Categorizing & Classifying Animals

Categorizing & Classifying Animals

by Judie Haynes

A companion piece to 'Amazing Animals,' this lesson is designed to teach English language learners in grades 2-8 about animal classification. It features more downloadable handouts and additional resources.

This lesson is for ESL students in grade 1-8 and follows the TESOL's ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students.

Lesson topic

Categorizing and classifying animals

Proficiency/Grade level

Advanced Beginner (Grades 4-8) and Intermediate ESL students in Grades 2-3

Content Concepts & Skills

Categorizing and classifiying animal; learning to prepare an animal report.

Vocabulary needed

Students can learn the vocabulary in context as the material is covered. They will need to know the following: fur, scales, fins, beaks, wings feathers, horns,flippers, antennae, claws, exoskeleton, head, thorax, abdomen, web, backbone, lungs, breathe, gills, hatch, alive, warm-blooded, cold-blooded, skeleton, feelers, carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, desert, polar region, ocean, forest, grasslands, jungle.

Materials or Resources

Pictures of a large number of animals from different classes; pictures of animal body parts and skin coverings; Concept Science: Animals or another very easy book on animal classification.

Instructional Sequence for grades 2- 8

1. Make a KWL chart with your students. Begin by asking them what they (K)now, and what they (W)ant to know about mammals. At the end of the unit you will ask what they have (L)earned and compare it to what they knew at the beginning.

2. Introduce animal skin coverings and body parts to all students. This vocabulary is more specialized and even intermediate students may not know words such as webbed, scales, antlers , claws and whiskers. Ask students to point to the animal that has fur, the animals with claws, etc. ELLs at this level should be able to describe the animals that you name. Give them a frame to play a guessing game with pictures. For a picture of a turtle they may ask, "What has a head, two eyes, and a shell?"

3. Give students a variety of experiences with animals by reading books to them on different animals. Students in grades 2-6 love the Barron's series on The Fascinating World of Ants, The Fascinating World of Snakes. You can also use a computer program to introduce this unit. The Junior Adventure Series is good for intermediate students in grades 4-8. See list of more animal resources for grades 2-8 below.

4. Introduce the classification of animals to students in grades 2-6 by using Concept Science Mammals Are Animals or a similar simple book on animal classification.

5. Fill out the "Is It a Mammal?" chart with the students. If all of the responses are "Yes," then that animal is a mammal (download: Is it a Mammal?, 25.9K .PDF).

As you read each book, discuss what different animals eat. Use the terms omnivore, herbivore, carnivore as appropriate to the age and language level of your students.

6. Repeat this process with the books on birds, reptiles, amphibians, spiders, fish and insects. Fill out each chart with students at the end of the book. (downloads:Is it a reptile? Is it a bird? (25.8K .PDF), Is it a spider? (26.3K .PDF), Is it an insect? (26.2K .PDF), Is it a fish? (25.2K .PDF) Is it an amphibian? (24.7K .PDF) .

7. Advanced beginning students in grades 1-3 can practice animal names in a meaningful context; by grouping animals according to their classification. Teach the vocabulary of the following classifications using pictures of animals and their characteristics to demonstrate meaning: Mammal, insect, bird, fish, amphibian, and reptile. For example, under the heading "mammal," use three or four typical mammals and pictures of hair or fur. Mix up your sample animals to see if students can place them in the correct column. Have students sort their cards into the six groups. Have them copy the names of the animals in the correct columns. Provide a frame for students to write about the different animals: "A lion is a mammal. It has fur and live babies.."


Use computer programs such as The Animals!, Amphibians & Reptiles, Birds, Insects, Eco-Adventure in the Rainforest and Kid's Zoo to provide variety.

9. Use Venn diagrams or other types of charts to have students compare different kinds classes of animals. (downloads: Whale or Shark? ( 13k .PDF), Spider or Insect? ( 26k .PDF).

Bulletin Board Ideas

Books for grades 3-8

Frank Schaffer Publications, Inc., Palos Verdes, CA

Animal Kingdom
Instructional Fair Inc., Grand Rapids, MI

Berger, Melvin
Amazing Sharks
Newbridge Educational Publishing, New York: 1995

Berger, Melvin
Call of the Wolves
Newbridge Educational Publishing, New York: 1995

Berger, Melvin
Life in the Desert
Newbridge Educational Publishing, New York: 1996

Berger, Melvin
Life in the Polar Regions
Newbridge Educational Publishing, New York: 1994

DePauw, Debby
Tropical Rainforests
Evan-Moor Corp., Monterey, CA: 1993

Holloway, Judith & Harper, Clive
Animals: Concept Science
Modern Curriculum Press, Cleveland, Ohio: 1993

Julivert, Maria
The Fascinating World of Ants
Barron's Educational Series, Hauppauge, NY: 1991

Julivert, Maria
The Fascinating World of Snakes
Barron's Educational Series, Hauppauge, NY: 1993

Molengraff, Lisa
Instructional Fair, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI

Moore, Jo Ellen
Evan-Moor Corp., Monterey, CA: 1991

Moore, J., Evans, J., Tryon, L.
Evan-Moor Corp. Monterey, CA: 1993

Computer software for grades 1-8

Amphibians & Reptiles
Jr. Nature Guides, Toronto, Canada: 1996

The San Diego Zoo Presents: The Animals
The Software Toolworks, 1992

Jr. Nature Guides, Toronto, Canada: 1996

Curious Creatures
Curriculum Associates, Inc., North Blilerica, MA:1998

Eco-Adventure In the Rainforest
Chariot Software Group, San Diego, CA: 1994

Jr. Nature Guides, Toronto, Canada: 1996

Activity Downloads

Note: To view the classroom activities, you must have Acrobat Reader intalled. Acrobat is a free application available from Adobe Systems.

PDF fileIs it a reptile? (24k .PDF)

PDF fileKWL chart (2k .PDF)

PDF fileWhale or Shark? (13k .PDF)

PDF fileIs it an amphibian? (24k .PDF)

PDF fileAnimal classification (21k .PDF)

PDF fileIs it an insect? (26k .PDF)

PDF fileIs it a fish? (25k .PDF)

PDF fileSpider or insect? (26k .PDF)

PDF fileIs it a bird? (25k .PDF)

PDF fileIs it a mammal? (25k .PDF)

PDF fileIs it a spider? (26k .PDF)

Related Links

Polar Regions
It's the middle of the school year and your English language learners need to be stimulated and challenged. Add some pizzaz to your ESL curriculum with this unit on the Polar Regions.

Amazing Animals
Animals are of great interest to all students. Try this fascinating topic with multi-level classes of varying English-language ability.

Resource Picks

Living Things : Concept Science
This series of eleven books is an excellent introduction to basic concepts about animal classification. Using very simple language, each book clearly develops the basic attributes of nine classifications of animals. There is a quiz at the end of each book along with a few pages of activities.

Life in the Polar Regions
Melvin Berger's Series on animal habitats for Newbridge Educational Publishing is an excellent resource2 for ELLs. Beautiful pictures with short text makes it a favorite.

Life in the Desert
Students love this animal resource2 with its colorful pictures and well-written text.

Sounds of the world's animals
Enrich any lesson on animals with this Georgetown University site. Your students can hear the sounds of 36 animals in 34 different languages.