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Classifying Plants & Animals: A Christian Middle School Biology Lesson

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Christian Middle School Biology Lesson: Classifying Plants & Animals

Christian Middle School Biology Lesson: Classifying Plants & Animals

This is the 12th lesson in a series of 32 hands-on Christian lessons covering middle school biology. This lesson focuses on the classification system, focusing on plants and mammals. I used this plan while teaching a 55 minute middle school biology class. Each lesson plan includes homework assignments and a variety of hands-on activities to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

These lessons are written for a class that meets once a week. If your class meets 5 days a week, simply do this lesson one day a week and use the homework assignments (at the bottom of the page) for the work for the other days of the week.

Homework Review

1. Go over the homework questions from the book. (I give out tickets for students who volunteer to answer the questions.)

2. Ask each student to give the genus & species name of their favorite animal.

3. Give prizes to the top 3 students who brought the largest varieties of plants that reproduce using spores (ferns, mosses, etc.), which was extra credit from last week. Set the plant specimens aside for later.

You will need:

  • at least 3 prizes (such as candy packs - Skittles & Sour Patch Kids are favorites with my class.)
  • a few specimens of ferns, moss, & lichen picked just in case no one brings any (Note: If you pick the moss more than 24 hours earlier, make sure to add some water as it will dry up & crumble without moisture.)

Organizing & Dividing

4. Students will divide and organize a group of items to learn about the purpose of the classification system.

  • Give each table (4-5 students) a pile of somewhat random items.
  • They have 1 minute to divide everything into 2 groups. Ask why they divided them that way.
  • They have 2 minutes to divide those 2 groups into 3 more groups (6 groups in total). Ask why they divided them that way.
  • Explain this is what scientists do with living things. It will help you remember the items better.
  • Ask if the items in the group all were derived or came from one thing. No, they didn't. Some scientists try to divide up living items because they say they all have one ancestor. That is not what the Bible teaches.
  • Taxonomy is simply a way to divide up items so that we can learn more about that particular group.

You will need:

  • a set of somewhat random items (such as items in your junk drawer) for each group of 4-5 students
Binomial nomenclature & spoons

Binomial nomenclature & spoons

Carl Linnaeus and Classification

5. Quickly discuss Carl Linnaeus & his naming system.

  • Use spoons to show how he named items (binomial nomenclature). Ask what each type of spoon is (baby spoon, soup spoon, mixing spoon, slotted spoon, etc.)
  • The way Linnaeus would have us name them would be "spoon baby, spoon soup, spoon mixing, spoon slotted, etc."
  • Think of the panther. Depending on where you live, it might be called a mountain lion, cougar, puma, or catamount. Zoologists know it as Puma concolor. *Notice the name is italicized or underlined, and the genus is capitalized but the species isn’t.
  • Ask what language people speak in Germany, Japan, etc. By using Latin names, it allows for scientists in all countries to know what specimen they're discussing. Also, Latin is a dead language, so it won't change. The Latin is why the words end in -us, -um, -ae, -ii, etc.
  • Linnaeus was a Christian and once proclaimed, "God created, but Linnaeus organized." He tried to name an order all living things. "What 2 groups can you think of that are living?" (plants and animals) Autotrophs (plants) make their own food & heterotrophs (animals) cannot. Linnaeus did place humans in the animal category, but we know from the Bible that humans are not animals.
  • Linnaeus named about 9,000 plant species & over 4,000 animal species. He did have some fun with the names he chose. If he found something that smelled bad or looked ugly, he'd name it after someone he didn't like. For example, he named a nasty smelling weed Siegesbeckia after Johann Georg Siegesbeck, who critiqued Linneaus. If he found something beautiful, he'd name it after someone he admired.


  • various types of spoons: baby spoon, soup spoon, mixing spoon, slotted spoon, etc.
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Classifying Plants: Plant Trivia

6. Since Carl Linnaeus divided everything into 2 categories, plants & animals, we'll study those today. Let's apply this to plants by playing a trivia game. It'll be Guys vs. Girls (or you can divide teams by tables). Call out the answers. You may use your textbook. The first person to answer gets a point for their team. As we go through the questions & answers, I will create an outline on the board.

