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LIFE SCIENCES LESSON PLAN: DICHOTOMOUS KEYS

by
Candice West
<candicewest@waynesville.k12.mo.us>
and
Angela Hensley
<ahensley@waynesville.k12.mo.us>

Waynesville R-VI Schools


Pick Elementary School
8478 Buckeye Avenue
Ft. Leonard Wood, MO 65473

GRADE LEVEL(S): 5-8


TIME: Four (Monday - Thursday) 1-hour science classes
Four (Tuesday - Friday) 1- hour comm. arts classes

LESSON LESSON OBJECTIVES GLEs


OBJ #
1 Students will identify, use, and create dichotomous keys Science 3.1.e.d-e
Science 7.1.C.a-d,
D
2 Students will classify plants and animals using simple Science 8.3.A.a-b
dichotomous keys CA Reading
1.D.a-b
CA Reading 3.A, C,
D
3 Students will work in a group to solve a problem CA Writing 2.A,
B, D
CA Writing 3.A
4 Student will write a descriptive paragraph and a creative CA Info Lit. 1.A-D
writing paragraph using the Step Up To Writing model Math N.2.A
Math A.1.B
5 Students will create a dichotomous key to defend a Math A.3.A
solution to a logic problem. Math D.1.C

DAY 1 Science Lesson Objectives: 1, 3, and 5


(Monday)
• Hand out Brain Bender; remind students that a written solution is due on Friday.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
-
BRAIN BENDER:
Being a great scientist, you rarely have time for such mundane tasks as pairing up your
socks as they come out of the dryer. Instead, you have a sock drawer full of 31 almost
identical single socks. The only difference in the socks is the color, black and white.
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Specifically, you have 18 black socks in the drawer and 13 white socks in the drawer.
(Hmmm.....exactly where do the missing socks go? Could it be a case of spontaneous
combustion in the clothes hamper?) Back to our story...When you need a pair of socks,
you open the drawer, pull out a couple of black or white socks and continue on dressing.
This system worked well for you for many years, until the electricity went out early one
morning and made it impossible for you to see the color of the socks.

How many socks will you have to take out of the drawer to be sure you have a matching
pair?
◆ Draw a diagram and create a dichotomous key to prove your solution. (10 points)

◆ Identify which problem solving technique(s) you used (solve a simpler problem, draw
a picture, act it out, work backwards, guess and check, etc.). (5 points)

Bonus:
What if you also had 7 red socks in the drawer, how many socks will you have to take out
of the drawer to be sure you have a matching pair?
■ Defend your answer. (5 extra credit points)

What if you have 10 pairs of shoes (20 shoes) on a very high shelf in your closet, all
identical! Since you can’t reach the shelf, you must stand on a step stool and use a hanger
to pull the shoes, one by one, off the shelf onto the floor. Again, it is dark. Remember,
you are on a step stool--you cannot get down until you are sure you have knocked enough
shoes onto the floor to have a pair. How many shoes will you have to pull off the shelf to
make sure you have a pair?
■ Defend your answer. (5 extra credit points)

■ Create a table to compare and contrast these two bonus problems. (10 extra credit
points)
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-
• Hook Activity: Button sort
Divide students into teams of 3-4. Give each team a bag of 20-30 assorted buttons and an
index card. Be sure there are lots of different kinds of buttons in each bag. Button
characteristics might include: number of holes, color, size, shape, design, shanks/no
shanks, materials (plastic, metal, wood), etc.

Tell students that, as a team, they have about 5 minutes to agree upon how they are going
to sort the buttons, write the agreed upon characteristic(s) they will use to sort the buttons
on the index card, and then sort them according to the chosen characteristics. When they
have finished sorting the buttons, they should place the index card (writing side down)
next to their groups of buttons.

NOTE: Let each team decide how many groups of buttons to make--some may choose to
divide the buttons into two groups, while other teams may create a complex, multi-
characteristic sort.

When all the groups have finished, have the students do a Take-A-Walk, visiting each
team’s button sort. Each team should look at the buttons and decide how the buttons have
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been sorted. Once the team has agreed upon the characteristics that were used to create
the sort, they should check their answer by looking at the characteristics listed on the
index card. Remind students to turn the index card writing-side-down before they move
on to another sorting station.

Once students have had enough time to visit most of the sorts, call the class together for a
debriefing. Let students/teams briefly discuss their observations and thought processes
regarding some of the sorts.

• Mini-lecture
Present a 10 - 15 minute lecture on dichotomous keys. Have students complete lecture
outline.

