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Introducing the Characteristics of Life

By Kathy Foust

This Biology lesson plan was created as a tool for Biology teachers to use as a way to begin the Characteristics of Life segment in biology. Add this Biology Lesson Plan to your Biology Curriculum today.

Living Things

Often the hardest part of being a teacher is teaching students about the definitions and rules of concepts that they already have in their minds. This lesson plan gives a brief overview on some of those rules by explaining what the characteristics of life are, the very things that define living things as living things. This is the first in a series about the characteristics of life. This particular Characteristics of Life Lesson Plan is the introductory lesson plan. The ones that follow will go into more detail about the specific characteristics of life.

To begin with, ask your students how they can tell the difference between a living thing and a nonliving thing. Listen to their various answers, then explain the seven characteristics of life to them. In case you need a refresher, they are listed below.

  1. Biologically organized
  2. Acquire Materials and Energy
  3. Reproduce
  4. Respond to stimuli
  5. Homeostatic
  6. Grow and develop
  7. Able to adapt

Briefly discuss some of these characteristics of life with your students before moving on to the next portion of the lesson plan.

Characteristics of Life Activity

To prepare for this biology activity you will need a brick and an earthworm and a clean table to place them on. Place the objects on the table and gather students around so that they can see what you are doing. Follow the instructions below to complete the activity that demonstrates the characteristics of life.

  • Ask students to decide whether each object has biological organization, which is to say does each object have an internal system? Students should be able to recognize that the earthworm has an internal system and the brick does not. If they cannot or you need to point it out to them, ask them to see how the earthworm is moving and is therefore capable of moving on its own which indicates some type of internal system.
  • Discuss how the earthworm survives and retrieves protein from the dirt. The brick does not need to acquire materials or energy as it will be a brick without those things. It's structure will not change. However, if the earthworm is unable to find nutrients, it will slowly die.
  • Talk to the students about reproduction and what it means. Earthworms are able to reproduce, but the brick is not able to.
  • Touch the earthworm to show students how it responds to stimuli. Touch the brick to show that it does not respond to stimuli. This is yet another characteristic of life.
  • Place the earthworm and the brick in a cold environment. Note to students how the worm curls up in an attempt to retain body heat. The brick obviously does nothing. Do the same with a hot environment. The worm will stretch out while the brick does nothing. Explain to students how this is exhibiting behavior that is meant to help maintain homeostasis.
  • Talk to students about the various size of worms that they have seen. Discuss how these worms grow as they get older;the brick will remain the same size always. The fact that the worm grows and develops is a sign of life.
  • Propose the idea that there was no soil left on the earth. What would happen to the brick? What would happen to the worm? The brick would stay the same while the worm would adapt to seek its nutrients elsewhere. Adaptation is the last characteristic of life.

After using this lesson plan to introduce the characteristics of life to your students, they should have some concept of what those characteristics are and how they help living things to maintain their living status. Continue on to the next lesson plan in the series to teach your students more about the specifics of the characteristics of life.