Honolulu Zoo Society : Animals A-Z

Animals - Vertebrates (Gr 2 - 3)

Topic Overview


Begin the Lesson

Students will explore the group of animals that have backbones known as vertebrates. They will learn about the characteristics of the five main groups of vertebrates: mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. They will also observe a variety of vertebrates in video clips and photographs.


Whole Class Introduction to the Lesson

You will need at least one computer with Internet connectivity and a projection device, a classroom with more than one computer, or access to a computer lab.  This introduction will take approximately 10 minutes to complete.

Start by briefly discussing classification at a basic level. Ask students why we classify things. For example, why do we classify certain objects as clothes, others as food, or tools, and so on? Write on the board for all to see that classification is the arrangement of objects, ideas, or information into groups so that it is easier to find, identify, talk about, and study objects. Explain that as far back as ancient times, scientists tried to develop a system of classifying animals and plants. The system we use today was developed by the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), who separated animals and plants according to certain physical similarities. He also gave identifying names to each species species of plant and animal.

Project this 'Interview with Vertebrates' video for a humorous introduction to some vertebrates: http://www.watchknowlearn.org/Video.aspx?VideoID=17136&CategoryID=6154.

As part of the introduction, you may want to review some of the glossary terms in advance of students going online. At this point you can launch the WebLesson as whole-class activity using a projection device, or you can assign students to work individually or in teams in a computer lab.



WebLesson Sites
Animals that have a strong bony structure along their backs (backbones) are called vertebrates. There are five main groups of animals with backbones: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Animals without backbones are called invertebrates.
Think of a time when you went to a zoo or a farm or even the park. What animals did you see? Some animals have backbones and others do not. See if you can learn how to tell which animals are vertebrates and which animals are invertebrates.
Lesson Pages
Nature - Vertebrates
Rich Media
Great Barrier Reef: Hammerhead Attacks Stingray
Rich Media
Conclusion & Project
Animals known as vertebrates get their name due to the series of small bones that run along their backs called vertebrae. Vertebrates belong to the phylum Chordata.

Animals that have a backbone tend to be stronger and faster than animals that do not. Animals that do not have a backbone are called invertebrates.

Mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles are all vertebrates.
Think of and list three vertebrates. For each animal that you listed, describe what its body looks like. How can you tell that it is a vertebrate?
chordate - any animal that has a notochord or spinal column
cold blooded - animal that has a body temperature that varies with that of the surroundings
descend - to come from an ancestor
embryo - organism at any time before full development, birth, or hatching
endoskeleton - internal supporting skeleton
exoskeleton - hard outer structure, such as the shell of an insect or crustacean, that provides protection or support for an organism
graze - to lightly scrape or pick at in order to eat
habitat - environment where an organism normally lives
invertebrate - an animal that does not have a backbone
live young - the animal (embryo) develops inside the body of the mother, eventually leading to live birth
notochord - flexible rodlike structure that forms the main support of the body from which the spinal column develops
predator - an animal that hunts and catches other animals for food
prey - an animal hunted or caught for food
spinal column - the series of vertebrae, separated by disks and held together by muscles and tendons, that runs from the cranium to the end of the tail, protecting the spinal cord which is the collection of nerves that run along the back
spine - the hard supporting structure along the back known as the backbone
spine - the hard supporting structure along the back known as the backbone
streamlined - flowing, graceful lines; sleek form that helps objects move quickly through water.
survive - to remain alive or in existence
vertebrae - the small bones or cartilaginous segments that make up the spinal column
vertebrate - an animal that has a backbone
warm blooded - animal that can maintain a constant and warm body temperature regardless of the temperature of the environment.