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Characteristics of Living Organisms

Lesson Plan

Characteristics of Living Organisms


In this lesson, students review the characteristics that all living things share with one another and the resources they need to survive. Students will also explore the components and functions of the cell and its role in larger body functions. Students will:

  1. identify shared characteristics of living organisms.
  2. identify resources necessary for all living things.
  3. order the levels of organization of life and identify examples at each level.

Essential Questions


  1. Cell: Basic unit of all living things; a membrane-covered structure that contains all the materials necessary for life.
  2. Tissue: Group of cells functioning together.
  3. Organ: Group of tissues functioning together.
  4. Organ system: Group of organs functioning together.
  5. Organism: Group of organ systems functioning together.
  6. Population: A group of organisms of one species, living in a certain area.
  7. Community: An interacting group of various species in a common location.
  8. Multicellular: Organisms that are made up of more than one cell.
  9. Unicellular: One-celled organisms that must carry out all life functions in just one cell.


90 minutes/2 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

Prerequisite Skills haven't been entered into the lesson plan.


  1. Note Table example (S-6-4-1_Note Table and KEY.doc)
  2. copies of Favorite Animal Poster (S-6-4-1_Favorite Animal Poster.doc)
  3. Organization of Life Cards (S-6-4-1_Organization of Life Cards.doc), one set for each pair of students: copy, cut, and place in envelopes
  4. chart paper (optional)
  5. poster paper (optional)

Related Unit and Lesson Plans

Related Materials & Resources

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  1. Note Table example (S-6-4-1_Note Table and KEY.doc)
  2. copies of Favorite Animal Poster (S-6-4-1_Favorite Animal Poster.doc)
  3. Organization of Life Cards (S-6-4-1_Organization of Life Cards.doc), one set for each pair of students: copy, cut, and place in envelopes
  4. chart paper (optional)
  5. poster paper (optional)

Formative Assessment

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    1. Perform a general assessment of students’ knowledge of shared characteristics and necessities of life by observing class discussions.
    2. Perform a formal assessment by reviewing the Favorite Animal Poster.
    3. Collect Favorite Animal Posters and the Organisms Are Systems paragraph for individual assessment.

Suggested Instructional Supports

  • View
    Active Engagement, Explicit Instruction

    The lesson focuses on describing characteristics and necessities of all living things. Students may be familiar with several of the properties and characteristics covered; however, this lesson provides a detailed description of how the job of the cell is broken down into parts and functions. Students will be evaluated based on their involvement in and responses during the class discussions, group activities, and worksheets.


    The lesson incorporates an activity to foster curiosity and awareness of the vastness of our cellular makeup. Students will predict the components of the human body underneath a one-inch square piece of paper. Students will be amazed at the diversity and number of cellular components located under the piece of paper.


    The lesson’s group discussions, activities, and assignments will allow students to experience the characteristics of life and relate them to all living things. This lesson will emphasize the cell as the building block of life.


    After the Favorite Animal Poster activity, students will be given the opportunity to revisit the principles of shared characteristics and necessities of life. Students will fill out a K-W-L chart, which focuses on revising their initial predictions as well as on the vocabulary terms and the assembly of the Organization of Life Cards.


    Students will express what they have learned through completion of their K-W-L charts, as well as through their follow-up questions during class discussions. The Favorite Animal Poster requires them to rethink and incorporate the lesson into their responses.


    The lesson can be tailored by including flashcards and using graphic organizers.


    The order of the lesson fosters independent application of the fundamentals behind the lecture and the activity. Students are guided through a review of previously taught material and then introduced to new concepts.

Instructional Procedures

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    Day 1

    Advance Preparation: Prior to the lesson, prepare a one-inch square piece of tape or paper for each student. Also, write the following questions on chart paper or on the board. Leave room for student responses between each.

    It may be helpful to make an overhead transparency of the note table on Characteristics of Living Things.

    Instruct students to place the one-inch square piece of tape or paper on top of the hand they do not write with. Ask students the following questions:

    1. What parts of your body is this piece of paper covering?”
    2. What functions are happening under this piece of paper?”
    3. What is underneath this piece of paper all the way through your hand?”
    4. What makes up these parts?”

    Allow students some time to think about the questions and then collect student responses. List their responses on an overhead/chalkboard/poster board. Some examples of student responses include:

    1. Skin, hair, sweat glands, bones

    2. Blood circulation, sweating, movement

    3. Skin, hair, sweat glands, blood, veins, muscles, bones

    4. Cells

    Tell students, “Everything under the tape on your hand is made up of different cells with different jobs. Skin cells make up skin, nerve cells make up nerves, and so on. In reality, under the piece of paper on your hand, there are:

    1. 9 feet of blood vessels
    2. 600 pain sensors
    3. 12 feet of nerve fibers
    4. 1,300 nerve cells
    5. 36 heat sensors
    6. 75 pressure sensors
    7. 650 sweat glands
    8. 60,000 pigment cells
    9. 100 sweat glands
    10. 32 million bacteria 
    11. over 3 million cells, and that’s just in the outer part of the skin that we see.”
    12. Think about how many cells are in your entire hand or your entire body. How many cells are in the blue whale, the largest animal ever to live on planet Earth? Wow!”

    Tell students that before they learn more about cells, they will be reviewing common characteristics in all living things and what all living things need in order to stay alive. “Once we know what living organisms need to stay alive, we can learn about how they do it. More importantly, we can learn how those tiny little cells do it for them.”

