Middle school is a good time to learn about the different characteristics we use to categorize species of plants and animals in science. This classification tool can be used on a grand scale like separating mammals from fish, and also defining the inner-species or familial distinctions within a group.
While this scientific concept may seem methodical, there is lots of room for real-world activities, mythical creatures, and adventure in each interactive lesson. Here are 20 of our favorite activities to use when teaching the dichotomous key to your middle school students.
1. Candy Classification
Now here is a sweet explanation activity that your middle schoolers will get excited about! We can use a dichotomous classification key on just about anything, so why not on candy? Grab a variety of different packaged candies and have your students think of characteristics they can use to categorize each candy.
Learn more: HCES Sciences
2. Toy Animal Identification
It can be hard to get kids engaged in diagrams and tables on a page, so a great tool to use when teaching classification in science is plastic animals. Being able to touch and hold mini versions of animals makes categorizing them more hands-on and fun! Give groups of students a bag of animals and a guide on how to group them.
Learn more: Science and Math with Mrs. Lau
3. Classifying Aliens
Once you have explained how to use the dichotomous classification key using real creatures, you can get creative and have your students practice categorizing aliens!
Learn more: Chess Museum Template Library
4. Fun Leaf Identification Activity
Time to go outside and do some real-world investigating with your middle schoolers! Take a little trip out of the classroom and have your students collect some leaves from various trees around your school. Help them find ways of classifying common plants based on their visible characteristics.
Learn more: Education
5. Genus "Smiley" Worksheet
Did you ever think you would use emojis in a middle school science lesson? Well, this key activity worksheet uses the concepts of the dichotomous key to create categories for different smiley faces based on their observable characteristics.
Learn more: Chess Museum Template Library
6. Classification of Life
This laboratory activity can use real animals and plants (if you have access) or pictures of animals and plants. The point of this exercise is to categorize the organic objects you're given as either alive, dead, dormant, or nonliving.
Learn more: Science Lessons that Rock
7. Categorizing Fruits
Dichotomous keys can be used to classify any organic materials, so fruit is on the list! You can bring in fresh fruit to your classroom or ask students to name some and make a hypothetical diagram based on their physical characteristics.
Learn more: Mrs. Wippich's Class Website
8. Monsters Inc. Activity
We know just what you need to bring this scientific concept to life, monsters! Using interactive resources your kids enjoy can help them understand lessons more easily. So pick some of the characters from these movies and get to categorizing!
Learn more: Teachers Pay Teachers
9. Classifying School Supplies
This fun activity is very hands-on and a great introduction to the concepts of classification through appearances. Give each group of students a handful of school supplies (ruler, pencil, eraser) and a worksheet with descriptions on it for them to complete.
Learn more: Science Spot
10. Dichotomous Key Bingo
There are so many different resources for bingo games based on classification. You can find ones focusing on animals, plants, physical characteristics, and more! Find a printout that works best for you.
Learn more: Bingo Baker
11. Plant Scavenger Hunt
Here is an interactive lesson you can give to your students for homework or take them outside to complete during class time. Help them look for leaves that fit the descriptions of the ones on the handout. This could be a fun way to celebrate the seasons and how they affect different plant appearances.
Learn more: Grandmas Making Memories
12. Feathers or Fur?
One of the ways to classify animals is by what covers their bodies. If an animal has fur, they are a mammal, but if they have scales it can be either a fish or a reptile! Encourage your students to get creative and find supplies around the classroom that look like the correct texture.
Learn more: Teaching Maddeness
13. Pasta Time!
For this lesson presentation, dig in your pantry and find as many types of pasta as you can! Each has a distinct appearance that makes it special and different from others. Have your middle schoolers design their own dichotomous key based on the pasta's characteristics.
Learn more: Research Gate
14. Animal Cracker Keys
Want to keep practicing dichotomous keys during lunch break? Animal crackers are a delicious and fun prop to use in your science lesson plans to help with characterizing mammals.
Learn more: Orion McCarthy
15. Jelly Bean Station Activity
Your students won't even realize the hidden lesson behind these yummy gummies! Get a few bags of jelly beans and have your students categorize them based on color and taste.
Learn more: Real Teachers Learn
16. DIY Classification Flip Book
This one is a fun art activity your middle schoolers can assemble in groups for a project once you've finished the unit on classification. Let their knowledge of animals shine through flip books, diagrams, or whatever fun mediums they think of!
Learn more: Pinterest
17. Cootie Catchers
Cootie catchers are fun for any learning style. Kids of all ages can spend hours messing around and picking different slots together. Print out these animal categorizing ones or make your own to bring to class for dichotomous key practice!
Learn more: 123 Homeschool 4 Me
18. Classifying by Habitat
Another way of categorizing animals is by where they live. You can print or paint a poster with all the options and use magnets, stickers, or other animal props to show where each should go.
Learn more: Cleveland Museum of Natural History
19. Dichotomous Key Digital Activity
20. Create Your Own Animal!
Check for student understanding by asking them to create their own animal using different physical characteristics. Then once everyone has completed their animal, as a class, categorize your mythical creatures using the dichotomous key.
Learn more: Sample Superstars