Vertebrates and Invertebrates


Learning about animals is always fun. Students will enjoy Vertebrates and Invertebrates as they discover the unique traits of so many animals. Throughout the lesson, they will learn how to classify animals into these two categories. They will see just how easy it is. They simply need to see whether the animal has a backbone or not.

Students will also learn to analyze animals’ environments. Using the clues of an animal’s surroundings, they can more easily classify it correctly. The lesson details several other facts about animals as well. Other ideas for teaching the lesson are provided in the “Options for lesson” section.

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What our Vertebrates and Invertebrates lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Vertebrates and Invertebrates is an excellent lesson for teaching students how to classify animals. Specifically, they will learn that vertebrates are animals with a backbone. Invertebrates are animals without a backbone. They will likewise differentiate between the environments of the two classes. Knowing the traits of these environments will help them discern if an animal has a backbone. This lesson is for students in 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th 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. The items you will need to supply in addition to the worksheets are pictures of different vertebrate animals, pipe cleaners or toothpicks, and modeling clay or play dough. If you want, you can have students make their own clay for the activity. In this case, you will need salt, flour, and water.

Options for Lesson

The “Options for Lesson” section includes several ideas for things you can do as additional activities or alternatives in the lesson. One idea is to use an animal classification table to introduce the lesson. Alternatively, you could have students choose something they are familiar with and make a classification chart. For instance, if they love baseball, they can select their favorite players and create a chart with positions batting averages, and other ranks. Or a students might create a fashion classification chart. The idea is for students to learn how to classify things they are familiar with.

Teacher Notes

The paragraph on this page provides a little extra guidance for the lesson. It discusses a little more what you should expect from the lesson. In addition, there are some blank lines you can use to write down any other ideas or thoughts you have about the lesson before you present it to your class.


Introduction to Classification

The Vertebrates and Invertebrates lesson plan introduces the concept of how scientists organize things in different ways to keep track of them. There are three pages of content in the lesson. Students will first learn to define classification. This is the process by which scientists organize animals by their similar or shared traits.

The lesson lists how many species of animals and plants there are. There are 1.2 million animal species and 900,000 species of insects. There are also 391,000 plant species in the world. However, this list is incomplete. Students will learn that scientists have yet to discover every species of every living organism on the planet. In fact, they believe there may be as many as 9 million animal species, not just 1.2 million.

Vertebrates and Invertebrates

When it comes to animals, scientists use classification charts to help them organize all the different animals into groups. They start with the most general traits and then divide them into smaller and smaller groups. The lesson describes the concept of a hierarchical representation of species through and upside down triangle with different colors to represent smaller and smaller groups.

Students will learn that the phylum level is where they can discover whether an animal is a vertebrate or invertebrate. The differences between these two groups goes beyond the presence or lack of backbone. The lesson describes how we can narrow further by the Chordata classification level. This level classifies animals by whether or not, at some stage of development, they had a flexible spinal column and nerve cord running along the back.

The lesson provides a list of traits that fit most invertebrates and most vertebrates. Invertebrates are generally cold-blooded. They breathe through the surface of the body, through gills, or through a tracheae. Their blood vascular system is open, closed, or absent entirely. And the power to regenerate is usually good.

Vertebrates, on the other hand, may be either warm-blooded or cold-blooded. They breathe either through lungs or through gills. The blood vascular system in vertebrates is closed and much developed. Their power to regenerate is usually poor.

Key Terms

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

  • Classification: the process scientists use to organize the things they are studying by their similar traits
  • Hierarchy: a system of ordering in which the highest order of representation appears at the top and the lowest at the bottom
  • Taxonomic rank: narrowing something down by certain characteristics in lower and lower levels
  • Invertebrate: an animal without a backbone
  • Vertebrate: an animal with a backbone
  • Phylum (phyla): the level below kingdom and above class in the animal classification chart
  • Chordata: a trait for animals that have a flexible spinal column and nerve cord running along the back, or had at some point during development


Included in the Vertebrates and Invertebrates lesson plan are three worksheets: an activity, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each worksheet will help students better grasp the concepts and material they learned throughout the lesson. The guide on the classroom procedure page outlines when to hand each one out to the class.


For the activity, students will choose a specific vertebrate animal of which they will make a model. The worksheet lists the supplies they will need, including modeling clay or play dough, pipe cleaners or toothpicks, and a picture of their animal for reference. You can provide the pictures or have students find their own.

Students will paste the picture of the animal into the box in the top-right corner of the worksheet or draw it directly in the box. Then they will research how many vertebrae the animal has and make a model of the animal. The worksheet outlines the directions step by step. You may need to assist students at some points to ensure they understand how to make the model properly. The recipe to make modeling clay is at the bottom of the worksheet.


For the practice worksheet, students will determine whether animals are vertebrates or invertebrates. The first part presents a list of 24 different species. They will mark either a “V” or an “I” next to the name. Next, there are three pictures beneath the chart. Students will have to guess the right class based on the clues in the pictures.

Finally, students will read a short story in which someone finds the bones of an animal. Students will look at the picture of the bones. They will then explain how to use a classification chart to find out what animal it is.


The homework focuses on insects and how they have exoskeletons versus endoskeletons. Students will research this topic and discuss which skeleton they think is better. They will have to compare vertebrates to invertebrates. They will also provide pictures of both classes in the space provided.


There are answer keys at the end of the document for both the practice and homework worksheets. The practice answer key provides the correct answers in red. Students’ answers for the prompt about Allan will vary, but the answer key provides a sample response to which you can compare students’ responses. For the homework answer key, students will have varying answers. The paragraph in red describes what to look for when grading their responses. 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.


Take a look at these other lesson plans that relate to animal classes or classifying in general:

  • Classification—Students learn how to classify various things, not just animals. They will understand classifying as a useful tool to keep track of information. The lesson is for students in 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.
  • Animal Classification—This lesson is for early elementary students (1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade). However, it may benefit you to have access to more information, as well as more ideas for activities for the class.
  • Amphibians—Amphibians explores different species and discusses the concept of metamorphosis. The lesson is for students in 3rd grade and 4th grade.
  • There are more lessons for the other main classes of animals as well. The grade levels for these lesson plans are 1st grade, 2nd grade, and 3rd grade. While they are designed for the lower elementary levels, you may find helpful information or ideas for activities to do with the class. The lessons are Reptiles and Mammals, Types of Fish, Birds, and Bugs. In addition, you can find useful ideas and concepts in both Identify Animals (2nd grade, 3rd grade) and Herbivores, Carnivores, and Omnivores (1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade), both of which demonstrate other ways to classify animals.

Additional information


3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th 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.