Educator How-To: Teaching taxonomy with simple sorting exercises

June 25, 2012

It’s time, once again, for our monthly Educator How-To! Today we’ll help you teach kids to classify and categorize.

Objective: To gain a basic understanding of taxonomy by practicing sorting and classification skills.

Bags of assorted plastic animals
Index cards


Preparation: The beauty of this activity is that it takes very little teacher preparation!

Separate your class into groupings of no more than four children. Have the children collect small plastic animals from their homes to contribute to the project; they should all have them at the bottom of a toy box. Each group should have at least 20 animals, of any kind, that will all fit into a large zipping freezer bag.


1.    Working in groups, students will separate all the animals in the taxonomy bag into groups by identifying the various similarities the animals have in common. An example of this first grouping would be animals that have legs and animals that have fins. There are many ways to go about the first grouping; encourage each team to go with what makes sense to them.
2.    Next, the groupings are made smaller by sorting a second time. For example, you can separate by animals that have six legs or animals that have four legs.
3.    The teams should explore the many different ways they can sort and categorize the animals.
4.    When a team comes up with system with which they are satisfied, they should write a short, descriptive note card for each group of animals.
5.    The group will explain to the class how and why they sorted the animals in the manner they chose.


The taxonometric system of organism classification and organization is based upon the similarities between organisms. Carl Linnaeus, a biologist, is credited with the invention of this system of choosing standard scientific names for every organism. He chose Latin as the language to be used in this process.


Carl Linnaeus, the creator of the Binomial Naming System.

These are scientific names, not the common names that people use day to day. You may call your pet a cat or a dog, but the scientific name for your dog is Canis familiarus.  A scientist that doesn’t speak your language would understand which animal you are speaking of if you use the taxonomic, or scientific, name.

Linnaeus’ Binomial Naming System is employed to provide the scientific name for each organism. This system provides a two-part name for each organism based upon the genus and species of that particular organism. The first part of the name is the genus and the second the species. Homo sapiens, for example, is the name given humans in the Binomial Naming System.

Authored By Kat Havens

Kat has been both the spokesperson for the CSI: The Experience exhibit and project manager for the Imperial Rome exhibit and has a love of all things historical and cultural. She is responsible for the Xplorations summer camp program, coordinating weekday labs during the school year, writing department curriculum and presenting at teacher trainings. Kat has worked at the Museum since 1996.

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