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Classifying Vertebrates Classroom Activity

The Classroom Activity introduces students to the context of a performance task, so they are not
disadvantaged in demonstrating the skills the task intends to assess. Contextual elements include:
an understanding of the setting or situation in which the task is placed, potentially unfamiliar
concepts that are associated with the scenario; and key terms or vocabulary students will need to
understand in order to meaningfully engage with and complete the performance task. The Classroom
Activity is also intended to generate student interest in further exploration of the key idea(s). The
Classroom Activity should be easy to implement with clear instructions.
Please read through the entire Classroom Activity before beginning the activity with students to
ensure any classroom preparation can be completed in advance.
Throughout the activity, it is permissible to pause and ask students if they have any questions.
Resources Needed:
Chart paper, whiteboard, or chalkboard
Marker or chalk
Paper and pencils
o Students who need an accommodation may use their preferred tool for writing.
Some method of displaying ancillary materials1
Learning Goals:
Students will understand the key concept:
o Scientists group animals based on common features that they share. The five groups
of vertebrates are:
o Fish (live in water, breathe through gills, have scaly skin and fins, and are
cold-blooded)
o Amphibians (are cold-blooded; when young, they live in water, breathe
through gills; when adults, they live mostly on land, and breathe through
lungs and skin)
o Reptiles (can live on land or in water, breathe through lungs, have scaly skin
or hard plates, and are cold-blooded)
o Birds (live on land but can spend time in water or air, have feathers, wings,
and beaks, and are warm-blooded)
o Mammals (some live on land and others live in water, breathe through lungs,
have hair or fur, and are warm-blooded)
Students will understand the key terms:
vertebrates: animals with a backbone or a skeleton made of bones
cold-blooded: body temperature changes with the surrounding temperature
warm-blooded: body temperature does not change even though the surrounding temperature
changes
Note: Definitions are provided here for the convenience of facilitators. Students are expected to
understand these key terms in the context of the task, not memorize the definitions.

Faciliatorscandecidewhethertheywanttodisplayancillarymaterialsusinganoverheadprojectoror
computer/Smartboard,orwhethertheywanttoproducethemasahandoutforstudents.

Classifying Vertebrates Classroom Activity


[Purpose: The facilitators goal is to help students understand the five vertebrate groups. This activity
will also allow students to be active participants as they further explore the concept of what features
are used to classify animals into the various vertebrate groups.]
Note: The following section can be modified to accommodate various teacher-student interaction
types such as a teacher-led discussion with the entire class, a teacher-student discussion for remote
locations with a single student, or small groups.
[Divide the class into small groups of 3-4.]
Facilitator says: Today we will get ready for the Classifying Vertebrates Performance Task.
Vertebrates are animals that have a backbone or a skeleton made of bones. Scientists group
vertebrates according to what features they have in common.
[Show Figure 1: Bass and Trout. Note: For students who are visually impaired, read the descriptions
below the photos.]
Facilitator says: Lets start by discussing two animals, a largemouth bass and a rainbow trout. Both
of these animals belong to the same group which is Fish. Take two minutes to talk with your group
members about what these two animals have in common that would make them a part of the same
group.
[Have paper and pencils available to students should they want to record their ideas.]
[While students are discussing, create a list on the chart paper, whiteboard, or chalkboard with the
title Fish at the top. Walk around to ensure that students are on task. If necessary, guide students to
think about how the animals breathe, how they would describe their skin, etc.]
Facilitator says: You are now going to share what your group discussed about what these two
animals have in common. When I call on your group, choose one person who will share with the class
what your group discussed.
Possible student responses:
Live in water
Breathe through gills
Scaly skin and fins
Cold-blooded
[Facilitator records responses on the list titled Fish or the students can take turns writing their own
ideas on the list.]
[When all responses are listed, focus on the student responses listed above by circling them (if
necessary, add any of the student responses listed above that were not listed by the students).]

