Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Is It Slimy? Does It Have Fur? Is It Really a Bird?

Linda Weber


In this lesson students identify the different types of vertebrate animals based upon their major characteristics, as they create collages in cooperative learning groups. Collages show pictures of vertebrate animals labeled with the appropriate structural characteristics. Students individually complete the lesson by writing in their journals.


The student understands that living things are sorted for convenience and identification.

The student understands that the structural characteristics among animals and plants are more alike as organisms are closer to the same kind or species within a classification level.


-Books with pictures and descriptions of vertebrate animals
-Animal/bones models to demonstrate a backbone
-Animal skins (imitations)
-Touchy-feely box (see preparations)
-Models of backbones (optional)
-Videos of vertebrate animals (optional)
-Poster paper for collages
-Magazines with animal pictures
-Colored pencils or crayons
-Glue sticks
-Computers with Internet and printer – if available
-Student journals
-Drawing paper
-Collage model with appropriate labels (teacher-created and not one of the classifications used during this lesson plan)
-Checklist (See Associated File)


1. Create touchy-feely box. Take a large cardboard box and cut out five holes large enough to allow students to place hands inside. Cover opening with a piece of cloth or paper.

2. Gather up items to use as the skin/fur to represent the different types of vertebrate animals.
For example:
Fish - glue sequins to a piece of cardboard
Mammal - fake fur, I used a mouse shaped cat toy that was covered in gray fur.
Reptile - snake skin or rubber snake
Amphibian - a piece of vinyl coated with Vaseline
Bird - feathers
Place one of the examples inside each opening to the touchy-feely box.
Decorate the outside of the box if desired. I put animal stickers on the outside to help the students start to make the connection between the animal group and skin type.

3. Locate animal books and other reference books as needed.

4. Gather materials. Bookmark Weblinks that students may use.

5. Duplicate the checklist in the associated file for each child.

6. Write the journal statements/question on the board, overhead, or chart paper. (See Procedures for Day 5, #12.)

7. Determine and provide for any accomodations or extensions to be used with this lesson plan.


Note: This lesson plan only deals with vertbrate animals.

Day 1
Set/focus: To catch the students' attention, allow students to place their hands in a touchy-feely box and feel different types of “animal skins” and guess what they are feeling. Provide some models of backbones for the students to touch. (at least one) Ask the students to feel the vertebrate in their own backbones.

1. Introduce the lesson by telling the students that they will be creating collages in groups and making presentations. Make sure they know that they will indivdually have to talk about what they have learned to the entire class, as well individually write in their journals.

2. Give a general overview of the similarities and differences among the animal categories by using the books. Introduce or review the words, vertebrate invertebrate, classify or sort, characteristic and the definitions. Discuss how animals can be classified or sorted by their characteristics. As you and the class determine these from the books, discussion or videos, list them on the board so that students see a "visual" of vertebrate and invertebrate animal examples and their characteristics. Continue to develop the vertebrate classifications as you read and discuss the books. You may even want to have students copy these "notes" into their journals for future reference. Some good books might include the following: [The Animal Kingdom: A Guide to Vertebrate Classification and Biodiversity] by Katheryn Whyman and [Animal Athletes: Olympians of the World] by Frans Lanting. Both are available through (Optional: Show clips of videos and learning aids to introduce the concept to the class.)

Days 2 and 3
3. Review the information from yesterday. Ask students: Why is it important to sort or classify all living things by their characteristics? Allow a few minutes for discussion. Divide the class into five cooperative groups and assign project materials: animal books, encyclopedias, paper, markers magazines, the computer etc. (The group can choose a name related to their animal group.) Review cooperative worker rules for your classroom and establish a signal for clean-up time.

4. Share the following directions with students. Each group will be given or choose a vertebrate category to investigate. They will be asked to research, define and identify the characteristics of their vertebrate category. Make sure that students understand that they will need to take general notes which they can use during their presentations.

5. Each group will find and/or draw pictures, or download examples of animals that are in the assigned category (For example: reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds or mammals) and use these pictures to create a collage. (You may want to concentrate on native Florida species.) If you have created a model collage with appropriate labels, share it at this time.

6. Make sure students know they should label the collage, highlighting the characteristics of the category they are working on.

7. Remind groups to use multiple data sources from which to collect their information. At this time, share the checklist for assessment with students, pointing out that the groupwork is a small part of the final assessment. Students will also have to individually share what they have learned orally and in writing. Ask if there are any questions.

Note: You may need to model/review how to research, which materials can be cut or torn, how to create a collage (cover the entire page, overlap the pictures, clean up procedures and where to keep the notes, pictures overnight, etc. This will depend on your group of students.)

Day 4
8. Students present the collages to the entire class and review the vertebrate concept, as well as the characteristics of the different categories of vertebrates, including similarities or differences. You may need to model how to present (pin the collage to the bulletin board or hold it up high, speak loudly, every member share the characteristics, allow for questions, etc.)

