Phyla Vertebrata and Chordata Advanced


Phyla Vertebrata and Chordata Advanced introduces students to many of the most familiar animals they know. Students will learn all about the two groups of animals and discover many of their defining characteristics.

The “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page outlines some additional activities and variations that you can use when presenting this lesson to your students. One such idea is to make copies of the students’ trading cards and exchange them as a class activity. You could also use them as rewards for answering review questions correctly.

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What our Phyla Vertebrata and Chordata Advanced lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Phyla Vertebrata and Chordata Advanced introduces students to the animals within these two groups. Students will discover facts about each group and be able to differentiate between the two. They will also learn about the habitats and diets of certain species. This lesson is for students in 5th grade and 6th 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, gather index cards, pictures of vertebrates, and stopwatch or timer.

Options for Lesson

The “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page lists a number of suggestions for ideas and activities you could incorporate into the lesson. Copy the trading cards and have students exchange them as a fun class activity. Use the trading cards as rewards for answering review questions over the unit. Students will be excited to collect cards made by other students! As another idea, using the names of animals from the Practice activity, have students create a graph of the subphylum numbers for themselves and the class. This is a great way to introduce graphing or reinforce the necessary components of a graph. You can use lots of different types of charts, too!

Teacher Notes

The paragraph on this page gives you a little more information on the lesson overall and describes what you may want to focus your teaching on. The blank lines are available for you to write out any thoughts or ideas you have as you prepare.


Introduction to Chordata

The Phyla Vertebrata and Chordata Advanced lesson plan has four pages of content. Rewind time to hundreds of millions of years ago, and you will find some of the first animals to develop an internal skeleton with a simple backbone called a notochord. A notochord is an inner rod that supports the animal and runs down its entire body length. The notochord had a bundle of nerves running down it. It was the beginning of what would become a spinal cord for the animals in the phylum Vertebrata.

Did you know that you had a notochord? In the womb, human babies begin their development with a notochord that eventually turns into a spinal cord. However, very few animals—such as the hagfish and lamprey—retain their notochord into adulthood.

There are three subphyla within the Chordata group: Urochordata or Tunicata, Cephalochordata, and Vertebrata. Urochordata or Tunicata include animals whose larvae had a notochord and nerve cord that get lost in adulthood. With cephalochordata, animals have a notochord and nerve cord but no vertebrae. And with Vertebrata, the notochord is replaced by a bony, vertebral column.

Chordates and Vertebrates

All chordates are grouped into the phylum because, at some point in their life, they all have four specific characteristics. They have a notochord, a dorsal nerve cord, pharyngeal slits (gills near the pharynx), and a muscular tail. The tail could remain into adulthood or disappear during embryonic development. They also all have a closed circulatory system with blood that flows through vessels and a heart with ventricles.

Scientists think the very first vertebrates evolved around 525 million years ago, but they can’t determine if it was Myllokunmingia or Pikaia gracilens. So while it feels like most of our planet is covered in vertebrates, only about 5% of all animal species are vertebrates. Here are five key characteristics of vertebrates: backbone, skull, endoskeleton, bilateral symmetry, and two pairs of appendages.

Vertebrates are placed into seven classes based on their anatomical and physical features. Those seven classes are mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, bony fishes, cartilaginous fishes, and jawless fishes. The lesson provides a little information on each class and provides examples of animals within that class.

Classes of Vertebrata

Mammals are endothermic, meaning they can regulate their body temperature regardless of the temperature in their surrounding environment. Examples include humans and platypuses. Birds have feathers, are toothless, have a high metabolic rate, and lay hard-shelled eggs. Scientists often refer to birds as avian dinosaurs.

Reptiles are ectothermic. The regulation of their body temperature depends on external factors. Many of these animals are tetrapods, meaning they have four feet. Snakes, crocodiles, tuataras, and turtles are all reptilian. (Obviously, snakes have no legs, so they are considered legless reptiles.)

The next group is amphibians, which are ectothermic tetrapods like reptiles. Their eggs are shell-less and breed in the water. Amphibians undergo the process of metamorphosis, starting in aquatic larval forms to terrestrial adults. This group includes frogs, toads, and salamanders.

Finally, we end with the three classes of fishes. Bony fishes, like seahorses, have a skeleton of bone rather than cartilage. This is the largest class of vertebrates. Cartilaginous fishes have cartilage skeletons, like sharks, rays, and sawfish. Jawless fishes are primitive with circular mouths and rows of sharp teeth. Most of these fishes are parasites or scavengers.

Summary of Vertebrates

Vertebrates have a vertebral column (spinal cord) and an internal skeleton. These two characteristics make their muscles attach to points that can be used for movement. This is different from many other phyla. Vertebrates also have complex differentiation of body tissue and organs. All of them will have a heart, kidneys, and appendages.

The last content page provides a brief list of information on the five (all fish in one class) classes of Vertebrata. Students will learn interesting facts about each class. Amphibians have thin and humid skin. Fish breathe through their gills. Reptiles cannot chew. Birds’ bones are porous. And Mammals are born alive from the mother.


The Phyla Vertebrata and Chordata Advanced lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will help students solidify their grasp of the material they learned throughout the lesson. You can refer to the classroom procedure guidelines to know when to hand out each worksheet.


Students will make vertebrate trading cards (or a slideshow presentation). They will choose their favorite vertebrate and create a card with a front and back side. The front side will include a picture, the common name of the animal, the Latin name, and its classification. (The classification will include kingdom, phylum, subphylum, and class.)

On the back of the cards, students should add specific information about their vertebrate. These could include external features, diet or habitat facts, geographic location, and so on. The worksheet provides an example of what the front of the card should look like.


For the practice worksheet, students will have three minutes to write down as many animal names as possible on the spaces in the first two columns. Then they will write the name of the kingdom each animal belongs to.


The homework assignment requires students to create an acrostic poem. Students will choose a vertebrate subphylum and create the poem using those letters. For each letter, they should include a meaningful term that relates to the subphylum. Then they should add a picture of their chosen vertebrate. The worksheet provides and example poem using the letters in AMPHIBIAN for reference.

Worksheet Answer Keys

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


5th Grade, 6th Grade



State Educational Standards


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.