Discover Classification

What makes a mammal a mammal? In Discover Classification, students will discover the science of classification. Students will see, touch and investigate real animal skins, bones and eggs belonging to each of the five vertebrate groups (and some invertebrates!), to identify the common features of each group. They can then apply their knowledge to identify and classify a live animal by studying its features.

Discover classification education sesssion

Age group:  Year 7-9 (KS3, Ages 11-14)

Duration: 45 minutes

Capacity: 35 students

Learning Space: Education Centre 


National Curriculum links:

KS3 Science - programme of study (2014)

Working scientifically

Analysis and evaluation

  • interpret observations and data, including identifying patterns and using observations, measurements and data to draw conclusions



Genetics and evolution

Inheritance, chromosomes, DNA and genes

  • the variation between species and between individuals of the same species meaning some organisms compete more successfully, which can drive natural selection


Intended learning outcomes:

Students will be able to:

  • Understand that classification means to group similar things together and that in science this is used to group living things
  • Identify the key features of the five vertebrate groups
  • Discuss reasons why living things are placed in one group and not another
  • Apply their understanding to classify a range of unusual animals


Many objects from the natural world used in this session are loaned to us by HM Revenue and Customs.

Please be aware that though we aim to use a live animal in this session, we do not guarantee that they will be present – animals can fall ill or be unwilling to be handled and their welfare is ZSL’s first priority.  


For this session:

Before your visit:

  • Ask students to consider the following animals and list as many similarities and differences between them as they can: tiger, frog, snake, parrot, shark.

While at the Zoo:

  • Encourage pupils to find and observe zoo animals from the main vertebrate groups. Try to find an animal from each of the vertebrate groups (mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian, fish).  Make drawings or take notes on their most important features. 
  • You can use the following questions as prompts for the animals you find:
    • What is covering its body? (fur, feathers, scales or smooth skin)
    • Does this animal lay eggs?
    • How does this animal breathe?
    • Is this animal ectothermic or endothermic? What does that mean?
    • Does this animal care for its babies? If so, how?
  • Take photographs of animals that belong to the different animal groups, to use for activities back at school (see below). 
  • DIFFERENTIATION TASK: Encourage students to compare and contrast animals from the same vertebrate group. What do they have that is the same? What is different? What does that tell you about the features we could use as scientists to classify animals in this group?
  • The BUGS house is home to a range of invertebrates. What different insects, arachnids and other invertebrates can you find?

After your visit:

  • Make a key for identifying the animals at the Zoo, considering their similarities and differences. Photos taken during the trip could be used to enhance the key.