  • How what do scientists use to classify plants? (body structure & way they reproduce: seeds vs. spores)
  • Two main phylum are based on the vascular systems of the plants. What are plants called that have a vascular system? (tracheophytes)
  • Tracheophytes are divided further by what? (seed-bearing characteristics: Seeds & Non-seeds)
  • What do we call plants that reproduce by seeds formed in flowers?(Angiosperms)
  • We already studied those. Angiosperms can be divided into which 2 classes? (dicotyledonea/dicots & monocotyledoneae/monocots)
  • What do we call plants that reproduce by naked seeds, as in they're not enclosed in an ovary but within cones or cone-like structures (gymnosperms)
  • What are some examples of gymnosperms? (Pine, fir, hemlock, spruce, ginkgoes, sago palms, redwoods, sequoias)
  • There are some plants with vascular systems that don't reproduce with seeds, that we'll call Non-seeds. What do they use to reproduce? (spores)
  • Name 3. (Fern, horsetail, & club moss)
  • Which one has chlorophyll in its stems & used to be used to scour pans? (horsetail)
  • Since horsetails have chlorophyll in their stems, what process occurs in their stems rather than in their leaves? (photosynthesis)
  • Another group of plants don't have a vascular system. What are they called? (Bryophytes, which are mosslike plants)
  • Name 2 phyla of Bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, & hornworts, though hornworts aren't mentioned in the book)
  • What part of a moss is attached to the plant? They almost look like the roots of moss. (rhizoids)

You will need:

  • candy (I use Starburst) to give as a prize to the winning team (optional)
The plant classification chart came from .

The plant classification chart came from .

Plant Notes

7. Pass out the above sheet for students to put in their notebooks. Have students quickly sketch:

  • a flower next to angiosperm,
  • a pine cone next to gymnosperm,
  • a fern next to seedless plant,
  • and moss next to non-vascular plants.

You will need:

  • The above worksheet. The plant classification chart came from .
Examining plants that reproduce with spores & watching osmosis take place

Examining plants that reproduce with spores & watching osmosis take place

Plants That Reproduce with Spores

7. Now let's focus on the plants that reproduce using spores. Allow students to pass around some of the specimens brought in as extra credit (or brought by you if students didn't bring any of them).

  • Point on spores on the backs of ferns if you have any with them on the back.
  • Even though moss looks like 1 plant, it's actually thousands of plants.
  • Point out as many varieties as you know.

You will need:

  • examples of ferns, mosses & if you can find them, other plants that reproduce using spores (horsetails, club mosses, liverworts, hornworts)

8. Demonstrate & discuss osmosis.

  • As students are passing around examples, lay small pieces of paper towels next to each pair.
  • I'm sure you are dying to know how mosses & liverworts get water if the don't have a vascular system to suck up the water & allow it to spread. Any ideas on how it happens?
  • Lay small amounts of water next to each paper towel so that the paper towel eventually absorbs the water.
  • Just like this paper towel absorbed the water, the moss & liverworts suck up water through a process known as...who can tell me? Yes, osmosis!
  • Think about where you find moss & liverworts. They're always in damp places, right? That's why.

You will need:

  • small pieces of paper towels & water
Traits of Mammals

Traits of Mammals

Classifying Animals: Animal Trivia

9. The biggest division of animals is related to whether or not they have what? (a backbone/vertebrate) We'll be discussing invertebrates later in the year. Since most of you have favorite animals that are mammals, we'll start with them.