    Have students create a K-W-L chart in their science journals (S-6-4-1_Note Table and KEY.doc). Students will create a blank template in their science journals or on a blank piece of paper and copy down the information below. They will fill in the empty boxes after they complete the Favorite Animal Poster activity as a wrap-up for the lesson.

    Topic: Characteristics of Living Things


    Background Knowledge

    Essential Questions


    The human body is made up of many parts with many functions.

    What do all living things have in common?


    All living things have certain things in common with one another.

    What do all living things need in order to stay alive?


    Living things need to perform specific tasks in order to stay alive.

    What is a cell?


    Living things need certain things in order to stay alive.



    Day 2

    Hand out the Favorite Animal Poster worksheet to students (S-6-4-1_Favorite Animal Poster.doc). Explain that they will be drawing their favorite animal and labeling the poster with important information about the animal. Inform the class that their poster must include the following:

    1. a colorful illustration of their favorite animal in its natural environment.

    2. a list of characteristics that the animal, and all other animals, have in common.

    3. a list of things the animal needs to stay alive.

    Students should list the characteristics and necessities of life in pencil so they can correct them if needed later on when you review the answers with them.

    Allow students to work with a partner to complete their posters. Encourage students to pick animals they are familiar with. It may be helpful to allow some students to use large paper for their favorite animal posters, in order to provide enough room for them to write the information next to the picture. Once students have completed their posters, list the shared characteristics and necessary resources responses on the overhead/chalkboard/ poster board. Review the correct answers, and have students erase incorrect responses and add missing responses to their posters (answers are provided in the K-W-L Answer Key below). Answer any other student questions if needed.

    Have students fill in the L column (What I Learned) of their K-W-L charts to close out the Favorite Animal Poster activity. When they are finished, have students gather in groups of four. Group sizes can vary due to class dynamics, numbers, and class set up.


    Essential Questions
    What I Learned Answers
    What do all living things have in common?

    All living things:

    1. are made of cells

    2. sense and respond to change

    1. reproduce

    2. have DNA

    3. use energy

    4. grow and develop
    What do all living things need in order to stay alive?

    All living things need:

    1. food

    2. air

    3. water

    4. shelter (a place to live)
    What is a cell?

    Basic unit of all living things; a membrane-covered structure that contains all the materials necessary for life


    Give each pair of students a prepared set of Organization of Life Cards (S-6-4-1_Organization of Life Cards.doc). Be sure to mix up the order of the cards before handing them to students. Instruct students to put the cards in order from the simplest and smallest organization to the largest and most complex. When finished, the group must choose a presenter to explain the order of the cards:

    1. Cell
    2. Tissue
    3. Organ
    4. Organ System
    5. Organism
    6. Population
    7. Community

    List group responses on the board and review the correct order. Have students modify their order if any items were placed incorrectly.

    Write the seven organization terms and definitions on the board and have students copy down the terms and definitions in their science journals. Elicit examples of each level from the students:

    1. Cell: Basic unit of all living things; a membrane-covered structure that contains all the materials necessary for life, e.g., nerve cell.
    2. Tissue: group of cells functioning together, e.g., muscle tissue.
    3. Organ: group of tissues functioning together, e.g., heart.
    4. Organ System: group of organs functioning together, e.g., respiratory system.
    5. Organism: group of organ systems functioning together, e.g., human.
    6. Population: group of organisms of one species, living in a certain area, e.g., ant hill.
    7. Community: interacting group of various species in a common location, e.g., pond.

    Now, ask the class the following questions:

    There are many organisms that are “unicellular,” made up of only one cell. They must carry out all the life functions in just one cell. Which are the only two of the levels of organization that can be used to describe unicellular living things?” (cell and organism)

    Other organisms are “multicellular:” they are made up of more than one cell. Humans are multicellular. What levels of organization are included in humans?” (cell, tissue, organ, organ system, and organism)

    A cell membrane is the outer layer of a cell that is in charge of letting materials in and out of the cell. Where would the cell membrane fit into this order of organization?” (before the cell)

    Where would a group of wolves fit in this order?” (It is a population.)

    Are cells the smallest level of organization?” (No, cells are made up of smaller cell structures called organelles, which is the topic of discussion for tomorrow’s class.)

    1. Writing Activity: Organisms Are Systems
    2. Have students work individually to write a paragraph that explains how organisms are a system of related parts that work together. The paragraph should include the terms: cell, tissue, organ, organ system, and organism. It should explain what all the parts are working together for (i.e., for survival).
    3. Sample paragraph: Every organism is a system of parts that work together for survival. The smallest unit of life is the cell. Many similar cells work together as tissues, such as muscle tissues. Similar tissues work together to make up organs that carry out specific jobs. For example, the stomach is an organ that works to digest food. Groups of organs work together as organ systems, such as the digestive system. All of the cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems working together make up an organism.


    1. Students who need more practice with the standards can use flashcards or notes throughout the lesson and activity. Have students practice using the flashcards in pairs. Notes can be modified to meet student needs but should consist of clear, reading-level appropriate definitions and illustrations to guide them through class discussions, lectures, and activities.
    2. Challenge students to take an interactive quiz on the Characteristics of Life (see Related Resources).
    3. Students who may be going beyond the standards can create a graphic organizer revolving around a key feature of their favorite animal, leading up to the planet Earth itself. They should include smaller organization levels leading up to the anatomical part and larger levels, and finally leading up to Earth. See the example below for the dorsal fin of a shark:
    4. atoms, molecules, organelles, cells, tissues, dorsal fin (shark), organ, organ system, organism, population, community, ecosystem, biome, biosphere, Earth

Related Instructional Videos

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DRAFT 11/18/2010
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