What is this organism?
What characteristics does it have? To what other organisms is it related? Is it a vertebrate or an invertebrate? What does it eat? What role does it play in the ecosystem?
All biology teachers have particular topics that they really don't like to teach, and topics that we LOVE LOVE to teach. Teaching classification is a topic that I LOVE!
Classification and taxonomy involves problem solving and critical thinking. Basically a taxonomist is a "living organism detective".
I have two really fun activities that my students always enjoy. The first is called "Let's Learn to Use and Build a Dichotomous Key". This product teaches students all about dichotomous classification keys. Students will learn why classification is necessary, the definition of a dichotomous key, and how to use a dichotomous key. Students will analyze the included pictures of 7 different cone-bearing plants, and use a dichotomous key to classify them.
Finally students will learn to construct a classification key of their own. Students are given pictures of 12 different primates and asked to make their own classification key. The beauty of this part of the activity is that there is no right or wrong way to construct the classification key. Students study the 12 pictures and decide which characteristics to include in their key. I am always amazed at the innovative and creative classification keys that my students come up with. There are also 10 follow up questions for students to answer.
The second activity that I love to do with my students is called "Let's Build A Cladogram". Cladistics is one of the newest trends in the modern classification of organisms. It shows the relationship between different organisms based on the presence or absence of characteristics called derived characters. In this activity, students will look at pictures of 7 different animals to determine if they possess certain derived characters. This data will then be used to build a cladogram.
There are just so many fun things to do when teaching classification. I always have to make myself wrap up the unit and move on to a new topic! Have fun teaching!