Classification of Cerealites

By Lindsey Clement, November 30, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

Four 60 minute class periods


Students will create a dichotomous key for classifying different types of cereal.  This will serve as a culminating activity as we wrap up our unit on classification of living things.  Students will use acquired knowledge of classification and dichotomous keys to create a dichotomous key that will classify different cereals.

This lesson takes full advantage of the design process since it demands the students to investigate their material (cereal), generate possible solutions to categorizing the cereal, share and evaluate methods, and it will allow students to articulate their findings to a group.  Then students will analyze feedback to come up with their final proposal.

National Standards


Standard 7. Level II. Understanding biological evolution and the diversity of life

2. Knows different ways in which living things can be grouped (e.g. plants/animals, bones/no bones, insects/spiders, live on land/live in water) and purposes of different groupings

Standard 12. Level II. Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

4. Uses appropriate tools and simple equipment (e.g., thermometers, magnifiers, microscopes, calculators, graduated cylinders) to gather scientific data and extend the senses

Common Core State Standards

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Science & Technical Subjects 

Grade 6-8    

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Craft and Structure:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.


Students will:

  • use knowledge of classification unit and create a dichotomous key for four different types of cereal
  • have a strong understanding of how to use a dichotomous key
  • understand how scientists classify objects
  • use their senses to carefully observe each piece of cereal




  • four types of cereal, preferably some that are similar in someway (Example: cereals with holes in them, or cereals that are in flakes.)
  • observation sheet
  • pencils
  • blank dichotomous key
  • example of dichotomous key
  • Cerealites Rubric


  • classification: organizing things into groups using specific characteristics
  • excretion: process in which living things release waste material
  • feeding: process by which living things obtain food, nourishment
  • growth: process in which living things increase in size
  • movement: process in which living things change location or position
  • organism: a living thing that carries out all the basic life functions
  • reaction:  a response of all living things to changes in their environment
  • reproduction: process by which living things produce more of their own kind
  • respiration: process in which living things use/give off carbon dioxide/oxygen in order to produce usable energy
  • stimulus: any action or change in the surroundings, such as heat, light, food, or danger, that causes a living thing to react
  • taxonomist: a scientist who classifies living things
  • taxonomy: the science of classifying living things


Day 1: Review the Challenge

1. Teacher will instruct students that they will create their own dichotomous key based on how they choose to classify different types of cereal.

2. Teacher will review students on the purpose of dichotomous keys: that they help scientists classify certain organisms.

3. Teacher will remind students that many organisms can be very similar and that there usually is just one thing that separates an organism from another, such as a Coyote (Cannis latrans) and Grey Wolf (Canis lupus).

4. Teacher will split class into small groups (Note: two to three students per group works the best.) and the teacher will present the “organisms.”

5. Teacher will then explain, “Today, our challenge will be to classify these cereals and create a dichotomous key stating the genus and species.”  The organisms will be the four different types of cereals.  (Note: I divided the cereal into plastic bags and provided each group with four bags.  I recommend having two varying types of cereals.  For example, I chose to give one group cereals that have holes in the middle and another group will have cereals that are flakes.  This way each group will be dealing with different ways to classify.)

6. Teacher will then pass out the “Observation Sheet” and will direct students to write down all observations they note on the cereals.  Teacher will encourage students to “look outside the box” by asking students to use their senses:  “What does it smell like, look like, feel like?”  Encourage communication between the students to explore those “wild” observations.  This time is set aside so that students can review the challenge, and investigate their organisms.

7. After students have had ample time to make their observations and record them onto their sheets, instruct students to look at their lists of observations.

8. Then instruct students to circle one ob servation for each cereal that sets it apart from the others.  For example, students might see and circle “comes in five different colors” for Fruit Loops.  Or, students might circle “has red specks” for Apple Jacks since no other cereal has red specks on it. (Note: Many students at this time will need to review the problem, or look at it from a different angle if they see they do not have different characteristics for each cereal.  Some will need to reexamine their starting point.)

9. Next, students will discuss which of their possible explanations has the most potential.  Once the students have accomplished this task, bring the class back together as a whole.

10. Review the terms “genus” and “species.”  Remind students that in binomial nomenclature, the name of any organism is made up of its genus and species.  Remind students that these are Latin words and to capitalize the genus but not the species.

11. Now, instruct students to come up with a genus and species for their cereal.  The genus should be the same for all four types of cereal given, but the species should be different for each.  Tell students, “For example, if I had the four cereals with the holes in them, I might name the genus ‘Roundolia.’”  Guide students to make the name seem “official.”  Tell students, “Then, I might have the species of Fruit Loops be ‘fruitloopa.’ This would make the scientific name of Fruit Loops be “Roundolia fruitloopa.”

12. Students will come up with a genus for the cereal and then come up with a specific species name for each cereal.

Day 2: Gallery Walk

1. Groups will set up their findings on a desk.  They will set up their cereals, and their ideas for how to classify these cereals.

2. All students in the class will walk from desk to desk and observe how these students chose to classify their “cerealites.”  Give the class about twenty minutes for the walk.

3. Now have each group come to the front of the room (one by one) and the class will provide feedback on how they chose to classify their cereals.  This will be interesting because some students will think of a way to classify a cereal that the actual group who had that cereal did not think of.  Students will evaluate others, and share their own observations.  Reiterate that this should be positive feedback that will help the group classify their organism further.

Day 3: Dichotomous Key Creation

1. Students will now use their observation charts, recommendations/feedback from other students, and new ideas to create their own dichotomous key.

2. Students will be given a dichotomous key example so that it can guide them while creating their own keys.  Teacher should monitor frequently as some groups get completely thrown off on this point.  During this class period, students are finalizing their solution to the challenge.

3. As students finish their keys, instruct students to test them out by picking up any piece of cereal and using their own key to classify the cereal.  Students need to test out all four cereals.

Day 4: Presentations

1. Students will present their findings to the class.  They will articulate why and how their solution meets the demands of this challenge.  Students should be able to explain the reason why they chose to focus on the certain characteristic, and why they named the genus and species specifically.

2. Then, the group will pick one volunteer.  The volunteer will then pick one piece of cereal, use the group’s key, and determine the cerealites’ name.


This project is assessed by monitoring all student work and participation.  Teacher should also test the key him- or herself.  Teacher should use the attached rubric to create the final grade.  This rubric judges the observation sheet, the creativity in genus and species names, the dichotomous key, work habits, and the cereal test itself.

Enrichment Extension Activities

This lesson could be expanded by throwing in a piece of cereal that is completely unrelated to the others.  This would require students to really take note of each cereal and determine how they are similar and then how are they different.

Students will take this information further by researching companies, businesses, stores, etc., and how they use classification in their daily operations.  For example, Blockbuster classifies all of their movies by genre.  Students will get a kick out of seeing the millions of ways that they bump into classification daily.

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