10. Let's go back to our trivia game, this time on Mammals. You can use your books if you need them.

  • Mammals are in what kingdom? (Animalia)
  • phylum? (Chordata)
  • class? (Mammalia)
  • What are the main traits of a mammal? [Write these on the board as a spoke diagram.] (4-chambered heart, hair, mammary glands, internal skeleton [endoskeleton], regulate body temperature internally [warm-blooded], & most have live birth
  • What 2 mammals lay eggs rather than give birth to live animals? (platypus & spiny anteater/echidna) God sure is creative, isn't He?
  • What is the smallest mammal? (Kitti’s hog-nosed bat) It's 1.2 inches & weighs less than a dime. It's sometimes called a bumblebee bat because it's about that size.
  • What is the largest mammal? (blue whale). It's 110 feet & 150 tons. It's heart is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle & weighs about 1,000 pounds.
  • Mammals are warm-blooded, so even if it's 32F outside, they'll still be about 98F. God created a a process called hibernation to happen for some animals during the winter in cold environments since they won't be able to get enough food during the winter. What's the difference between hibernation & winter sleep: (During hibernation squirrels, chipmunks, mice, etc. have a drop in body temperature & you can’t wake them up even if you shook them. Winter sleep doesn't have a drop in body temperature.) Bears go through winter sleep rather than hibernation. You could wake up a bear in the winter, though I don't think you'd really want to.
  • Where's the hair on a dolphins (It only has some as a juvenile.)
  • What are the 2 layers of hair? (guard hair & under hair)
  • The under hair provides warmth/insulation. How does the guard hair help the mammal (gives it its shape & provides camouflage) for
  • What are vibrissae? (whiskers on animals such as cats & walruses & are hair with extra keratin & have extra nerve endings)
  • What the the 3 main types of teeth of mammals? (incisors, canines, molars)
  • Mammals that only eat meat are called what? (carnivores) They have teeth designed to swallow flesh whole.
  • Mammals that only eat plants are called what? (herbivores) They have teeth designed to bite off plants & grind it.
  • Mammals that eat both plants & animals are called what? (omnivores)

You will need:

  • candy (I use Starburst) to give as a prize to the winning team (optional)
Comparing teeth of carnivores & herbivores

Comparing teeth of carnivores & herbivores

Carnivores & Herbivores

11. You can usually tell the diet of an animal by its teeth.

  • Pass out a lettuce leaf to each student & tell them to eat it. Pay attention to what teeth you use to tear off the pieces and chew up the leaf.
  • Pass out beef jerky to each student & tell them to eat it. Pay attention to what teeth you use to tear off the pieces.
  • Did you use the same teeth?
  • Which teeth will be more prominent in carnivores? herbivores?
  • Teeth don't always tell us what an animal eats. Can anyone think of an animal with carnivore-like teeth that is really an herbivore? (panda, some bats, etc.)
  • In the Bible it tells us that it wasn't until after the flood during Noah's life that animals started fearing man & men started eating animals. One day all the animals will again be friendly toward one another. Isaiah 11: 6 says, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them."

You will need per student:

  • a lettuce leaf
  • a piece of beef jerky

12. (Optional) If you have animal skulls, you can pass them around to allow students to note the differences between the teeth & eyes. (Carnivores frequently have binocular vision so they can quickly chase after prey, & herbivores frequently have monocular vision so they can watch for predators while eating.

You will need:

  • skulls of mammals (optional)

13. Are humans mammals? (No) Why not? We have the same Creator, so we have many similarities. However, the Bible makes it clear we're different.

  • In I Corinthians 15:39 it says, "All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, another of birds."
  • God created us distinctly from the animals on Day 6.
  • We are created in God's image.
  • God placed us over the animals to use them and to care for them.

Looking for More?

This set of worksheets is based on the project posted at .

This set of worksheets is based on the project posted at .


Because this is homework for the week before Thanksgiving, there will be no reading assignments. Instead they have these 2 assignments:

  • Create a 2-3 minute presentation on a mammal you don’t know much about. Research your animal using at least 3 sources and fill out the information on the above worksheet. Use it as a guide in creating your presentation.
  • While you're on break, look for as many different mammal tracks as you can find & try to identify each one. There will be prizes for the people who find the most types of mammal tracks.

© 2018 Shannon

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