Animal Classification


Animal Classification introduces students to the different categories of animals. Students will learn how to determine which group an animal belongs to based on its characteristics. They will discover which classes contain vertebrates and which classes contains invertebrates.

In the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure pages, you will find several suggestions that you can add to or alter in the lesson plan. One suggestion, for instance, is to assign students a specific animal to research online. Then have all the students present what they find to the class.

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What our Animal Classification lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Animal Classification teaches students how to group different animals. Students will learn how to find unique traits that set animals apart from others. They will be able to decide which groups an animal belongs to based on such traits. This lesson is for students in 3rd grade and 4th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. For this lesson, you will need scissors, glue, construction paper, markers, colored pencils, and the handouts. Also make sure you collect pictures of different animals for the lesson opening.

Options for Lesson

There are several suggestions listed in the “Options for Lesson” section that you can incorporate into the lesson if you want to or if there is time to fill. One suggestion is to assign each student an animal to research online or in other resources. Have the students present what they find about their animal to the class. Another idea is to discuss a different animal class every day for a week. (See the related lesson plans section below for links to lessons on specific animal classes.) You could also use an old National Geographic or other magazine and cut out pictures of the animals for the activity. A final option is to ask students to label the animals in the homework list as either vertebrates or invertebrates.

Teacher Notes

The paragraph on the teacher notes page provides a little extra information on the lesson. It explains that there is a lot of information on animals, and the lesson simply provides a basic foundation. You might benefit from having students research more information throughout the lesson on these animals. Use the lines on the page to write down any other ideas or thoughts you have before presenting the lesson to your students.


Classifying Animals

The Animal Classification lesson plan contains three pages of content. Students first learn what this concept means. They can easily separate people into groups based on a specific trait, like hair color or eye color. The same is true for animals. When scientists place an animal into a specific group, this is the process of classification.

Students will then learn about vertebrates and invertebrates. Every animal on the planet falls into one of these two categories. Vertebrates have a backbone, which means humans are vertebrates. Invertebrates do not have a backbone. An octopus is an example of an animal without a backbone.

The two groups then split into smaller sub groups. There are five main classes of vertebrate animals: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. There are a few main classes of invertebrate animals, but this lesson will focus primarily on arthropods. The even smaller groups that make up the arthropods category are insects, arachnids, and crustaceans.


Next, students will learn a little bit about each of the five classes of vertebrates. Mammals make up a very small fraction, about 4,000 different species, of the world’s animals. There are a few traits that the majority of mammals share. For one, they are generally covered in fur, hair, or wool. They carry their babies in their stomachs and feed their young with milk. And they are warm-blooded, meaning that they can maintain the same body temperature regardless of the environment they live in.

Birds, on the other hand, are covered in feathers. However, not all birds can fly. They lay eggs with hard shells and are also warm-blooded. Examples include penguins, eagles, toucans, emus, flamingos, and hawks. Both mammals and birds have lungs and breathe air. Reptiles also have lungs, and they lay eggs. However, their eggs have a leathery feel to them. Most reptiles live on land, and they are covered in leathery scales. However, they are cold-blooded, so their body temperatures vary with their environments.

Similarly, amphibians are cold-blooded have cannot regulate their body temperatures. Students will discover that because of the process of metamorphosis, amphibians start out with gills and breathe under water. Once they reach adulthood, they develop lungs and breathe air instead. They lay soft jelly-covered eggs in moist, wet places.

Finally, students will learn a little bit about fish. Fish live their entire lives in the water. They have gills that allow them to breathe oxygen through water. They are cold-blooded like reptiles and amphibians. And they also have scales and lay eggs. However, their eggs are soft and wet. Some fish don’t really have bones, which is unique to some species in this class. Instead, they have a cartilage skeleton. Seahorses, cod, eels, and bass are all species of fish.