• Students work in pairs to do Silly Science Dichotomous Key activity worksheet. Correct
together in class, addressing discrepancies, as needed.

DAY 2 Science Lesson Objectives: 1, 3; Comm. Arts Lesson Objective: 4


(Tuesday)
• Review mini-lecture information. Emphasize that a dichotomous key is complete only
when each item is in a group by itself.

• Give student teams the opportunity to create/work with dichotomous keys by allowing
them to complete one or more of the following activities:

Potato Chip Sort Activity


http://www.scribd.com/doc/9682509/Classification-Dichotomous-Key-Potato-Chip-Sort

Alien Classification Activity


http://www.biologycorner.com/worksheets/dichoto.html

Jellybean Sort
http://www.ansp.org/education/special_programs/senses/pdf_gwms/harrypotter.pdf

• Have students write a descriptive paragraph explaining how they created their
dichotomous key and create a table similar to the first table shown on the Silly Science
Dichotomous Key activity to demonstrate the creation/application of a dichotomous key.

• When all the groups have finished, have the students do a Take-A-Walk, visiting each
team’s sort. Each team should decide how the items at each station have been sorted and
write a brief explanation identifying the characteristics used to create each sort.

Once students have had enough time to visit most of the sorts, call the class together for a
debriefing. Let students/teams briefly discuss their observations and thought processes
regarding some of the sorts.

• HOMEWORK: Bring 10 different items from home. The 10 items must fit completely
inside a one-gallon Ziploc bag. (Remind students not to bring anything of
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value to school.)

DAY 3 Science Lesson Objectives: 1, 3; Comm. Arts Lesson Objective: 4


(Wednesday)
• Review mini-lecture information, tying it to yesterday’s science activities. Remind the
students that a dichotomous key is complete only when each item is in a group by itself.

• As a class, complete a graphic organizer that shows how a group of students from the
class can be sorted using a dichotomous key.

While I prefer to use a tree diagram, finding one online that does not violate copyright is
difficult. A cluster diagram will work, also. You can download an interactive cluster
diagram in pdf format from: http://my.hrw.com/nsmedia/intgos/htm
The graphic organizers from this site do not appear to have copyright restrictions.

• Have students divide into teams of 3 - 4. Instruct them to dump all the items they brought
from home into one pile. Have the groups sort all the items. As they sort the items, each
group should create a tree diagram or cluster diagram showing the characteristics they
used to sort the items.

When all the teams have sorted their items and created a graphic organizer showing the
characteristics used for the sort, have teams go to a different group’s sort and create a
graphic organizer to explain the sort they see. (Be sure that each group of items has two
graphic organizers of the sort, the original team’s graphic organizer and the organizer
done by the second team.)

Bring the class together to compare/contrast the two organizers for each group of items.

• Have students create and draw their own alien. Students should then write a paragraph or
story describing the creature’s habitat, its characteristics, and the function of/purpose for
each characteristic.

DAY 4 Science Lesson Objectives: 1, 3; Comm. Arts Lesson Objective: 4


(Thursday)
• Select several interactive websites that focus on using a dichotomous key to classify
plants and animals for the students to explore*. Encourage students to visit at least one
site for plants and at least one site for animals. (If you don’t have your own favorite sites,
there are several listed on the Internet Resources page at the end of this lesson plan.)

*Depending on your class, you may want to start this out as a partner activity and
gradually encourage students to work on their own, based on their comfort level with
dichotomous keys and internet use.

After students have had time to visit a few of the sites, bring the class together to discuss
the various websites. Focus the discussion on dichotomous keys and the characteristics
used to sort the organisms. You could bring in some technology to the discussion by
having the students discuss what made the site user-friendly and what challenges they
faced on the sites they visited.
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• Continue with the creative writing project from Day 3.


