Fourth grade students learn about classifying animals into groups, and they begin by classifying the vertebrates (animals with backbones) and the invertebrates (animals with no backbones). As they study animals, fourth grade students discuss common characteristics and learn to compare animals within and across groups.
An animal’s skeleton, or lack thereof, is one such characteristic that may be used as a classifying characteristic for a group of animals. For example, some animals, such as worms, have no bones at all. Others, such as mammals and fish, have bones on the inside of their body. And some animals wear their skeleton on the outside of their body! This is called an exoskeleton and it's one characteristic that all insects have in common.
Reviewing animal characteristics with your child can go a long way in helping her to remember important science concepts and reinforce at home what she's already learning in school. Here’s a fun and tasty way to help her review classifying characteristics of animals.
What You Need:
- An assortment of candies and snacks: Junior Mints, gummy Lifesavers, Twizzlers, large marshmallows, frosting, shredded coconut, pretzel sticks, etc.
- Index cards, each labeled with one of the following words: vertebrates, invertebrates, worms, insects, spiders, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians
What You Do:
- Begin by showing your child all the cards, and asking her which two cards she believes represent the categories (vertebrates and invertebrates). Ask her to explain to you what these two different words mean.
- Ask her to sort the remaining index cards as either vertebrates or invertebrates. As she sorts, ask her to explain why she placed each card in a particular category. (Vertebrates: mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians; Invertebrates: worms, spider, insects)
- Now the fun begins! Once she has correctly divided the cards into the two categories, have her pick just one card from the set of labeled cards. Ask her to consider the characteristics of that animal, and use any combination of the sweet ingredients to create a candy model of that animal with similar characteristics. Have her explain her creations aloud as she makes them. For example, a Junior Mint is like an insect, because it is hard on the outside (like an exoskeleton) and soft on the inside. A Twizzler is like a worm because it is bendable, with no bones or hard parts. A set of Lifesavers threaded on a Twizzler is like the backbone of a bird. A marshmallow on a toothpick, covered in frosting and rolled in coconut is like a mammal because it has bones on the inside, surrounded by flesh, and covered in fur.
- Continue in this manner for all of the index cards. Then let your child enjoy the fruits of her labor! The possibilities of this activity are endless!
Liana Mahoney is a National Board Certified elementary teacher, currently teaching a first and second grade loop. She is also a certified Reading Specialist, with teaching experience as a former high school English teacher, and early grades Remedial Reading.