Students learn about the use of fossils as evidence in science and history. In this lesson, students practice classification and defense of arguments (why they classified them the way they did).

This lesson plan was developed as part of the 2012-2016 Great American Biotic Interchange Research Experiences for Teachers Project (GABI RET).

by Hanni Patterson-Smith

Download Lesson (PDF)

Intended Audience

Middle School

Time Frame

2 classes X 1hr.


Analyze displays of pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across multiple species to identify relationships not evident in the fully formed anatomy.

New Mexico
NM Benchmark: Explain that reproduction is essential for the continuation of living things.


  1. Interactive journals
  2. Fossils
  3. Fossil classification guides and poster
  4. Stratigraphy charts

Guiding questions

  1. What information can be gathered from a fossil?
  2. What is the relationship between these fossils?
  3. When do these fossils occur in Earth’s history?

Key Academic and/or Scientific Language

Academic Vocabulary: Analysis, Defending arguments (not a “fight”), Critiquing, Evidence.

Scientific Vocabulary: Stratigraphy, Classification, Adaptation, Frequency, Natural selection.


Students will be able to classify and identify fossil shells and defend their arguments.

NM Benchmark: Describe the organization levels of classification


Formative Assessment – Discussions in small groups and whole group of:
1.    Classification
2.    Argumentation
3.    Use of guide for identification
4.    Graphing, construction of graph for frequency data

Summative Assessment
Exit ticket: formative or summative depending on your unit goal, length, or next steps.

“What information can be determined by analyzing fossils?”

Teaching phase

Day 1
Students will be grouped in small groups of 3 to observe fossils.  Students will then be asked to group the fossils into 2 different groups and explain why they grouped the way they did.  Students will then make 2 different groups for the fossils and explain this classification.

Day 2
Students will work in the same groups as the day before with the fossils.  Using the identification guide, the students will classify the fossils once again and discuss as a class.  Students will then graph the frequency of fossils using Excel and present their research with an inference as to why there are more occurrences of one fossil vs. another.

Reading | Writing | Speaking | Listening Strategies

Reading: students will read articles and a fossil classification guide, as well as an article on Panama and its uniqueness to the fossil record.
Writing: Recording notes and observations, opinions, in the interactive journal.
Speaking: Students will work in groups to classify fossils, create an argument, and defend it.
Listening: Students will listen to the teacher’s experiences collecting fossils in Panama alongside professional scientists.

Learning Progression

Prior Knowledge/Skills

  • Classification
  • Observation
  • Inference

Current Knowledge/Skill

  • Scientific argument based on evidence
  • Graphing
  • Analyzing complex scientific text

Future Skill Connections

  • Stratigraphy
  • Plate tectonics
  • Fossil record as evidence