How to Classify Objects and Organisms

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Updated on Mar 21, 2014

Grade Level: 6 th; Type: Physical Science


Investigate the different ways in which objects and organisms can be classified

Research Questions:

  • What are cognitive processes?
  • How are cognitive processes used in scientific investigations?
  • Define observation. Cite an example of observation.
  • Define comparison. Cite an example of comparison.
  • What do we do when we classify objects or organisms?
  • Define analysis. Cite an example of analysis.
  • What is meant by concept formation?
  • What is your concept of a concept?

On the information level, this experiment serves to acquaint students with basic information on the key processing skills used in scientific investigations, one of which is the ordering of data by creating classifications systems. It is important to recognize that these systems are human-made and that one may establish a variety of different systems using the same data. The guiding parameter is the purpose for which the system is established. This project focuses on the important concept that classification systems are the products of man`s thinking and each system is created to organize information so that it can be more readily understood and used. There is no one system by which to classify phenomena. There are many ways, each being a function of one`s purpose. It is interesting to note in this project that we may start with a hypothesis as to how most students view classification systems as fixed systems set in stone or we may be surprised! Let us find out!


  • Variety of pictures of common objects (such as a spoon, a knife, a fork, a plate, a cup, hammer, nails, clips, a pen, a pencil, a ball, a pair of gloves, a cap, a baseball glove, a phone, a television set, a computer, a cat, a dog, a tiger, a lion, a fish, a monkey, an apple, a banana, other fruit or a can of soup)

All these materials are readily available from newspapers and magazines at home.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Gather all the materials you will need for this project. You may will to include a camera so that you can take photos of the various classification systems your subjects create.
  2. Reproduce at least 4 copies of all of the pictures you plan to use and put them as sets into envelopes to be distributed to your subjects.
  3. Reproduce copies of a classification format your subjects will use as well as the Data Chart provided below to summarize the results. For the classification format start with one large rectangle with arrows breaking down into smaller rectangles which in turn may break down into still smaller rectangles? Do not go beyond 2 steps.
  4. Obtain 5 volunteers from your class or from your circle of friends to serve as subjects.
  5. Record your hypothesis, but do not share it with the subjects. Your hypothesis may be that all of the classification systems that will be created will be very traditional systems such as things we use to eat with, domestic animals versus animals in the wild, things we communicate with. Unless your subjects are instructed to create unusual systems they will provide you with basic, common systems. Could you be wrong? Let us find out!
  6. Provide your subject s with 2 copies of the classification format and the envelope with the sets of pictures. Make certain that the pictures are mixed up!
  7. Describe the task to your subjects. You are to construct 4 classification systems and record each one on the response sheet. You do not need to use all of the pictures in the envelope.
  8. Now, you are to select two of those systems and change them into two different classification systems, using all of the pictures in these two systems. You have a total of 40 minutes to complete the task.
  9. Collect all the response sheets review each of the classification systems and record and tally the results on the Data Chart .Analyze the results. What did you conclude? Was your hypothesis correct?
  10. Write up your report. You may wish to take photos on of some of the traditional classification systems the subjects created as well as the unique ones and use them on your display board for the science fair.

Data Chart


Traditional Classification

Unique Classification

Traditional Classification

Unique Classification






Terms/Concepts: Cognitive processes; Observation; Comparison; Classification; Categorizing; Analysis; Concept formation


  • Morholt ,E, Brandwein, P., Joseph, A. A Sourcebook for the Physical Sciences, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York. 1986
Dr. Muriel Gerhard (Ed.D.) is a retired educator with fifty seven years of experience in all aspects of public education. She has been a teacher, principal, administrator, college professor, researcher, grants writer, change agent and science editor. She is the author of several books on education used as college texts. These include the best selling Effective Teaching Strategies with the Behavioral Outcomes Approach and The Behavioral Outcomes Handbook for Teachers and Administrators. Presently she is a consultant in science education and curriculum development, a marriage and family therapist, a newspaper columnist and an author. Her latest book, recently published, is a memoir of sixty vignettes entitled âNow That I`m Dead, I Decided to Write this Bookâ.

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