Identification and Classification Activities

Inspire students to explore and understand their world using taxonomy.

By Lynsey Peterson


Identification and Classification lesson plans

Summer is a great time to explore the outdoors. If you are teaching during the summer months, taking students outside is a great break in the regular routine. If you are enjoying some well-deserved time off, going outside with your own children, or on your own can be relaxing and rewarding. The time outside will recharge your energy and inspiration for teaching. 

Taking A Closer Look

As I explore, I invariably find objects that are both familiar and unfamiliar.  Even observations of familiar objects yield new discoveries. I recently witnessed the foraging display of a mockingbird, something that I had not noticed before. This led me to find out that the behavior is either for flushing out insect prey or is used as a sign of wariness for predators. 

My greatest thrill, however, is in finding an unfamiliar object or organism. Identification and classification are wonderful ways to learn more about the world around us. The science of classification is known as taxonomy, which is not the same as taxidermy. When you identify an object, you are able to access information gathered by others. Classification groups similar organisms so that evolutionary trends can be understood.

Classifying New Discoveries

Classification has been around since Aristotle first grouped all organisms into either the plant or animal kingdoms.  Linnaeus is perhaps the best known taxonomist, creating the organized classification framework and scientific naming system that we still use today. Microscopes and new technology to enhance observations has continuously changed certain classifications.  Even today classification is an ever-changing field of science and biology.

To help you identify and classify some of your findings this summer, buy a few inexpensive field guides, or try some of the resources in the lessons listed below. Then take your new-found knowledge into the classroom by using the lessons with your students.  Happy Hunting!

Identification and Classification Lessons:

Forest Activity: Leaf Collection and Creating a Herbarium 

In this lesson students identify and categorize leaves. They collect leaves from trees, research the leaves using field guides and the Internet, press, label, and display the leaves, and discuss how the leaf reflects adaptation to its environment.

Mollusk Matching 

This lesson has students look carefully at shells and observe the differences between species and the names of common shells. There’s a great link in this document to a website for shell identification through an interactive dichotomous key.

Insect Study 

In this lesson students explore insects. They collect insects from three different sites. Students observe and identify the insects by viewing the insects with magnifying lens Students look for the presence of wings, an abdomen, hind legs and the shape of the fore-wings. They record their observations and sketch drawings of insects.


Biology Guide

Lynsey peterson picture thumb

Lynsey Peterson