Facilitator says: Good job listing what these animals have in common. I have circled what is
common to most fish. Fish live in water, breathe through gills, have scaly skin and fins, and are coldblooded. Cold-blooded means a fishs body temperature changes with the surrounding temperature.
[Show Figure 2: Toad and Newt. Note: For students who are visually impaired, read the descriptions
below the photos.]
Facilitator says: Lets discuss two other animals, a toad and a newt. A newt is a type of salamander.
Toads and newts belong to the same group which is Amphibians. Amphibians are a group of coldblooded vertebrates that can live in moist areas on land but they also live in the water. Take two
minutes to talk with your group members about what these two animals have in common that would
make them a part of the same group.
[Have paper and pencils available to students should they want to record their ideas.]
[While students are discussing, create a list on the chart paper, whiteboard, or chalkboard with the
title Amphibians at the top. Walk around to ensure that students are on task. If necessary, guide the
students to think about where the animals live, how the animals breathe, etc.]
Facilitator says: You are now going to share what your group discussed about what these animals
have in common. When I call on your group, choose a different person who will share with the class
what your group discussed.
Possible student responses:
Live on land and in the water
Breathe through lungs and skin
Cold-blooded
[Facilitator records responses on the list titled Amphibians or the students can take turns writing
their own ideas on the list.]
[When all responses are listed, focus on the student responses listed above by circling them (if
necessary, add any of the student responses listed above that were not listed by the students).]
Facilitator says: I have circled what is common to most amphibians. They live mostly on land,
breathe through lungs and skin, and are cold-blooded. Amphibians are very interesting animals
because they are very different when they are young compared to when they are adults. When they
are young, they live in water, breathe through gills, and are cold-blooded. When they are adults, they
live mostly on land, and breathe through their lungs and skin.
Facilitator says: We are going to look at three more groups, Reptiles, Birds, and Mammals. I am
going to split the class into three groups. Each group is going to discuss what the animals belonging
to their group have in common. You will then share what you discussed with the other two groups so
that they can learn about these different animal groups too.
[Have paper and pencils available to students should they want to record their ideas.]
[Divide the students into three groups. Provide each group with their animals photos or display
photos (group 1 receives Figure 3: Crocodile and Tortoise, group 2 receives Figure 4: Owl and Robin,

and group 3 receives Figure 5: Tiger and Bear. Note: For students who are visually impaired, read the
descriptions below the photos.]
[Give the students three minutes to discuss what the animals have in common. While students are
discussing, create three lists on the chart paper, whiteboard, or chalkboard. Title one list Reptiles,
one list Birds, and one list Mammals. Walk around to ensure that students are on task and/or to
provide them with guidance to think about where the animals live, how they would describe the skin,
etc.]
Facilitator says: You are now going to share what your group discussed about the common features
of the animals assigned to your group. When I call on your group, choose someone who will share
with the class the name of the group that the animals belong to and what your group discussed
about what the animals have in common.
Facilitator says: Someone from the Reptiles group, share with the class what your group
discussed.
Possible student responses:
Can live on land or in water
Breathe through lungs
Scaly skin or hard plates
Cold-blooded
[Facilitator records responses on the list titled Reptiles or the students can take turns writing their
own ideas on the list.]
[When all responses are listed, focus the student responses listed above by circling them (if
necessary, add any of the student responses listed above that were not listed by the students).]
Facilitator says: Nice job listing what these animals have in common. I have circled what is common
to most reptiles. They can live on land or in water, breathe through lungs, have scaly skin or hard
plates, and are cold-blooded.
Facilitator says: Someone from the Birds group, share with the class what your group discussed.
Possible student responses:
Live on land but can spend time in water or air
Have feathers, wings, and beaks
Warm-blooded
[Facilitator records responses on the list titled Birds or the students can take turns writing their own
ideas on the list.]
[When all responses are listed, focus on the student responses listed above by circling them (if
necessary, add any of the student responses listed above not listed by the students).]

