UCMP Lessons  

It’s All Relative

Author: Al Janulaw

Overview: In this lesson, students find pictures of living things and arrange them in collages, categorizing them according to which they think are more closely related to which.

Lesson Concepts:

Grade Span: 3–5


Advance Preparation:

— Collect magazines over time or put out an alert for them
— Gather other materials

Time: One class period

Grouping: Solo

Teacher Background:

Magazines, especially nature periodicals and National Geographic, have many pictures of living things. Most pictures will probably be of vertebrates and arthropods, with the odd jellyfish thrown in. It is desirable that students recognize that vertebrates and arthropods share characteristics within each group. The central idea of this lesson is that we often compare and classify organisms by their appearance. Later in their school careers, they will learn that appearances can be deceiving, but at the 3–5 grade level they need to know that the first thing we consider in classification is how something looks.

Teacher Resources: Nature and environmental magazines

Explore these links for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson:

Teaching Tips:

In deciding which organisms are most closely related, students will make some decisions with which you may not agree. Use your discretion in deciding how much correction and direction you want to give them. Keep in mind that this exercise is about students learning a process, and so the product may not need to be perfect for the lesson to be a success.

Vocabulary: classify, related


  1. Explain that today’s lesson is about how scientists work to find out which living things are related to each other, and that the class will have an opportunity to do what scientists do.
  2. Distribute the materials.
  3. Ask the students to cut out pictures of ten different living things and to group them on their desks according to which they think are more closely related to each other.
  4. Patrol the room, keeping kids on task, and asking how they made their decisions. (Note: Students may surprise you with how reasonable their reasons are, even if you think their ideas do not conform to up-to-date science.)
  5. Have students glue their aggregations on white paper (as collages) and label the groups whichever way they choose.
  6. Have students share their collages with the class and post them.


Have students do further research to determine the validity of their “classification” schemes.

Updated May 24, 2004

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