Kids are naturally curious and as we grow we depend on our curiosity to understand the world we live in to lead a full and interesting life. Scientists never stop asking questions and designing hypotheses to test their predictions. Ecologists are scientists who investigate what organisms live where, how many are present and why they live where they do.
This activity helps you learn how to use a key to identify living things. In particular, you will be using a dichotomous key. A dichotomous key provides pairs of identifying features that lead you to the correct name. Learning how to use a dichotomous key is a cool skill that increases your awareness of the world around you and your role in caring for the environment.
When exploring outdoors in the bush, a park or down by the sea, knowing the common and scientific names of things requires you to have a guide. One type of guide that is frequently used are identification keys. Knowing how to use a key to identify plants, birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, fungi, fish or spiders is a way of unlocking the secrets to life on Earth.
The use of keys to identify living things is a practical skill that comes in handy in a variety of different contexts. Some of these uses include identifying bugs that may be in the garden, types of fish species, determining appropriate plants for landscaping or training yourself to become a bird-watching enthusiast or ‘twitcher’.
Safety advice: Conduct a risk assessment of the site. Examples of potential dangers outside: large trees with dead or dying limbs, stinging or biting insects, sunburn and dehydration. Remember, it’s always best to be prepared by having a phone and first aid kit handy.
Some kids will be able to work on this activity with minimal support.
Ideal for: Lower Secondary
- think and connect
Time required: Part A – 40 minutes; Part B – 40 minutes; Part C – 30 minutes
- Year 7: Classification helps organise the diverse group of organisms (ACSSU111)
Complete lesson for classroom teachers:
- Backyard Dichotomous Key
- Clear container such as a plastic tub or glass jar
- Access to CSIRO Key to Invertebrates
- Device capable of accessing internet OR device capable of taking photos
- Invertebrates Key
- Small bucket
- Small paint brush
- Sweep net (optional)
- Poster/booklet making materials (optional)
- Extension: Scientific Drawing Guidelines
Learning@Home from Cool Australia
Learning@Home resources are designed for parents and teachers to use with children in the home environment. They can be used as stand-alone activities or built into existing curriculum-aligned learning programs. Our Learning@Home series includes two types of resources. The first are fun and challenging real-world activities for all ages, the second are self-directed lessons for upper primary and secondary students. These lessons support independent learning in remote or school settings.
Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.