ALEX Learning Activity


Characteristics of Living Things

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  This learning activity provided by:  
Author: Chenein Compton
System:Oxford City
School:Oxford High School
  General Activity Information  
Activity ID: 2409
Characteristics of Living Things
Digital Tool/Resource:
Amoeba Sisters Characteristics of Living Things video
Web Address – URL:

Students will view a short video on the characteristics of living things and apply that knowledge to various example prompts in a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning format. 

This activity results from the ALEX Resource Development Summit.

  Associated Standards and Objectives  
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 9-12
13 ) Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information to explain how organisms are classified by physical characteristics, organized into levels of taxonomy, and identified by binomial nomenclature (e.g., taxonomic classification, dichotomous keys).

a. Engage in argument to justify the grouping of viruses in a category separate from living things.

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Engaging in Argument from Evidence; Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns
Disciplinary Core Idea: Unity and Diversity
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Use major features to classify unfamiliar organisms using accepted classification schemes and justify classification.
  • Use binomial nomenclature and tools such as dichotomous keys to classify unfamiliar organisms and determine where they fit into accepted taxonomic schemes.
  • Identify characteristics of organisms within each of the six kingdoms of life.
  • Distinguish biotic from abiotic materials using the scientifically accepted characteristics of life.
  • Create a logical argument based on evidence and reasoning, to support the premise that viruses are not living things.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • Classification
  • Taxonomy
  • Binomial nomenclature
  • Taxon
  • Genus
  • Family
  • Order
  • Class
  • Phylum
  • Division
  • Kingdom
  • Domain
  • Dichotomous key
  • Virus
  • Capsid
  • Lytic cycle
  • Lysogenic cycle
  • Retrovirus
  • Prion
Students know:
  • Historical systems of classification (Aristotle, Linnaeus).
  • Taxa are organized into a hierarchal system—each taxa contained within another, arranged from broadest to most specific.(domain ← kingdom ← phylum ← class ← order ← family ← genus ← species)
  • Characteristics of living things: made of cells, obtain and use energy, grow and develop, reproduce, respond to their environment, adapt to their environment.
  • Viruses do not exhibit all the characteristics of life: they do not possess cells, nor are they cells, they have no organelles to take in nutrients or use energy, they cannot make proteins, they cannot move, and they cannot replicate on their own.
Students are able to:
  • Organize items based on physical characteristics and/or DNA sequences, etc. and communicate reasoning to others.
  • Design a classification scheme (e.g., dichotomous key) for a collection of common but not necessarily related objects.
  • Correctly write an organism's name using binomial nomenclature.
  • Research viruses using a variety of sources—analysis should include viral life cycles, reproductive strategies and their structure and function.
  • Argue from evidence whether a virus is living or not.
Students understand that:
  • Biologists find it easier to communicate and retain information about organisms when organisms are organized into groups.
  • Though viruses exhibit several of the characteristics of life, they are not considered to be living things and are not included in the biological classification system.
AMSTI Resources:
ASIM Module:
Classification of Living Things; Observing Protist Locomotion; Animal Characteristics

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.B.HS.13- Classify organisms into similar groups based on physical characteristics.

Learning Objectives:

The student will be able to distinguish biotic from abiotic materials using the scientifically accepted characteristics of life and communicate their findings using a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning format.


  Strategies, Preparations and Variations  
Before/Engage, During/Explore/Explain

1. The teacher will pose the question to the class "How do you decide if something is living?". The teacher should allow students to generate answers and write them on the board. Do not allow any items to be removed from the list in this brainstorming session. 

2. The teacher will show the Amoeba Sisters Characteristics of Living Things video. Students will take notes on the characteristics and description/examples given in the video. 

3. The teacher will assign each student (or pairs, see variations) an item. These can be written on index cards or printed on card stock. (see advanced prep). The student will analyze the item based on the characteristics of life. 

4. The student will create a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning on a sheet of paper to argue their analysis. The Claim should state if the item is considered living or non-living. The teacher may decide how many pieces of evidence (characteristics) will be required, but a minimum of 3 would be recommended for this activity. The reasoning should be an explanation of how the piece of evidence supports the student's claim.

Assessment Strategies:

The teacher may use the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning as an assessment. 

The Claim-Evidence-reasoning should include an essential question, a claim written in sentence form, several pieces of evidence, and an explanation (reasoning) for how each piece of evidence supports the student's claim. 

Advanced Preparation:

The teacher will need to prepare items for the class to analyze and decide if students will work alone or in teams. The teacher may verbally provide the name of the item or write them on index cards to distribute and collect. Examples of items to give students can include but are not limited to: snail, lichen, fern, fallen log, shark, blue whale, bears that hibernate, snow, rock, seed, liger, laptop computer, cell phone, paper. 

The teacher will introduce the students to the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning protocol and provide a rubric for the students to know what to include on their product. A short introduction to the protocol for teachers is provided at the link 


Variation Tips (optional):

The teacher may assign students to work alone or in pairs to determine if their assigned item meets the characteristics of life. 

The teacher may assign specific examples/items to students based on how challenging the example is. 

Notes or Recommendations (optional):

This activity can be used to introduce Claim-Evidence-Reasoning technique. This technique encourages students to explain how their evidence or data supports their claim, not simply restate their evidence, which is common among high school student lab report analysis. 

  Keywords and Search Tags  
Keywords and Search Tags: abiotic, biotic, Characteristics of Life, Characteristics of Living Things