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Identifying, classifying and grouping

This type of enquiry helps children make sense of how the world is organised. It involves sorting objects, materials, living things or events into manageable sets using different criteria. They can then be classified as a member of a particular group and named accordingly. All children across the primary school should be given the opportunity to explore and identify, it should not be reserved only for the youngest children in the school.

In Steps 1.6 and 1.7 we looked at the importance of using real objects when you can. This is particularly relevant when identifying, classifying and grouping. Why look at pictures of leaves when the real things are just outside our door?


For example young children should identify and name a variety of animals and sort them into whether they are carnivores, herbivores or omnivores.

Animal sorting cards: barn owl, camel, mouse, badger
Animal sorting cards (available via STEM Resources).

Identifying, Grouping and classifying doesn’t have to be limited to biology based topics. Young children can develop their knowledge of materials and their properties by exploring and grouping them in different ways. Grouping and sorting activities are also a good way to introduce and develop scientific vocabulary. For example at key stage 1 (5 - 7 years), children could use the following vocabulary to describe materials: hard/soft; stretchy/stiff; shiny/dull; rough/smooth; bendy/not bendy; waterproof/not waterproof; absorbent/not absorbent; opaque/transparent.

As children develop their skills in this area of enquiry you can ask then to give reasons for classifying plants and animals into different sets. They could also design a key to identify animals according to specific characteristics.

Kingdoms tree: all living things branch into five kingdoms - animals, plants, fungi, monera, protists
Living things kingdoms tree (available via STEM Resources).


Can you think of any activities where the children are involved in identifying, classifying and grouping?

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Getting Started

National STEM Learning Centre