Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students investigate how to distinguish between living and non-living things. They begin by thinking about the living and non-living things in their classroom before attempting to classify a range of things as living or non-living. They are then introduced to the MRS GREN tool, and use it in conjunction with the example of a beetle to explore how to determine if something is living or nonliving. They then create their own drawing or 3D model of a spider to demonstrate the attributes that qualify it as a living creature. Finally, students return to their original classifications and work to reclassify these things as living or non-living based on what they learnt in the lesson.

This lesson has been developed with generous support from the Ian Potter Foundation, John T Reid Charitable Trusts and The Myer Foundation.

Learning intentions:

  • Students understand the difference between living and nonliving things
  • Students recognise the value of a tool – like MRS GREN – for assessment if things are living or nonliving
  • Students recognise how MRS GREN can be applied to a beetle and a spider.

21st century skills: 

CommunicatingCritical ThinkingTeam Work                

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions: 

Year 3 Science

  • Living things can be grouped on the basis of observable features and can be distinguished from non-living things (ACSSU044)
  • Compare results with predictions, suggesting possible reasons for findings (ACSIS215)
  • Represent and communicate observations, ideas and findings using formal and informal representations (ACSIS060)

Year 4 Science

  • Living things depend on each other and the environment to survive (ACSSU073)
  • Compare results with predictions, suggesting possible reasons for findings (ACSIS216)
  • Represent and communicate observations, ideas and findings using formal and informal representations (ACSIS071)

Syllabus outcomes: ST2-10LW, ST2-4WS, ST2-11LW.

General capabilities: Critical and Creative Thinking.

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability OI.2, OI.9.

Relevant parts of Year 3 achievement standards: Students group living things based on observable features and distinguish them from non-living things, and they use diagrams and other representations to communicate their ideas.

Relevant parts of Year 4 achievement standards: Students describe relationships that assist the survival of living things and sequence key stages in the life cycle of a plant or animal. They use formal and informal ways to communicate their observations and findings.

Topics: Biodiversity, Sustainability.

This lesson is part of the wider unit of work: Investigating Invertebrates – Lower Primary.

Time required: 100 mins.

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium – oversee discussions and lead students in activities.

Resources required:

Keywords: living things, non-living things, invertebrates, beetles, spiders, drawing, model.

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions: Students will...

  • ... understand the difference between living and non-living things
  • ... recognise the value of a tool for assessing if things are living or nonliving.

Success criteria: Students can…

  • … apply the MRS GREN checklist tool to various things to determine if they are living or non-living
  • … make a drawing or 3D model
  • … apply and use critical thinking skills
  • … work collaboratively and independently
  • … participate in class and group discussions.

Teacher content information: Many of us get the heebie-jeebies about creepy crawlies. Maybe that’s because there are so many of them. In fact, as a group, insects (one group of invertebrates) are the most populous animals on Earth: it is estimated that there are 200 million insects for every human on the planet!!!

Fear not, the earth is not in danger of being overrun by invertebrates. Instead, they are actually vital to the healthy functioning of almost every aspect of o

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Student Worksheet

Thought Starter: Why might it be important to look after both the living and non-living things in our environment?

What Are The Differences Between Living And Non-living Things?

Have a look at the things in the table below. Are these living or non-living? Add your thoughts to the table and make a few notes to justify your ideas.

Cheese: Living or non-living?

Fire: Living or non-living?

Apple: Living or non-living?

Wood: Living or non-living?

Fungus: Living or non-living?

River: Living or non-living?

Living or Non-Living Check In

Have another look at the table above. Now that you understand a bit more about what makes something living, do you want to change any of your answers? Which ones and why? Add your ideas below:


Work independently to think about what you looked at in this lesson and complete the following:

I used to think…

But now I think...

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