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DAY 5 Comm. Arts Lesson Objective: 4


(Friday)
• Have students complete their creative writing project from Day 3. Have the students
create a presentation of their drawing and their story. You might want to display the
students’ projects in the hall as this makes for an excellent example of integrating science,
math, and writing.
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DICHOTOMOUS KEY MINI-LECTURE

I. What does it mean to classify things? (Take answers from students)


(Students write answers given by classmates on these two lines)
A. ______________________________________________________________________
B. ______________________________________________________________________
II. Why do we classify/sort a group of things?
A. To make sense of our world
B. To find things that belong to a group, based upon one or more characteristics
C. To eliminate things that do not have the necessary characteristic(s) of a group
III. Why do scientists classify/sort things?
A. Scientists need an organized way to study things.
(It is estimated that there have been/are 13,000,000 to 14,000,000 different species of
living organisms on Earth!) <anthro.palomar.edu/animal/animal_1.htm>
1. To identify relationships among things
2. To decide how closely one thing is related to another thing
B. While some organisms may appear to be closely related, further examination of their
characteristics may show that they are not as closely related as they appear.
1. Pandas: Are they bears? Are the raccoons? Are they their own unique species?
2. Is a tomato related to an apple or to broccoli?
IV. How do scientists classify things?
A. Scientific classification of things is not “written in stone.”
1. It is an ongoing, changing process.
2. As new species are discovered, changes are made to the classification system to
accommodate new characteristics.
B. Many different ways to classify things
1. All classification systems go from general characteristics (living and non-living)
to more specific characteristics (has lungs and has gills)
general characteristic specific characteristic
2. A common scientific classification for living things is:
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Subclass, Order, Family, Genus, and Species
a. According to this classification system, your little brother is:
animal, chordate, mammal, primate, hominid, homo, homo sapien
b. A gorilla would be classified as:
animal, chordate, mammal, primate, hominid, gorilla, gorilla
(So, when you think your little brother is acting like an animal, you’re right!)
V. All classification systems are based on dichotomous keys.
A. What is a dichotomous key?
1. A dichotomous key is a series of paired statements (yes or no questions) that
helps identify something.
2. It organizes things by their physical characteristics.
3. A dichotomous key is complete only when each item is in a group by itself.
B. When have you used a dichotomous key?
1. _______________________________________________________________.
2. Activity: Silly Science Dichotomous Key
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NOTE: This can be easily adapted for special needs students by reducing the number of blanks to
fill in, giving the first letter of the word that goes on the line, using an outline font and writing
the words that go on the line, etc.

Name ______________________________________ Date ___________________________

DICHOTOMOUS KEY MINI-LECTURE

I. What does it mean to ___________________________ things?

A. ______________________________________________________________________

B. ______________________________________________________________________

II. _________ do we __________________________/____________ a group of things?

A. To ____________________________________ of our world

B. To find things that ___________________________________________, based upon

one or more _________________________________

C. To __________________________ things that _________________ have the

necessary _______________________________ of a group

III. _________ do ______________________ ___________________________/sort things?

A. Scientists need an ________________________________________________ things.


(It is estimated that there have been/are 13,000,000 to 14,000,000 different species of
living organisms on Earth!) <anthro.palomar.edu/animal/animal_1.htm>

1. To _____________________________________ among things

2. To decide ________________________ one thing is_____________ to another

B. While some organisms may appear to be _____________________________, further

examination of their characteristics may show that they are ____________________

_________________________________________________.

1. Pandas: Are they _______________? Are the ____________________? Are


they their own unique species?
2. Is a tomato related to an apple or to broccoli?

IV. __________ do _______________________ ___________________________ things?


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A. Scientific ________________________ of things is not “____________________

___________________________________________.”
Page 2

1. It is an ______________________, _______________________ process.

2. As __________________________________ are ______________________,

______________________ are made to the _____________________________

_________________________ to _____________________________________

____________________________________________.

B. Many _________________________________________________________ things


1. All classification systems go from general characteristics (living and non-living)
to more specific characteristics (has lungs and has gills)

______________________________ ______________________________
2. A common scientific classification for living things is:
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Subclass, Order, Family, Genus, and Species
a. According to this classification system, your little brother is classified as:
animal, chordate, mammal, primate, hominid, homo, homo sapien
b. A gorilla would be classified as:
animal, chordate, mammal, primate, hominid, gorilla, gorilla

(So, when you think your little brother is acting like an animal, you’re ______________!)

V. All classification systems are based on ________________________________________.


A. What is a dichotomous key?
1. A dichotomous key is a series of ________________ statements

(________________________________) that helps identify something.

2. It organizes things by their _______________________________________.

3. A dichotomous key is ____________________ only when each item is in a

________________________________________.

B. When have you used a dichotomous key?

1.

_______________________________________________________________.

2. Activity: Silly Science Dichotomous Key


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Name _______________________________________________ Date ___________________

SILLY SCIENCE DICHOTOMOUS KEYS AND CLASSIFICATIONS


Retrieved from http://sciencespot.net/

A dichotomous key is a valuable tool that can be used to identify many objects ranging from
plants to minerals. The key on this page was designed to identify common objects.