Finally, students will learn about invertebrates. Despite the fact that there are so many classes of vertebrate animals, invertebrates in all actually make up 98% of the millions or more animal species! Arthropods specifically is the largest known class of animals. These animals have segmented bodies, or distinguishable pieces. Many have jointed legs or limbs. They also have an exoskeleton or external skeleton, and some even shed their exoskeleton from time to time. These creatures are also cold-blooded like many of the vertebrate animals.

The arthropod class can further divide into insects, arachnids, and crustaceans. Students may not realize that spiders, for instance, are not actually insects. People often think of spiders and scorpions as insects when, in fact, they are arachnids. Arachnids also include mites and ticks. Insects, on the other hand, include flies, beetles, moths, dragonflies, and ants. And even though crustaceans seem to live in or near water, they are not part of the ocean vertebrates like turtles and fish. Species of crustaceans include crabs, lobsters, and barnacles. Students will learn that there are a few classes of invertebrates that include what we call single-celled organisms.

Because invertebrates make up such a majority of the animal life on Earth, we see a lot more of them than we do the other animals. Students will realize that they do, indeed, see many more flies and ants than they do rabbits or fish. There are millions and millions of animals that are the size of a pinhead and plenty that are as large as a school bus. Every animal belongs to a group or class. Students will learn that classifying animals helps scientists better keep track of them and study them.

Key Terms

Here is a list of the vocabulary words students will learn in this lesson plan:

  • Classification (animals): grouping animals by specific common traits
  • Vertebrate: an animal with a backbone
  • Invertebrate: an animal without a backbone
  • Class: a smaller group within a larger group
  • Warm-blooded: a trait for animals that can control their body temperature
  • Cold-blooded: a trait for animals that cannot control their body temperature
  • Exoskeleton: an external skeleton that is common in the arthropod category of invertebrate animals


The Animal Classification lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will help reinforce students’ grasp of the lesson material in different ways. Refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to know when you should hand out each worksheet to your students.


For the activity, students will create a poster that displays the six classes of animals. The worksheet provides these six classes in boxes as well as three pages of animals. Students will cut out each label and picture. They must shade the labels different colors and glue or tape them onto their construction paper. Using the images they cut out, they will then classify the animals under the correct labels. (There are five animals for each class.) When they finish, students will add an interesting title for their display and write it at the top of the paper.


The practice worksheet contains 25 statements or descriptions. Students must read each statement and figure out which animal class it refers to. A word bank contains the six classes from which students will choose their answers.


For the homework assignment, students will read through a list of 63 animals. A word bank at the top contains seven animal classes. (Arthropods divides further into arachnids, insects, and crustaceans for this worksheet.) Students will write which class each animal belongs to on the line next to the animal name.

Worksheet Answer Keys

You will find the answer keys for each of the worksheets at the end of the Animal Classification lesson plan. The answer key for the activity shows a list of animal pictures that belong to each category. The practice worksheet answer key provides the answers in red. Similarly, the homework answer key lists which category animals belong to in red. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


3rd Grade, 4th Grade


Science, Video

State Educational Standards

NGSS.2-LS4-1, NGSS.4-LS1-1, & NGSS.MS-LS4-1

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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Rachelle H.

Great materials

The kids love it and it is so easy to find fun activities for the children we have in our camp and program to supplement our curriculum. This is great for volunteers to use to lead children in activities.

Allison A.

Animal classification

The kids enjoyed it. Home school lesson before trip to sea world so we can identify the animals there!

Shara M.

Excellent Introduction

I used this lesson with my two girls, kinder and 2nd grade. It took us three lessons over one week. It was a great intro to vertebrates/invertebrates and the classes within. They loved the sorting assignment. And they really came away with a nice, basic understanding of animal classification.

Yeimi R.

Animal classification

Excellent lesson plan!

Nanci N.

Great for my project!

My little one wanted to make a globe. She made it out of paper mache, painted it blue, then added the continents from this package. It was perfect!