Beacon Lesson Plan Library

A Field Guide for Student Identification

Kathryn Clark
Santa Rosa District Schools


Dr. M.N. Stair needs help identifying monsters he has collected in the field! Students have fun learning how to use and create a dichotomous guide by identifying cartoon monsters. Students then apply what they have learned to create a dichotomous guide to identify fellow students.


The student knows how to design and use a dichotomous guide to identify organisms based on structural characteristics.


-Use of A Dichotomous Guide transparency (See associated file)
-Classroom set of A Field Guide for Monster Indentification (See associated file)
-Copy for each student of Identify these Monsters! (See associated file)
-Digital Camera
-Sheet of poster board for each group of 5-6 students
-Construction paper


1. Make a transparency of the Use of a Dichotomous Guide document from the associated files.
2. Make a classroom set of copies of the Field Guide for Monster Identification document from the associated files. You may wish to have this set laminated for use throughout the day.
3. Make copies of the Identify These Monsters! worksheet from the associated files, one per student.
4. Make copies of the Field Guide for Students Rubric from the associated files, one per student
5. Take a picture of each student using a digital camera. Make sure you set the picture quality on the camera at its lowest setting to reduce the file size of each picture. Print (in color if possible) and cut out the pictures. Print on draft quality paper to save ink.


Day 1
1. Randomly choose three students (girls and boys) who have some physical characteristics in common. They might all be wearing glasses, have brown hair, or all be wearing jeans. Have these students stand at the front of the classroom.

2. Tell the class that they, and virtually all humans, have physical characteristics in common with these three students. Give a few examples such as two arms, two legs, and so on. Challenge the class to think of a few additional examples.

3. Next, tell the class that these particular students have an additional characteristic in common with each other. Ask the students to guess what characteristic these students share.

4. When the class arrives at the correct response, ask them to think about the following question: If these three all have _______________ in common, why aren’t they exactly the same?

5. Call on random students to tell one characteristic for each student that makes that student different from the other two. (It could be that one is a boy, is shorter, taller, has a red shirt on, etc.)

6. Place the Use of a Dichotomous Key transparency on the overhead. Explain to students that a dichotomous guide (or key) is a tool used by biologists for identifying unknown organisms. The key consists of two statements, known as couplets, describing characteristics of a particular organism. (Point out an example couplet on the transparency.) The couplets pinpoint differences between organisms. It is these differences that make an organism unique.

7. Walk students through the use of a dichotomous guide using the example on the Use of a Dichotomous Key transparency. To use the guide, you begin with the first couplet and choose the statement that best describes the organism in question. Use actual fruits and vegetables or pictures to show as you model the process for students.

8. Challenge students to help Dr. M. N. Stair identify monsters he has collected in the field. Hand out the classroom set of A Field Guide to Monsters and student copies of Identify These Monsters. Students should work independently or in pairs to identify the cartoon monsters using a dichotomous guide.

Day 2
9. At the next class meeting, go over the answers to the Identify the Monsters worksheet. Have students verbally talk through the steps they used to identify the monsters. Correct and clarify as needed.

10. Explain to students that they will now be using what they’ve learned about dichotomous guides to create a field guide to the students in their group.

11. Group students into cooperative groups of five to six students. Hand out copies of the Field Guide to Students Assessment Rubric. Go over instructions and expectations for students.

12. Hand out pictures of the students taken earlier with a digital camera, printed and cut out. Each group should receive five pictures. Provide each group with a sheet of poster board to create their final product. Place glue, markers, construction paper, etc., in a centrally located place for students to use as needed.

13. Circulate and provide feedback as needed.

14. Students should be able to finish writing their dichotomous guide during the second class meeting. Provide more time during the third class meeting for groups to finish creating their posters if needed.

15. As a wrap-up activity, post finished posters around the classroom. Allow students to circulate around the room and use at least two other students’ guides to identify the pictured students.


You may use the Unknown Monsters activity sheet to formatively assess the students' abilities to use a dichotomous guide.

Students work cooperatively to create a dichotomous guide that will be used to identify five classmates. The guide is created using the model provided in Use of a Dichotomous Guide. The Field Guide for Student Identification Rubric in the associated files includes criteria for successful creation of the dichotomous guide.


1. Obtain several copies of a field guide for trees and take a nature walk around the school campus. Walk students through identifying one or two trees. Have them sketch and identify several others.

2. Obtain several copies of a sea shell identification book and a variety of sea shells. Students can use the guide to find out the scientific names for the shells.
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