Discover Classification

New and improved for 2017/18! This hands-on session uses interactive voting software, live animals, real specimens and group tasks to help students understand the science of taxonomy (classifying living things). Students will work together to classify a range of unusual invertebrates, discuss the importance of the binomial system to name organisms and learn more about how modern technologies have affected how organisms are classified today. Students will also learn about how classification is applied to the conservation work carried out by ZSL.

Pupil looking at hissing cockroach

Age group:  KS3/4 (Year 7 -9)

Duration: 45-50 minutes

Capacity: 35 Students

Learning Space: Discovery & Learning - Zoo Lab


National Curriculum links:

KS3: Working Scientifically (Experimental skills and investigations)

  • Ask questions and develop a line of enquiry based on observation of the real world, alongside prior knowledge and experience
  • Make predictions using scientific knowledge and understanding

OCR GCSE Gateway Science Biology A (J247)

  • B5.2b – describe the impact of developments in biology on classification systems

OCR GCSE Twenty First Century Science Biology B (J257)

  • B6.3 – How does our understanding of biology help us classify the diversity of organisms on Earth?

AQA GCSE Biology (8461)

  • 4.6.4. – classification of living organisms



Intended learning outcomes:

Students will be able to:

  • Describe classification using: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species
  • Give an example of how to classify a species based on its similarities with other organisms
  • Explain how to name organisms using the binomial system and why scientists use it
  • Give an example of how modern technology has affected classification of a species
  • Understand the practical application of classification in conservation of species, using the EDGE of Existence programme as an example

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:

  • Discuss what classification means and why it may be important in biology
  • Discuss the challenges that students think may arise when trying to classify living things
  • Ask students to consider the following living things and list as many similarities and differences between them as they can: human vs tiger (both mammals); parrot vs penguin (both birds); bee vs ant (both insects). What does that tell us about the features scientists use to classify these groups of living things? What are the main differences between these three groups of animals (mammals, birds, insects)


While at the Zoo:

EDGE of Existence case study teacher guide. Download here PDF icon EDGE of Existence - Teacher's Guide (552.25 KB)

During your education session, students will learn about the practical applications of classification in conservation, using our EDGE of Existence programme as a case study. EDGE of Existence works to conserve some of the weirdest and most wonderful species on the planet.  EDGE species (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) have few close living relatives and are often extremely unusual in the way they look, live and behave, as well as in their genetic make-up.

You can extend this learning by seeing some of these species out in the Zoo.

This teacher guide shows the location of some of the EDGE species at the zoo and provides further information to lead discussions with your students on topics such as:

  • How modern technologies have affected how this species has been classified
  • How classification helps us to understand more about this species
  • Conservation efforts that are being carried out to help save this species
  • How you can help protect this species with simple actions


After your visit:

  • Discuss how Carl Woese’s system of classification (the three domains) would fit into the classification system covered at the Zoo.
  • Based on what they learnt at the zoo, discuss how classification helps in our understanding and classification of species
  • Pick 6 species found at the zoo. Considering their differences, students can create dichotomous keys to help identify these species.