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Teaching About Vertebrates and Invertebrates: The Classification of Animals

By Elizabeth Wistrom

Here, students will learn more about the Animal Kingdom classification list. Vertebrates and Invertebrates are discussed for grades 3 to 5.

The Lesson

imagesCALVSXFY By the end of this lesson, students will understand the basis behind the Animal Classification List. Vertebrates and Invertebrates will be identified as categories within that classification, and examples of each will be provided. Students will also have learned the names of further classification categories for animals.

Begin your discussion about the Animal Kingdom by reading the story, What is the Animal Kingdom? by Bobbie Kalman. This book provides a good beginners look at the animal kingdom, its orders, classes and species.

When you have finished with the reading, introduce your students to Carolus Linnaeus (1701-1778). Dr. Linnaeus was a Swedish-born biologist. He is remembered as the father of modern taxonomy, which is the science of locating, identifying, classifying and even naming organisms based on like characteristics. He noted that all organisms can be classified as belonging to larger groups - or kingdoms. Kingdoms are enormous groups covering millions of organisms. All animals Kingdom Phyllum Class Order Family Genus Species are in one kingdom, called the Kingdom Animalia. Plants are in a different kingdom, called Kingdom Plantae. Most scientists today recognize six different kingdoms - animals, plants, fungi, archaebacteria, eubacteria and protists.

From there, an even more specific classification system which places living things into one of six more groups (also called taxons) was developed. All seven of the groups are organized from the most general of categories to the most specific. Looking at these groups from the largest to the smallest, they are: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species.

The chart shown to the right may provide students with a more general understanding.

According to the website for the St. Louis Zoo, a simple mnemonic device that can be used to remember the order of classification is:

King Philip Came Over For Good Spaghetti (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species)

Your students will have fun learning the simple saying, and you may even wish to display it around the room while you are conducting this unit of study.

A Closer Look

Explain to your students that after determining which kingdom an organism belongs to, one very basic way that they are classified is by their body structure. Animals are often split into two phyla (with "Phylum" being the next level below Kingdom) based on the way their bodies are structured. These two classifications are Vertebrates and Invertebrates. Simply stated, Vertebrates are animals with backbones (like bears, fish, lizards, turtles and people) while Invertebrates are animals without backbones (like starfish and jellyfish.)

Keep in mind that this lesson is intended to serve as a very basic introduction to the Animal Kingdom Classification List. Vertebrates will be looked at more closely in the remaining articles of the series - with a further understanding of what a vertebrate is, what kinds of animals are considered Vertebrates and how these animals can be classified even further by looking at more specific characteristics they have in common.