We welcome Lisa Amstutz, whose Mammal Mania! will be released on April 20. Happy Book Birthday!
My newest book, Mammal Mania (Chicago Review Press, 2021), explores what makes mammals unique, as well as their anatomy, behavior, and conservation needs. Like the others in the Young Naturalists series, it features three hands-on activities in each chapter. I designed these activities to introduce late-elementary and middle grade kids to the basics of zoology.
The activity I’ve shared below helps students learn how to use a dichotomous key. Scientists use keys like this to categorize and identify all sorts of things, from mammals to trees to insects. The word “dichotomous” means “cut into two parts”. Accordingly, each branch on the key gives the user two options to choose from. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, each leads down a different path. The options start off very broad and general, and get more detailed and specific as you go.
Educators can use this activity to help teach taxonomy, the science of classifying living things. As students learn the taxonomic ranks, show them how each group branches off from the next in a key. For younger students, this can be adapted as a fun sorting activity—help them think through ways to group objects based on similarities and differences. Have fun with this!
Using a Dichotomous Key
A dichotomous key is a tool that scientists use to identify living things. It works by sorting organisms into smaller and smaller groups based on things they have in common. At each step, two choices are given. The user chooses which one fits best and then follows that path. Try making your own key, then test it out on a friend.
· Magazines with plant and animal pictures
1. Cut out 20 different plant and animal pictures from your magazines.
2. Sort the pictures into groups. How are they similar or different?
3. On your piece of paper, draw a dichotomous key to fit your categories.
4. Mix up your pictures. Then see if a friend can follow your key and sort them into the same categories you chose.
Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 science and history books for kids. Her background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science. A former outdoor educator, Lisa specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture. She lives on a small farm with her family. Visit her online at www.LisaAmstutz.com.