed just in the last thirty years. I told the kids that the groupings we learned about is very likely to change by the time they study classification in college because things have changed so much!
We also looked at a taxonomy chart (for domestic cats) and talked about the way organisms are named (by genus and species). The reference sheet (below right) explains the human taxonomy chart and groupings.
Then, we started diving into understanding the modern taxonomy chart. We spent several weeks talking about the 3 domains, the kingdoms and 10 (of 35 or so) animal phyla (and doing various hands-on activities, observations and even a couple of dissection activities!). By the end and after doing all the various games and activities, the kids could identify the major characteristics of annelids, chordata, nematodes, porifora and so forth!
I made a poster-sized chart that we used frequently as we learned about the different characteristics. (In the packet, there is information for teachers about these different characteristics.) There are printable labels that the kids used to sort:
Some of the games/activities we did over the course of our study included
- labels and photos (for the poster)
- sorting cards (name, the meaning and photo)
- bingo game (this was a huge hit!)
- matching page
- Cut out the labels. Mix them up, place them face down.
- Each player takes turns, reads a card and makes a mark on the bingo card.
- There are 10 name labels, but 9 pictures on each bingo card.
- If they draw a label that does not have a picture, they get to go any place they want. (It’s a wild card!) Let’s say they place their mark on the Annelid/earthworm picture.
- If the other player then gets that label (the Annelid card), they lose a turn.
- But, if the original player gets that label (the Annelid card), they again get to go wherever they want!!
- The first player to get 3-in-a-row wins the game!
- There are 6 different bingo cards included in this packet.
Hands-On Activities: In this unit, we also spent time studying, observing and talking about (and even dissecting) different organisms: mealworms, earthworms, Planaria (a flatworm from the Platyhelminthes phylum), brine shrimp, oysters and clams, blue crabs, and fish.
I included some of the notebook pages, teacher notes, and helpful worksheets that I created in the packet. There is also a fish anatomy page included.
You could study some or all of these as you cover this material with your students.
Age range: My kids were ages 9, 12, and 14 when we did this unit. I recommend the Scientific Classification and Taxonomy Packet for upper elementary and middle school. Before doing this unit, my kids were pretty familiar with the different types of cells and cell organelles. It is not necessary, but useful to go over that information before starting this unit. (You can check out our Cell Unit here (or with the link at the end of this post).
This packet is well over 60 pages.
Once you pay for this packet, you will immediately receive a link to download this file (which will open in a browser window). You will also receive an email from Sendowl (the service I use) to your PayPal email address, which will have a link you can click on to download the Scientific Classification and Taxonomy unit. (It will say, “You can download your digital products…” with a clickable link.) Of course, if you have any issues just email me at — liesl at homeschoolden dot com. You can also reach me by using the contact form.
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