Use the dichotomous key below to discover the silly scientific name of each object then
write it on the line next to each item’s common name.

1. Is item 10 cm more in any direction?


a. Yes, item is 10 cm or more in any dimension. go to 2
b. No, item is not 10 cm or more in any dimension. go to 5

2. Does item have wooden parts?


a. Yes, item has wooden parts. go to 3
b. No, item does not have wooden parts. go to 5

3. Does item have a pointed edge?


a. Yes, item has a pointed edge. Widget
b. No, item does not have a pointed edge. go to 4

4. Is item flat?
a. Yes, item is flat. Gadget
b. No, item is rounded. Wadget

5. Does item have a spherical shape?


a. Yes, item has a spherical shape. go to 6
b. No, item is not spherical. go to 7

6. Is item white in color?


a. Yes, item is white in color. Whatnot
b. No, item is not white in color. Fancy Whatnot

7. Is item a writing instrument?


a. Yes, item is a writing instrument. go to 8
b. No, item is not a writing instrument. go to 9

8. Is item white in color?


a. Yes, item is white in color. Screecher
b. No, item is not white in color. Squealer
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Page 2

9. Is item partly or completely made of metal?


a. Yes, item is partly or completely made of metal. go to 10
b. No, item does not have metal parts. go to 11

10. Is item more than 3 cm in length?


a. Yes, item is more than 3 cm in length. Super Duper
b. No, item is not more than 3 cm in length. Itsy Bitsy

11. Is item soft or flexible?


a. Yes, item is soft or flexible. Oopsey
b. No, item is not soft or flexible. Cubey

Write the name of each item on the line.

A. White marble ________________________ F. Colored marble


______________________
B. Unsharpened Pencil ___________________ G. Small Paperclip
______________________

C. White Chalk _________________________ H. Eraser ______________________________

D. Wooden Splint _______________________ I. Die _________________________________

E. Sharpened Pencil _____________________ J. Large Paperclip


_______________________
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ONLINE RESOURCES

WEBSITES AND FUN ACTIVITIES AND WORKSHEETS FROM THE INTERNET


http://www.biologycorner.com/worksheets/dichoto.html
A fun worksheet with a dichotomous key to classify imaginary creatures from the genus
Norno
http://www.biologycorner.com/worksheets/pamishan.html
A twist on the Creepy Critters activity; this site has all the Creepy Critters on one page
(black and white).
http://www.biologycorner.com/worksheets/dichoto.html
Another Norn activity.
http://www.nclark.net/Classification
A great website with lots of links to classification activities.
http://www.ansp.org/education/special_programs/senses/pdf_gwms/harrypotter.pdf
A fun and education dichotomous key activity with jellybeans. While this does have a
theme of Harry Potter, an imaginative teacher could create a wonderful story to set the
stage for this activity without ruffling and feathers.
http://www.lessonplanspage.com/OWackyPeopleDichotomousKey612.htm
Neat lesson that combines dichotomous key and language arts; says it is for grades 6-12
but I have used it successfully as a partner activity with 5th graders.

INTERACTIVE CLASSIFICATION WEBSITES


http://www.lnhs.org/hayhurst/ips/dichot/
A fun interactive with goofy characters to name and identify using a dichotomous key.
http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/ce/eek/nature/idthis.htm
A couple of easy-to-use dichotomous keys, one for trees and one for water critters; great
page all about frogs, too!
webworldwonders.firn.edu/cameras/keys/sa/tree.html
A great use of a dichotomous key to identify plants of Florida
students.ed.qut.edu.au/n2364379/mdb377/DichotomousKey.html
An Australian site with some neat indigenous animals to identify using a dichotomous
key
http://www.uwsp.edu/cnr/leaf/Treekey/tkframe.htm
Very in-depth classification of trees
whatbird.wildbird.com/mwg/_/0/attrs.aspx
While not a true dichotomous key, an extraordinary interactive website to identify birds
of North America
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/orchid/classifying.html
A sophisticated interactive classification site for three organisms; students must
have an excellent vocabulary to use this site effectively; perfect for G/T kids
http://www.nsta.org/publications/interactive/galapagos/activities/classification.html
This interactive site has spectacular pictures of creatures of the Galapagos which students
use to create a dichotomous key.
http://www.amnh.org/learn/biodiversity_counts/ident_help/arthro_keys/index.htm
An easy to use dichotomous key for identifying arthropods.