Outline of unit

Observation and the ability to identify similarities and differences between different things is a key concept in the study of science. How do we know an organism is alive? How can we describe an organism so that someone on the other side of the world (and who has never seen the organism) will know what it looks like and how it behaves?

In this unit students investigate what characteristics determine whether an organism is living or non-living. They examine how the classification of organisms has changed over time and the hierarchy that is currently used (kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, species). They will learn and use the scientific conventions for naming and learn to use and make a variety of classification keys.

Students have opportunities to investigate a variety of organisms to determine their physical characteristics and use scientific terminology to describe them. They compare the characteristics of living organisms and use them to describe why fire is non-living. They use the five kingdoms to classify organisms and describe the differences between vertebrates and invertebrates and discuss how DNA technology is causing scientists to re-evaluate this system. They compare the various classes in the phylum Chordata, and use a key to classify an organism accordingly. Students develop their own key to identify their classmates. They discuss the ethics of capturing an invertebrate organism and will then use an online key to identify this organism. Students identify some of the major characteristics that can be used to identify plants.

Australian Curriculum content descriptions

Science Understanding

 Biological sciences

There are differences within and between groups of organisms; classification helps organise this diversity (ACSSU111)

Science as a Human Endeavour

Nature and development of science

Scientific knowledge changes as new evidence becomes available, and some scientific discoveries have significantly changed people’s understanding of the world (ACSHE119)

Science knowledge can develop through collaboration and connecting ideas across the disciplines of science (ACSHE223)

Use and influence of science

People use science understanding and skills in their occupations and these have influenced the development of practices in areas of human activity (ACSHE221)

Science Inquiry Skills

Processing and analysing data and information

Construct and use a range of representations, including graphs, keys and models to represent and analyse patterns or relationships, including using digital technologies as appropriate (ACSIS129)


Communicate ideas, findings and solutions to problems using scientific language and representations using digital technologies as appropriate (ACSIS133)

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Achievement standard

This lesson sequence provides opportunities to gather information about students’ achievement of specific components in the standards (which are bolded in the statements below).

By the end of Year 7, students describe techniques to separate pure substances from mixtures. They represent and predict the effects of unbalanced forces, including Earth’s gravity, on motion. They explain how the relative positions of the Earth, sun and moon affect phenomena on Earth. They analyse how the sustainable use of resources depends on the way they are formed and cycle through Earth systems. They predict the effect of environmental changes on feeding relationships and classify and organise diverse organisms based on observable differences. Students describe situations where scientific knowledge from different science disciplines has been used to solve a real-world problem. They explain how the solution was viewed by, and impacted on, different groups in society.

Students identify questions that can be investigated scientifically. They plan fair experimental methods, identifying variables to be changed and measured. They select equipment that improves fairness and accuracy and describe how they considered safety. Students draw on evidence to support their conclusions. They summarise data from different sources, describe trends and refer to the quality of their data when suggesting improvements to their methods. They communicate their ideas, methods and findings using scientific language and appropriate representations.

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Water-Lily, danielweiresq, CC BY-NC 2.0, Magpie, OZinOH, CC BY-NC 2.0, ; Funghi, Binna Burra 004, Michael Dawes, CC BY-NC 2.0, Euglena, Giuseppe Vago, CC BY 2.0.

Additional information for teachers


Background information (PDF, 399 KB)

Safety advice (PDF, 373 KB)

Materials and equipment (PDF, 362 KB)


Developing programs in science for gifted and talented students 
(Australian Science Innovations)