Introductory activities

Play a game of celebrity heads with the following modifications.
  • Each person is an animal rather than a person.
  • Answers must be in the form of a YES or NO only.
  • Take turns at asking questions.
Try and identify how you can improve your questioning strategy each time you play.
Who can be class champion? :P

Classifying mystery objects.
  • Allocate students into groups. Number off... or other system.
  • Set up objects at each station (e.g. gathered from the beach... )
  • Allowing 2 minutes per station, groups need to identify...
    • the animal or plant and write down...
    • three structural features on which they based their decision.
  • Write the features used on the whiteboard.
  • Rank the features from most useful to least useful.
  • Explain why some features are more useful than others in classification.

Classify the contents of your pencil case using 'yes / no' questions.
After each answer think of a new question with a 'yes / no' answer until ever item in your pencil case has been classified.
Basic form of a dichotomous key

Your first question might be... Does it have ink in it (yes / no).
Following the yes, your second question might be... Is it used for colouring in? (yes / no).
Following the no, your next question might be... is it long and straight and used for ruling lines? (yes / no).

  • What were the best kind of questions?
  • What made these questions better than the other questions?

Complete a neat, ruled copy of your dichotomous key for homework.

Introductory video

The tree of life

A six minute video about the Tree of Life that appeared on the BBC One programme 'Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life' narrated by David Attenborough. You can watch/download different formats of this video, read the video transcript, play with the interactive version of the 'Tree of Life' and sign up to Tree of Life updates at the Wellcome Trust Tree of Life site.

Explore the Tree of Life: Phylogeny: The tree of Life

Living Things

It is sometimes difficult to determine what is a living thing and what is not. The acronym MRS GREN can help.
All living things do the following...

  • M move
  • R respire
  • S sensitive (are)
  • G grow
  • R reproduce
  • E excrete
  • N nutrition (require)

Match each action with its correct definition.


respond to the world around them

need to take in food as a raw source of energy

actively seek warmth, light and food

increase in size by making more cells
need nutrition

make living things like themselves
are sensitive

get rid of wastes produced by digestion, respiration

use oxygen to obtain energy from food

Features of the major groups of vertebrates:

Use your computer and text book to research and fill in, first the gaps in the text below, and then the table on the characteristics of the major vertebrate groups.

Animals and plants

Animals _ _ _ other things (plants and / or animals) for food. They use this food to release energy in _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
and to obtain the nutrients they need for growth, movement and repair of their bodies.

Animals are _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (made of many cells). An animal cell has a cell _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ to keep the cell contents together and to control the flow of substances in and out of the cell.

Plants have cells surrounded by a rigid _ _ _ _ - _ _ _ _ . Both plant and animal cells have nucleus which controls processes within the cell.


The animal kingdom is divided up into two large groups called the vertebrates (animals with a backbone) and _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (animals without a backbone). The vertebrate group is made up of five smaller groups - mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

Mammals like humans and dogs, have _ _ _ _ (or fur) and feed their young _ _ _ _ from mammary glands, are able to maintain a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ body temperature, have _ _ _ _ chambers in their heart and breathe air through lungs.

Amphibians start their lives in _ _ _ _ _ and live on land as adults, do not have scales or claws, have moist skin, a three chambered heart, they obtain their air mainly through their skin and have a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ body _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .

Fish breathe through _ _ _ _ _ , they have a body covering of scales, a _ _ _ chambered heart and a body temperature that varies with their surrounding environment.

Birds have _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , beaks, clawed feet and wings, constant body temperature, lay hard eggs, have a four chambered heart and breathe air through lungs.

Reptiles lay _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ eggs in a waterproof shell, temperature rises and falls with the surrounding environment, they have dry scaly skin, a _ _ _ _ _ chambered heart and they breathe through lungs.

Vertebrate Group

Body Covering
How they breathe (lungs, skin, gills)
Chambers in the heart
Body temperature control (constant / variable)








Discuss these questions with the person next to you, then write the answers in your exercise book.
  1. Why do you think birds have a beak instead of teeth?
  2. How do gills work?
  3. Why do mammals have lungs instead of gills?
  4. Explain the advantages obtaining oxygen through lungs instead of through a moist skin for land animals.
  5. Amphibians can take up oxygen through their skin. How does this fit the environment in which they live?
  6. What would happen if birds had teeth instead of beaks?
  7. How do you think your day would change if you could not control your own body temperature? Write a 24 schedule of what you day would look like.

Research an animal

  • Identify major group it belongs to (Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Insects, Fish… )
  • Distinguishing features (use the table you filled in)
  • Pictures
  • Interesting facts
  • Save as PPT (Impress) or WORD (Writer) file
  • Make sure your name is in the file name

Learning How to Use a Key

Watch this video of an avatar as it decides how to classify a species of ant. At each branch in the maze, it has two ways it can go. It chooses the right way to go based on the characteristics of the ant.

Keys which give two choices at every branch are called dichotomous keys.

Try using a dichotomous key in the following exercises...

Scientists often use something called a key to help them sort living things into the correct groups. A key is similar to a questionnaire. It is made up of questions about living things. If you want to classify an organism, you answer the questions about that organism. There are two possible answers for each question. After you answer each question, the key directs you to the question you should answer next. Finally you will reach an answer which tells you the group to which your organism belongs.

1 Imagine you are a scientist who has collected eight new organisms from a strange and newly-discovered island. You are provided with a key to help you identify them. Work through the key, and write the correct name beside each organism. (Start by answering the questions about one of the organisms. Once you have named that organism, choose another organism and start with Question 1 again.)


Key for identifying the organisms
A. Has the body only one main part (including the head)? If yes, go to b If no, go to d.
B. Are legs present? If yes, the organism is Beppo....... If no, go to c.
C. Are wings present? If yes, the organism is Flappy...... If no, the organism is Rollo.
D. Has the body more than two main parts (including the head)? If yes, go to g...... If no, go to e
E. Are feelers present? If yes, the organism is Dippy...... If no, go to f.
F. Are wings present? If yes, the organism is Buzzo...... If no, the organism is Alfie.
G. Has the body more than three main parts (including the head)?
If yes, the organism is Crawly....... If no, the organism is Kreepy.

The Principal’s dinner

Nine Martians landed in the schoolyard this morning and introduced themselves as Eena, Daie, Noag, Mrap, Galk, Tocs, Ezag, Nisps and Tyco. As visitors from the planet Mars they have been invited to a special dinner at your school. You are the invited, and the principals have asked you to make up a key so they will know their names without having to ask.
Use the pictures below to make up a classification key to help the principals.

Compare your key with one made up by another student.
Have you used the same characteristics in the same way?

What is Wriggly's name?

Draw a picture of what you think Joy would look like given what you have picked up from the key.

Year 7 Classification Assignment


Heart Facts: Idaho public TV Comparison with animal hearts
Heart animation: Guide to the heart: Guide to a Healthy me.com Great flash animation.
Heart Colour in picture : Children's Heart Institute

Evidence linking birds to their dinosaur ancestors

Paper Models to build of animals: these are best printed out at home on a colour printer