9. Provide feedback on each collage and provide any further correction regarding the concept and the different categories/characteristics. Point out or ask students to point out characteristics that are common as well as different. Ask students why it is important to know the characteristics for each classification. Ask students how this information would be useful if someone discovered an animal that no one else had ever seen. Ask students why we sort or classify all living things by their characteristics. (Elicit the answer or direct students' discussion to the fact that it is because of convenience and for identification purposes.)

10. The collages can be posted in the classroom.

Day 5
11. Review from the previous four days. Ask a student to summarize what has happened so far. Using the collages, review the characteristics of the categories. Ask a student to tell the class why using categories to sort or classify animals is necessary. Review the similarities and differences among the groups. Ask students if some groups have very close characteristics. Allow them time to list or discuss these characteristics. (For example: Most of the animals in the classifications that we worked on had legs. All of the animals had hearts and blood.)

12. Tell students that they will now write in their journals. Show them these questions/statements that you have written on the board or chart paper:
1. List the five categories of vertebrates that we studied this week and list two or more characteristics for each one.
2. List at least two similarities among the five groups.
3. Why is it important to sort or classify all living things by their characteristics?


1. Circulate through the room during the group work to ensure that the students are correctly sorting and identifying the animals and properly labeling the vertebrate group characteristics. Offer feedback, encouragement and correction as needed to keep students on task in their cooperative groups and to make sure that all group members are participating in creating the collage.

2. Assess the presentation of the collages. Remind students that each group member must point out and discuss at least one characteristic of the group illustrated on the collage. (Other students may want to take notes during the presentations. This will depend upon your group.)

3. Review journals for individual assessment. The students should list each type of vertebrate animal presented. They should list two or more characteristics of those animals. Students should also list two or more similarities among the five animal groups. (two eyes, one backbone, one brain, etc.) Students should also answer the question: Why is it important to sort or classify or sort all living things by their characteristics? (A checklist is provided in the associated file. Characteristics and similarities will depend upon the vertebrate groups students work on. A suggested answer for the last question is as follows: We sort living things by their characteristics for convenience and identification. If a new animal was discovered, we could tell what it was by being able to identify the animal that had the same characteristics or similar to them as the unknown animal.)

4. Students who have difficulty in the journal writing may need additional information and feedback. Note: Spelling, grammar, etc. are not assessed in this lesson. Only assess the journal writing for confirmation that the student understands the concepts presented.


Other subject areas/ideas that might be linked with this lesson plan include the following:

1. Geography - The students explore the regions of the world that vertebrate animals can be found, i.e., In what deserts of the world can reptiles be found or what part of the world can you find venomous amphibians? The students can make dioramas or a map showing the origin of their selected animal.

2. Literature - Have students choose a book about a "famous vertebra," such as Moby Dick. The students can complete an illustrated book report that shows the characteristics of the animals in their books.

3. Vocabulary - The students can create a spelling list of the different characteristics of the vertebrates. These can then be put into word puzzles by using the Internet. (

4. Art - The students select and create their own animal models. The students will need to research and recreate the appropriate color and texture of the animal skin or hair to be as realistic as possible.

5. Technology - Students use virtual lab sites and experimental simulators to do things such as dissect frogs and explore animal habitats. (See Weblinks.)

6. Use a JIGSAW method with students to share information. (See Weblinks.)

ESOL Accommodations:
1. Cooperative Learning - Use brainstorming and semantic mapping.
2. Encourage students to keep a learning log to use for self-evaluation.
3. Allow students to use the “animal skin” touchy-feely box during the collage preparation.
4. Allow students to sign out and take animal videos or books home.
5. Provide a vocabulary list of some of the characteristics students should be looking for while preparing their collages. The list can be bilingual.
6. Use reciprocal teaching to review the materials.
7. Pair students with a bilingual buddy.

Special Needs Accommodations:
1. Assign specific positions in cooperative groups to accommodate student's disability.
2. Pair students that have different learning styles.
3. Increase time allowed in creating the collage.
4. Provide a list of the characteristics that the student should be labeling on the collage.
5. Provide pictures of animals that could be included in the projects.
5. Assign advanced reading or resources to students prior to the lesson.
7. Provide extra materials to complete at home.
8. Offer weekly after school tutorials.

Special Assessments:
1. Each student chooses one category of vertebrate animals and creates a mini collage at home.
2. Each student does an oral report on an animal of his/her choice to the class or to the group.
3. Each group writes a summary of the other presentations.

Web Links

This site contains an excellent explantion of the Jigsaw method of sharing information and working in groups.
Jigsaw Classroom

This is an interactive site for frog dissection and can be used for whole class instruction, homework, or stations.
Net Frog

This site contains information and pictures of the Florida Panther.
Florida Panther Net

This site contains pictures of animals. You will need PhotoShop Draw to copy the photos and resize them for students to use, as well as a color printer. Please note copyright information listed on the site before using these pictures.
Animal Wallpaper

Attached Files

This file contains the student checklist.     File Extension: pdf

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