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Mammals Lesson Plan

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

This lesson plan provides middle school students with a deeper look at mammals and their classifications. Students watch a short video, conduct research and apply their learning in a partner activity.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the lesson, students will be able to do the following:

  • state traits that characterize mammals
  • explain the differences between placental mammals, marsupials and monotremes
  • describe different ways that mammals can be classified


1-1.5 hours

Curriculum Standards


Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.


Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.


Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Key Terms

  • Placental mammals
  • Marsupials
  • Monotremes
  • Dichotomous key


  • Black-line images of several marine mammals and a shark (see Preparation for further explanation)
  • Tablets or computers with Internet access, 1 per pair of students (optional: see Preparation for alternative)
  • Lined paper
  • Pens or pencils



  • Find black-line images of the following marine animals:
    • dolphin
    • manatee
    • porpoise
    • seal
    • shark
    • whale
  • Arrange the images in a new document. Do not include the animal names. Print enough copies for each pair of students to receive one.
  • Create a dichotomous key to identify the images. A sample key is as follows:

1 a Warm blooded Go to 2
b Coldblooded Shark
2 a Has flippers Go to 3
b Has fins Go to 4
3 a Carnivore Seal
b Herbivore Manatee
4 a Has a prominent dorsal fin on mid-back Go to 5
b Has a small dorsal fin near tail Whale
5 a Has a bulging 'melon' on forehead and an elongated jaw Dolphin
b Has a small, rounded head and short jaw Porpoise
  • If you do not have access to computers with Internet, find a breakdown of class Mammalia that includes the subclasses and orders as well as a brief description of the animals found in each. Print enough copies for each pair of students to receive one.


  • Begin the lesson by showing students a couple of quotes about mammals, such as the following:
    • ''The whole reason people fill their homes with furry carnivores and not with, say, iguanas and turtles, is because mammals offer something no reptile ever will. They give affection, they want affection, and respond to our emotions the way we do to theirs.'' -Frans de Waal, primatologist
    • ''My lords, we are vertebrate animals, we are mammalia!'' -Sir William Henry Maule, English parliamentarian
  • Give students a few moments to share their thoughts on the quotes and their possible meanings. Then, ask students to name some traits of mammals that can be discerned from reading the quotes. Ask them to think of other traits that are not necessarily implied in the quotes.
  • As students describe mammalian traits, write their responses on the board. Explain they will be learning more about mammals and expanding on the list in today's lesson.

Video Lesson

  • Begin the video lesson Mammals: Traits, Behavior & Grouping. Pause at 2:30.
  • Return to the list of mammalian traits that the students created during the warm-up. Ask students to add new information based on what they learned in the video.
  • Continue the video, this time pausing at 3:49. Ask students the following questions:
    • What are the three classifications of mammal reproduction?
    • What are examples of each type of mammal and where area they found?
  • Return to the video and watch it to the end. Ask the following question:
    • What are some other ways that mammals can be grouped?
  • To check for understanding, project and complete the lesson quiz.

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