Sorting All Sorts of Animals

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Students devise their own sorting criteria using animal fact cards, then share them in a gallery

Sorting All Sorts of Animals

Key Concepts: Classification, senses, characteristics and adaptations of animals, biodiversity

• Sticky notes (three or four per student)

Print & Copy:
Animal guide, cut into cards (one set per pair)


  1. Arrange the space so students can form pairs or small groups throughout the classroom.
  2. Give each group of students a set of cards.
  3. Set up space for final posters so students can do a gallery walk.


  1. Ask groups of students to sort the cards into categories that make sense to them.
  2. Pause to share the categories they created and explain why each card fits.
  3. Direct them to glue the cards onto a poster once they agree on the categories.
  4. Model how to do a gallery walk, examine each poster, and use sticky notes on or near posters to ask questions or write comments.

Discussion Questions

Choose one or several of the questions below.


  • What are some new ideas you have about animals as a result of this session?
  • Why do you think there are different ways to sort animals?
  • Why do you think it might be useful to agree on one way to sort animals?
  • What other facts about the animals would help you sort animals?


  • Would it be useful to be able to use all of your senses when sorting animals? Why or why not?
  • How might a [map, microscope, DNA sample, skeleton] be useful when sorting animals?


What skills do you have that might make you successful at helping one of these animals?

Teacher Tips

  • In the gallery walk, students may disagree with categories or sorts, provoking questions and comments that can be a starting point for a whole-class discussion.
  • Some teachers use a digital version of the gallery walk by posting them electronically and asking students to ask questions and make comments online.
  • The activity shows students that discovery often means trying to observe things from a different perspective, or questioning some of the assumptions we make. Allow this process to evolve. Create a space that values many different ways of looking at the situation. To encourage a variety of sorts, you might even ask them to create and record as many sorting options as they can find before they settle on one. Reinforce the idea that sorting is classifying.
  • You can use simple cards with photos to adapt the session for younger students. In the early grades, consider guiding students through a session with simple matching and sorting tasks when the categories are provided (e.g. size), and progress to sessions where you ask students to create their own categories.
    • Can you find an animal that looks like this?
    • Put big animals like this one in a pile and put small ones like this one in a pile. Is there another way you can sort these into groups?
    • Where would you place this new item in your system?

Follow-up: Expert Perspectives

Invite a guest speaker to explain some of the current thinking on the classification of animals.


Hillen, A., & Malik, L. (2013). Sorting Out Ideas about Function. The Mathematics Teacher. 106(7), 526-533.

Kracl, C., & Harshbarger, D. (2017). Methods & Strategies: Ask the Right Question. Science and Children. 54(9), 78-82.

Novakowski, J. (2009). Classifying Classification. Science and Children. 46(7), 25-29.

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