Carl Linnaeus was a brilliant botanist. He and his students explored many countries and discovered thousands of new types of plants. However, he is most famous for finding a way of organising these discoveries and naming them; a system that every biologist still uses today.

Animal, vegetable, but not mineral

Download a pdf of the instructions here.

How good are you at classifying living things?  This is a well known game which you will learn to become an expert in!

You will need...

A pen
A piece of paper

How long will it take?

You can ask the students to research their animal in one lesson and play the game in the next, or ask them to do the research on their animals for homework.  Stress to them the need to keep their research a secret!

What to do...

1.  Suggest an animal to each student.  There is a list of inter-related animals from Africa in the food web activity which you can use, or you can give your students a broader spectrum (once they learn they are all African animals the guessing will be easier).

2.  Have a look at the students' section about playing the game once they have completed their research.  You may want to throw in some dud questions such as asking if it lives in water, or you may want to encourage your class to avoid these types of questions which don't narrow down the selection too much.

3.  Once several students have had a go, look at the questions that have been asked.  Decide as a class decide which the best five questions are (these are the questions that helped them get to the answer quickest), and make a list starting with what they perceive as the most important.   Rather than writing down the exact question you will need to make a note of the 'type' of question, because the answer to the first question will determine what the next questions will be.  For example, here are some questions and the 'type' of question they are...

Is it a mammal / fish / amphibian / reptile / insect / invertebrate?

What type of animal is it?

Does it live in the sea / land / jungle?

What type of place does it live?

Is it a typical African / Australian /farm animal?

Where does it live?

Does it eat meat / grass?

What type of food does it eat?

Is it bigger than a cat / horse?

What size is it?

Is it brown / patterned?

What colour is it?

Does it swim / fly / run very fast?

What kind of locomotion does it use?

4.  If anyone has not had a go try using your best five questions to see if you can work out what their animal is most quickly.  You may need to ask several of the same type of questions, such as 'Is it a mammal?', 'Is it a fish', etc.

5.  Have a look at how animals are actually categorised.  Once the students are familiar with the terms mammal, reptile, amphibian, bird or fish, this will probably be their first question.  In animal classification a better first question would be 'Does it have a back bone', which allows us to distinguish between insects, molluscs etc and mammals etc.  The group (class) mammals is broken down further, of which some are defined by what they eat, insectivora or carnivora.

Curriculum Links


Working scientifically

Scientific attitudes

  • understand that scientific methods and theories develop as earlier explanations are modified to take account of new evidence and ideas, together with the importance of publishing results and peer review

Experimental skills and investigations

  • ask questions and develop a line of enquiry based on observations of the real world, alongisde prior knowledge and experience


Genetics and evolution

  • diffrences between species
  • Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901.

Scottish Curriculum Links



SCN 2-01a

Planet Earth - Biodiversity and interdependence

I can identify and classify examples of living things, past and present, to help me appreciate their diversity. I can relate physical and behavioural characteristics to their survival or extinction. [Note: level 2]


SCN 3-01a

Planet Earth - Biodiversity and interdependence

I can sample and identify living things from different habitats to compare their biodiversity and can suggest reasons for their distribution.

Literacy and English

LIT 3-26a / LIT 4-26a

Writing - Organising and using information



TCH 4-03b

ICT to enhance learning

I can use ICT effectively in different learning contexts across the curriculum to access, select and present relevant information in a range of tasks.


TCH 3-04a

ICT to enhance learning

I enhance my learning by applying my ICT skills in different learning contexts across the curriculum


TCH 4-04a

ICT to enhance learning

Throughout my learning, I can make effective use of a computer system to process and organise information.

Life is generally pretty messy; even in a tiny garden there can be hundreds or thousands of different plants and animals.  So scientists hoping to find something new in a rainforest have a very hard job.  First they need to find something, then they need to work out if someone has found it before.  Only once they have done this can they call a press conference and announce their discovery!  But how can you tell if the plant or animal really hasn't been found before?

Carl Linnaeus made it all easier by inventing taxonomy: putting some order back into life.  Once he divided living things into different groups he came to a point where the animals were all very similar; he called this group the 'genus'.  Within a genus are animals which are pretty much all the same; the different 'species'.

animal diagram_550


A lion is...
An animal (not a plant)
It has a back bone
It is a mammal (furry and produces milk for their young)
It mainly eats meat
It is a cat
It is a cat that can roar: Genus - Panthera
Species - Leo

So a lion is called Panthera leo, while a tiger is Panthera tigris.  Compare these similar animals to a golden eagle - Aquila chrysaetos.  Use the diagram to explain what a golden eagle is.

A golden eagle is...

The names are in Latin and these are the names of these animals to every scientist in the world - no matter what language the scientists normally speak.  Carl Linnaeus's naming system meant that all scientists in the world could understand one another.

Key fact: The system invented by Linnaeus for classifying species (putting them into order) is still used today.

Today, a scientist looking for a new species will be able to identify what has already been found.  With the help of Linnaeus' system, every year scientists add another 15,000 new species to the 1.7 million we already know about.  There is still lots of work to be done as there may be anywhere up to 100 million species still to be found.



Animal, vegetable, but not mineral

Download a pdf of the instructions here.

giraffeHow good are you at classifying living things?  This is a well known game which you will learn to become an expert in!

You will need...

A pen
A piece of paper

What to do...

1.  Your teacher will give you each an animal.  You will need to do some research about the animal and know a reasonable amount about it because you will be answering questions!

2.  Write a short description about the animal on a piece of paper or card.  Think about numbers of legs, the colour, what it eats.  What kind of babies does it have?  Where does it live?  Make sure you keep your animal a secret from everyone else in the class.

3.  Once you have done your research choose one person to go first.  If it is you, you will have to answer questions on your animal, but you will only be able to answer 'yes' or 'no'.

4.  Make a note of all the questions asked and keep count of the total number of questions.

5.  Keep asking questions until you have found out what animal the person is thinking about.

6.  Now review the questions.  Were any questions dead ends?  Which were the best questions to ask?  Keep a note of the best questions and remember to ask them first next time.

7.  Now invite someone else up with their animal.  Keep a note of new questions and count them.  Were you able to ask fewer questions this time round?

8.  Try guessing more people's animals until you become an expert and can guess the animal in as few questions as possible.

9.  Finally have a look at your questions.  Which were the most important and useful questions for classifying animals?