Teaching sequence

Lesson objective

In this lesson students explore their ideas about living and non-living things and through examining observable features categorise specimens as either living or non-living.


Inform students that the director of the local astronomical observatory has sent the school a message that he/she thought the students would be interested in.

Explain to students that a coded message was received from outer space and the scientists at the observatory were able to decode it. Inform students that the scientists read the message and sent it on to the school for actioning.

Display the message from Atto (Word, 1.3 MB) – firstly, the ‘coded’ part of the message and then read students the translation. This introduces Atto and his mission and what he requires from the students.

Atto on his home planet.

Show students the image of Atto on his home planet. Explain to the students that Atto has now landed on Earth and has observed some interesting things. He is very excited about some specimens he has already collected and urgently needs assistance in understanding what they are.


  1. Show students the specimens that Atto has collected. (Provide a few samples of small living things, eg plant, snail and non-living things, eg rock, household item.) Explain that as Atto has only just landed on Earth, he doesn’t know anything about these specimens. The students’ objective is to examine the specimens and draw diagrams that show their features. This will help Atto to understand the difference between living and non-living things.
  2. Inform students that they are to think about whether the specimen they examined is either a living or non-living thing.
    Teacher note: This will assist in determining students’ prior knowledge of the concept of ‘living’ and ‘non-living’.
  3. Model the drawing of a scientific diagram. Explain the following features of a scientific diagram to the students.
    1. Scientific diagrams are drawn in order to identify features of specimens. These features include colour, shape and texture.
    2. Measurements can be taken to indicate the accurate size of the specimen.
    3. Diagrams are labelled and descriptions are given to adequately explain what is being seen.
    4. Scientific descriptions use factual language not expressive or creative language to describe things. For example, a flower may be described as a yellow flower with rounded petals, not a pretty flower with lovely petals.
      Teacher note:Guidelines on how to draw a scientific diagram can be found in Background information (PDF, 1.2 MB).
  4. Allocate each student a notebook to use as a science journal. Have students copy the modelled example of a scientific diagram into their science journal.
  5. Inform students that they will make scientific diagrams of each of the specimens. Distribute Atto’s digital communicator – blank (PDF, 72 KB) for students to draw their diagrams on.
  6. Divide students into groups and distribute the specimens and magnifying glasses to each group. Ask students to choose a specimen to draw and to complete their drawing. Have students share their diagrams and justify their categorisation of their specimen as living or non-living. (Students could take photographs of each specimen to keep as a digital record for Atto.)
  7. Ask the students the following questions.
    • Is your specimen a living or non-living thing? Why?
    • What features did your specimen have that made you categorise it as living or non-living?
  8. Record students’ beginning ideas about living and non-living things on a word wall.


    Explain to the students that Atto has to provide a report to his superiors back on Zeta Canis 1 and he has asked for their help in providing information for this report. In order to assist Atto, they are going to investigate living things by growing some plants and looking after an animal in a habitat. They will photograph and/or video these investigations, as well as provide their own reports to Atto to keep as a record.

    Ask students to make suggestions about which type of living thing might best be suited to life on another planet. Inform students that during the next lesson they will investigate living and non-living things in the school grounds.


Lesson Resources


Student activities

Digital resources

Message from Atto (Word, 388 KB)


Atto's digital communicator - blank 
(PDF, 72 KB)

Useful links

Online diagram and flowchart software.

Create your own word cloud.

R10702 Australian animals,
NDLRN. Learning objects, images and video clips

R10703 Mini-beasts,
NDLRN. Learning objects, images and video clips