ALEX Learning Activity


Are Viruses Alive?

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  This learning activity provided by:  
Author: Chenein Compton
System:Oxford City
School:Oxford High School
  General Activity Information  
Activity ID: 2411
Are Viruses Alive?
Digital Tool/Resource:
Claim-Evidence-Reasoning Protocol & Graphic Organizer
Web Address – URL:

Students will analyze viruses based on current knowledge and characteristics of living things. Students will create a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning to argue from evidence. 

This activity follows the "Characteristics of Living Things" Activity. 

This activity resulted 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 research current information on viruses using their textbooks or internet resources. 

The student will use the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning protocol to argue from evidence to explain if viruses should be considered living or non-living. 

  Strategies, Preparations and Variations  

1. The student will research information on viruses using textbooks or internet resources. The student may create a chart listing the characteristics of living things and make notes on how viruses meet or do not meet each of these characteristics. 

2. The student will create a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning to argue their point from evidence. The teacher can use a preferred C-E-R format for the activity, or the teacher can download and print the C-E-R graphic organizer available in the digital tool. 

3. Students will post their product on the wall and gallery walk to view peer work. As students view peers' work, they should take notes on points they agree or disagree with. Students will use these notes to participate in the class discussion. 

4. The teacher will lead the students in a discussion of the evidence and reasoning they viewed and come to a conclusion to answer the question: Are viruses considered living things? (See comments for conversation points.)

Assessment Strategies:

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

The teacher may create a rubric for point values on the following components of the C-E-R product: 

  • Question (Written as a question.)
  • Claim (Written in complete sentences.)
  • Evidence (The teacher may decide how many characteristics of living things should be considered. A minimum of 3 would be recommended.) 
  • Reasoning (The teacher may decide how many characteristics of living things should be considered. A minimum of 3 would be recommended, but an explanation should be included for each piece of evidence that was given.) Each Reasoning should support and explain how the evidence supports the claim of living or non-living. 

Advanced Preparation:

The teacher should preview the section of the text on viruses to ensure that the text will be sufficient for research. Alternatively, students can use internet resources for research. 

The teacher may review the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning protocol and create a rubric for student use in creating their product. 

Variation Tips (optional):

The teacher may consider grouping students in pairs. 

The teacher may consider using outside reading sources if the text is insufficient. 

The teacher may consider using outside reading sources if the text is too complex for some student reading ability. 

Notes or Recommendations (optional):

The teacher may want to consider the following topics for conversation/clarification with students: 

Nonliving is not the same as dead. 

How many characteristics of living things must something have to be considered living? 

What perspective was the list of characteristics made from? What amount of knowledge?

Do you think this list has changed over time? Do you think having cells was a consideration prior to the invention of the microscope? Could this list continue to change? 

  Keywords and Search Tags  
Keywords and Search Tags: Alive, Living, nonliving, Virus