Facilitator says: I have circled what is common to most birds. They live on land but can spend time
in water or in the air; they have feathers, wings, and beaks; and are warm-blooded. Warm-blooded
means a birds body temperature does not change even if the surrounding temperature changes.
Facilitator says: Someone from the Mammals group, share with the class what your group
discussed.
Possible student responses:
Some live on land and others live in water
Breathe through lungs
Have hair or fur
Warm-blooded
[Facilitator records responses on the list titled Mammals or students can take turns writing their own
ideas on the list.]
[When all responses are listed, focus on the student responses listed above by circling them (if
necessary, add any of the student responses listed above not listed by the students).]
Facilitator says: Good work listing what these animals have in common. I have circled all of the
features that are common to most mammals. Some live on land and others live in water, they
breathe through lungs, have hair or fur, and are warm-blooded.
Facilitator says: For our last activity, I am going to name an animal and I want you to think about the
features of that animal, and tell me what group you think the animal belongs tofish, amphibians,
reptiles, birds, or mammals. You also have to tell me what feature the animal has that would make it
a part of that group.
Facilitator says: Raise your hand if you would like to tell me what group a lizard belongs in and why.
Possible student response (unscripted):
A lizard is a reptile because it has scaly skin.
Facilitator says: Raise your hand if you would like to tell me what group a salmon belongs in and
why.
Possible student response (unscripted):
A salmon is a fish because it has gills and fins and lives in water.
Facilitator says: Raise your hand if you would like to tell me what group a dog belongs in and why.
Possible student response (unscripted):
A dog is a mammal because it has fur.
Facilitator says: Raise your hand if you would like to tell me what group an eagle belongs in and
why.

Possible student response (unscripted):


An eagle is a bird because it has feathers and wings.
Facilitator says: You did a great job using what you learned to identify the vertebrate groups that
these animals belong to.
Note: Make sure students arrive at the common understanding that:
Scientists group animals based on common features that they share. The five groups of
vertebrates are:
o Fish (live in water, breathe through gills, have scaly skin and fins, and are coldblooded)
o Amphibians (are cold-blooded; when young, they live in water, and breathe through
gills; when adults, they live mostly on land, and breathe through lungs and skin)
o Reptiles (can live on land or in water, breathe through lungs, have scaly skin or hard
plates, and are cold-blooded)
o Birds (live on land but can spend time in water or air, have feathers, wings, and
beaks, and are warm-blooded)
o Mammals (some live on land and others live in water, breathe through lungs, have
hair or fur, and are warm-blooded)
Facilitator says: In your performance task, you will be learning more about animals that belong in
one of the five groups of vertebrates. The work you did today should help prepare you for the
research and writing you will be doing in the performance task.

Ancillary Material
Figure 1
Largemouth Bass

Picture Description: The picture shows a bass fish with a wide body and scaly skin. It has a large
mouth and fins. The bass fish is under water near small rocks.
Photograph of a bass (Image Number 4413-19597), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Rainbow Trout

Picture Description: The picture shows three trout fish. They have long thin bodies and scales. They
have many fins. The trout fish are swimming under water.
Photograph of a trout (Image Number 4413-225561), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Ancillary Material
Figure 2
Toad

Picture Description: The picture shows a toad with bumpy skin sitting on sand. The toad has two
short front legs and bent back legs.
Photograph of a toad (Image Number 1848-672330), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Newt

Picture Description: The picture shows a newt with bumpy skin. The newt is walking on land. It is an
amphibian with a thin body and thin tail. It has four legs that it walks on.
Photograph of a newt (Image Number 1848-416977), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Ancillary Material
Figure 3
Crocodile

Picture Description: The picture shows a crocodile with a scaly skin. The crocodile is walking on four
legs on land. It has a large mouth and sharp teeth.
Photograph of a crocodile (Image Number 4201-55180), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Tortoise

Picture Description: The picture shows a tortoise walking on land. The tortoise has a hard plate shell
covering most of its body. It has four legs and a short tail.
Photograph of a tortoise (Image Number 1828R-73043), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Ancillary Material
Figure 4
Owl

Picture Description: This picture shows an owl sitting in a tree. The owls body is covered with
feathers. It has sharp claws and large eyes.
Photograph of an owl (Image Number 1990-10866), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Robin

Picture Description: This picture shows a robin on a tree branch. The robin is small with thin legs and
a small beak. It has feathers covering its body.
Photograph of a robin (Image Number 1848R-274086), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Ancillary Material
Figure 5
Tiger

Picture Description: This picture shows a tiger walking on snow near some rocks. The tiger is a very
large cat that walks on four legs and has fur covering its body. It has a long tail and sharp teeth.
Photograph of a tiger (Image Number 4029R-198785), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.

Bear

Picture Description: This picture shows a large bear walking on grass near trees. The bear is walking
on four legs. It has long fur covering its body and small ears on the top of its head.
Photograph of a bear (Image Number 1557R-363399), copyright by Superstock. Used by permission.