Teaching Characteristics of Life: 10 Fun Lessons and a Freebie!

teaching characteristics of life

At the start of the school year, life science teachers typically begin the year by teaching characteristics of life. Let me take the planning off your list of the many things you do at this fun time of year. Spend more time building those relationships (and seating charts) and less time worrying about creating the perfect lessons. Explore my top ten comprehensive and teacher-tested lessons for teaching characteristics of life.

I am a huge fan of the 5E method: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. You can learn more about the 5E method of teach science here. Below is how I typically teach a mini-unit on the characteristics of life.

engage with a characteristics of life video

When teaching characteristics of life, I always start by setting a context that resonates with students. Whether discussing a towering oak tree or a microscopic bacterium, I emphasize that all life shares common traits. These include organization, genetic material, metabolism, responsiveness to stimuli, growth and development, reproduction, adaptation, and homeostasis.

Characteristics of Life Amoeba Sisters Handout

To drum up prior knowledge and engage students when teaching characteristics of life, I like to watch one of my favorite content creators of all time – The Amoeba Sisters! This Amoeba Sisters Characteristics of Life video handout includes a fun engagement activity, questions in sequence, and a practice activity for students to complete after watching the video. The completed handout makes great notes and lends itself well to the next activity. Learn more about how to use videos (and some of my favorites!) here!

Explore the characteristics of life with an inquiry lab

After engaging students, it’s time for some exploration! What’s better than an inquiry lab?! Teaching characteristics of life with this lab is so engaging!

Characteristics of Life Inquiry Lab

In this characteristics of life lab, students begin with background reading and pre-lab questions to review the characteristics of life and understand what defines living, nonliving, dead, or the potential for life. They then observe and record data on 8 selected everyday objects or printable specimens. It includes template slides and a Google Slides version for ease. The lesson plan features suggestions, setup guidance, and NGSS standards alignment, ensuring that teaching characteristics of life is as effortless as possible for you!

Explain with a Characteristics of Life Reading Comprehension, Presentation, or Both!

The next stage of the 5E model includes explanation. After students have explored the characteristics of life, provide them with explanations to help them make sense of what they observed. This is also an opportunity to review vocabulary and concepts, while clearing up any misconceptions while teaching characteristics of life.

Characteristics of Life CER Reading COmprehension

Explain the characteristics of life with the question “Are Viruses Alive?”. Students will examine how characteristics of life apply to both living organisms and viruses. They’ll tackle reading comprehension questions, complete a CER graphic organizer and Venn Diagram, and finally, craft a CER essay using provided prompts and a rubric for guidance.

Your students will not only gain a deeper understanding of each characteristic of life, they will use critical thinking to apply this information to discern whether viruses are alive or not. You can learn more about CER in science in my blog post here.

Characteristics of life PowerPoint, Notes, and SLides

This characteristics of life presentation comes with fill-in-the-blank-style notes, 10 assessment questions, and is available in both MS Word and PDF formats, along with a Google Slides version. Packed with essential questions, engaging content, graphics, and short videos, it’s designed to enrich classroom learning experiences.

If you are looking for a straightforward approach to teaching the characteristics of life, this lesson is for you! It makes teaching characteristics of life a breeze!

Elaborate on the characteristics of life to make new knowledge Last all year

Once students have constructed explanations of the characteristics of life, it is important to involve them in further experiences that apply, extend, or elaborate the concepts, processes, or skills they are learning. Elaborate activities provide time for students to apply their understanding of concepts and skills, fostering the future opportunity to apply their understanding to similar phenomena or problems.

I have two activities that I like to use with my students for the elaboration phase of my unit. Sometimes I use one or both, depending on my time restraints and what I feel my students need most.

Choose one or both – Characteristics of Life Stations or Graphic Organizer

The characteristics of life stations lab will take about two class periods, but it really checks all the boxes of learning styles and has students discussing and moving about the classroom. If you would like a quieter and quicker activity, the characteristics of life graphic organizer is perfect for you!

Evaluate your students the way you see fit!

The evaluate phase encourages students to assess their understanding and abilities and allows teachers to evaluate individual student progress toward achieving learning goals and outcomes.

I have to admit that I am not the type of teacher who always gives a big test. I find many kids can demonstrate their learning in more meaningful ways, such as projects or engaging activities.

Characteristics of life comic

You are never too old for comics! In this fun project, students create a comic strip to demonstrate their understanding of the eight characteristics of life. This project incorporates biology and art to help students demonstrate what differentiates living things from nonliving things. Included is a rubric to help your students demonstrate their new knowledge and to help you grade with ease!

Characteristics of Life Assessments

Editable 120-question question bank, pre-made pre-test, and pre-made post-test included! This Characteristics of Life Assessment package is 100% editable and includes multiple formats of questions.

Always have a back-up plan!

Characteristics of life webquest

Webquests are always a great activity to keep in your teacher toolbox for those unexpected absences or if students have missed a lot of school content. This characteristics of life webquest is a perfect sub-plan, but can also be great as a review, introduction, or on a day you are feeling yucky and need to rest more than usual at your desk.

Get all these activities and a unit plan at a big discount!

characteristics of life unit

I put in the hours so you don’t have to! Everything you need for teaching characteristics of life are included in this unit at a big discount! Allow me to take the planning and prep off your hands so you focus more on your students!

Teaching characteristics of life? Grab a free unit pLAN and pacing guide!

Ready to start teaching characteristics of life? Why do the lesson planning when I got you covered?! Download your free characteristics of life unit plan and you’re done!

What are you teaching next?

I don’t know about you, but I after teaching characteristics of life, I typically teach cells soon after. Here are some of my favorite cells activities for secondary science.

Teaching characteristics of life is not just about imparting knowledge; it’s about fostering a profound appreciation for the diversity and complexity of living organisms. By engaging students in hands-on activities, linking concepts to real-world examples, and encouraging critical thinking, educators can inspire a lifelong curiosity about biology.