Teaching Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4? In part 1 of this blog post, we looked at what pupils might already know about the topic. In this article, we organise new knowledge in the unit and look at strategies for teaching classification keys and changing habitats. Lastly, we’ll discuss strategies to teach the scientific vocabulary needed to understand the unit.

  1. Organising The Information in Living Things and their Habitats year 4

There are lots of facts we need to consider in Living Things and Their Habitats KS2. We refer to these as substantive knowledge. For example, mammals feed milk to their young, or birds lay eggs. However, it’s meaningless to just memorise a list of unrelated facts. Instead, we can connect them together in a way that makes more sense. One way to do this is to use the Big Ideas of science. These are 10 underlying principles that explain anything we come across in science. The Big Ideas for this unit are 5, 7 and 10.

I then sequenced them into a logical narrative for teaching Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4.

  • All living things are made up of cells, giving them their particular characteristics.
  • We can use these characteristics to identify and group them.
  • We use classification keys as tools to help us identify and name living things or the group they belong to.
  • Changes in habitats over time can sometimes pose dangers to living things

In short, revisit characteristics, identify and group animals and plants and finally, describe the effects of changing habitats.

Strategies For Teaching living Things And Their Habitats Year 4

Now we have sorted what we will teach we need to look at how we want pupils to learn the content. We need to create concrete learning experiences around each concept that help pupils develop a deep understanding. So then, pupils focus on each part of a concept, before working out how to rebuild the idea from the individual parts. Let’s look at some examples of how we can do this in the unit.

Strategy for teaching classification keys

Classification keys are abstract tools that help us understand the diversity of life and how living things are related to each other. They can be challenging to understand and construct. So, I have broken them down into 4 smaller steps that allow pupils to focus on each chunk before moving on to the next step.

  1. Activities based on prior knowledge
  2. Formulating questions to be used in keys
  3. Interpreting and constructing tabular keys
  4. Use of branched keys

By step 4, they should be able to create their own branched classification key.

Activities based on prior knowledge

Firstly, in part one of this blog post, we saw that pupils already know lots about the characteristics of living things. So, we can begin by revisiting this knowledge for a range of plants and animals and then for vertebrates and invertebrate animal groups. We can build on this with tasks that enable pupils to use pattern-seeking skills to discover relationships, which help them group living things based on their observations. The booklet is always used as a pre-planned secondary research resource for pupils to use.

If you have different types of plants for them to see or preferably touch, these activities can become even more concrete. Another idea is to use hula hoops as large, visual Venn diagrams. Some examples, using prior knowledge of living things are shown below from our key stage 2 resources:

Asking the right questions

Secondly, we shift the focus from the characteristics to the questions. In particular, questions about the similarities and differences between living things to classify them. Classification keys require this important skill.

Interpreting And Constructing Tabular Classification Keys

Thirdly, we model how to interpret a classification key in a simple table format. We guide them to think about the relevant characteristics. Then turn these into questions about features that help them identify each animal. A worked example is shown below:

Interpreting and constructing branched classification keys

Finally, once they are confident in drawing classification keys in a table format, they can move on to interpreting and drawing branched ones, as shown below. Teachers can give pupils more worked examples and independent practice as needed.

Strategies for teaching changes to habitats

Apart from identifying and classifying, we can give pupils hands-on experiences by observing living things in their habitats. Following this, they can better appreciate the effects of changes to habitats on the animals and plants they encounter.

Observing the distribution of living things in their habitat

Pupils carry out fieldwork such as pootering, sweep nets, pitfall traps, and tree beating. These techniques help them collect and study different types of insects and other small animals. They can pattern-seek to discover how living things change their distribution over time. These observations can help them understand how living things and their habitats are related. For example, they can see the effects of litter or habitat loss due to housing development.

Impact of human activities on habitats

The Lorax is a popular children’s book. It adds an empathetic element to the interconnected world of nature and the consequences of harming habitats on inhabitants. Pupils can watch the Lorax video clip or read an excerpt from the book. The clip used in the activity can be found here.

3. Scientific Vocabulary In Living Things And Their Habitats Year 4

It is essential to learn scientific vocabulary as part of science education. It helps us learn new scientific concepts and communicate them, clearly. Many subjects pre-teach pupils and help them to decode vocabulary BEFORE beginning a topic. In science, however, vocabulary is often as abstract as the concept pupils are learning about. So, we introduce the concept first, giving relevant examples using images, models, demonstrations, etc. We then layer on the related technical terms, using a range of literacy strategies to strengthen understanding.

Introduce the vocabulary in context

One example from the Key Stage 2 Science resources for Living Things and Their Habitats Year 4, is shown below. After pupils are taught about the different physical forms seen in the frog life cycle and given a range of examples of adaptations, they are taught the word metamorphosis. In this way, teaching the concept first helps them to understand the word when they encounter it.

Literacy strategy to strengthen understanding

In science, there are many word patterns that help pupils group information together and deepen conceptual understanding. Here’s one example from our resources to demonstrate how learning about the suffix (-ology) of one word can help pupils expand their vocabulary and develop their critical thinking skills.

For example, entomology, biology and geology all share the same suffix – ology, which means “study of.” Showing them that each word has a different prefix that tells us the area of study helps pupils decipher the meaning of new words more easily.

Key Takeaways For Teaching Living Things And Their Habitats Year 4

When teaching Living Things and their habitats Year 4, we can organise the information using the Big Ideas, embed learning through concrete experiences, and teach scientific vocabulary in context.

Download this Big Ideas of Science infographic and use it to help organise your science curriculum.