Animal Classification Activities for the Upper Elementary Classroom

These animal classification activities will freshen up any upper elementary animal classification unit.Is a dolphin a fish? What type of animal is a cardinal? These are the types of questions students will learn to answer while studying animal classification. In my experience, animal classification is a fun science topic that upper elementary students enjoy. Plus, students learn important organization and analysis skills that serve them in all subject areas.

How do I make sure this unit accomplishes educational goals while also being interesting and engaging? Here are some fun animal classification activities that I use in my upper elementary classroom.

What Is Animal Classification?

Animal classification is a system scientists use to organize animals. Animals are divided into vertebrates and invertebrates. Additionally, animals are classified based on similarities. In the elementary grades, animal classification units usually focus on vertebrates. These animal groups include birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Sometimes, elementary animal classification units will also include some invertebrates such as insects.

There is a whole branch of science called taxonomy dedicated to classifying living organisms. Scientists classify animals based on their characteristics such as what they look like, what they eat, how they are born, how they breathe, and more.

5 Fun and Educational Animal Classification Activities

When I introduce animal classification to my students, it’s helpful to start with lots of examples. Some of these animal classification activities can serve as introductory lessons. Others are better later in the unit when students have a better understanding of animal classification.

1.   Odd One Out

This activity is a fun game that can help introduce the topic of animal classification. Setting it up is pretty easy! All you have to do is create a PowerPoint presentation or set of posters featuring 3 or more animals on each slide or poster. All the animals except for one should be from the same group of birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, or insects.

For example, you might show three different types of fish and an insect. This is a great example to show students first. Then, ask them which animal doesn’t belong with the others. Which is the odd one out? Students will quickly figure out that the insect doesn’t belong in the same group as the fish.

Encourage discussion about animal characteristics. What makes the insect so different from the fish? Guide students toward identifying the basic characteristics of each group. For example, fish have gills and fins. Insects have six legs and two antennae.

Continue showing students different slides until you’ve explored all six animal groups a few times. If you use this animal classification activity as an introductory lesson, spend some time explaining each of the animal classification groups. Also, list the characteristics of each of the groups.

2.   Animal Classification Flipbook

Help students solidify their understanding of animal classification with a fun flipbook. I made an Animal Classification Flipbook resource that covers everything students need to know. The flipbook features one page covering each of the following classification groups: birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and insects. On each page, students need to list the characteristics and examples.

Animal Classification Activities

The resource also features attractive posters, and short, engaging passages about each animal classification. That way, students can read to discover the characteristics and examples. Some examples are provided in the passages, and others students need to come up with on their own.

I use this resource alongside a few of these other activities to help students master the topic. Students love completing the pages and practicing their research skills. The resource also includes sorting mats and cards for additional practice.

3.   A Virtual Visit to the Zoo

After students have an understanding of animal classification, present them with live animals. A virtual visit to the zoo is an excellent option. The San Diego Zoo has live cams that are fun for students to watch. Encourage students to classify the animals you show them through the live cam.

Alternatively, get out your classroom pet or borrow another class’s pet. That way, students can observe a real live animal up close and personal, giving them a better chance to observe characteristics.

4.   20 Questions

This animal classification game follows the rules of the game “20 questions.” Start by thinking of an animal. Encourage the whole class to identify and classify the animal without asking more than 20 “yes” or “no” questions. Students might use their animal classification flipbook as a guide to questions they might ask about characteristics. For example, students might ask “Does it lay eggs?” Once students have the hang of it, have a student think of the mystery animal.

5.   Animal Collages

Turn animal classification into an art project! Have students cut out pictures of animals from magazines and newspapers. Have your students work in groups or as a whole class. Create one poster for each of the animal classification groups.

Check out these animal classification activities for the upper elementary classroom.

Enjoy Animal Classification Activities in Your Classroom

In my experience, students love studying animals. So, take advantage of their enthusiasm and introduce animal classification activities to your students. As they gain a deeper understanding, you can also assign research reports, create a video about one of the classification groups, and more!

I hope you find these activities helpful in your classroom. Do you have another fantastic animal classification activity? Tell me all about it in a comment or on social media. I’d love to hear from you!

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