5.3 Classification

Cooperation and collaboration between groups of scientists—scientists use the binomial system to identify a species rather than the many different local names.

This is one of my favourite topics (as a former zoologist) and one that lends itself to a number of different activities with students. To emphasise how different languages classify organisms in very different ways, I ask the students to come up to the board and write the name “elephant” (or another readily identifiable animal) in their mother tongue.  Here’s what we come up with today:

How many ways to say elephant?
How many ways to say elephant?

Out of 11 students in the HL class, we had 8 different mother tongues represented in the picture above: Shona, English, German, Khmer, Chinese (Mandarin), Vietnamese, Urdu and Japanese.  This provides a clear indication of the need for a uniform system of classification.  It can also be augmented by a side discussion about, to continue the trend, elephant grass, elephant seal, elephant shrew, etc.

The next part of the lesson allows us to focus on the Khmer language (a good opportunity to link to our host-country). In Khmer, the word for tiger is ខ្លា (Klah)  and the word for sun-bear is ខ្លាឃ្មំ (klah kmoom). We discuss how this intimates a very close relationship between the two species.  But how close?

Binomial classification of the tiger and the sun bear.
Binomial classification of the tiger and the sun bear.

A binomial classification then reveals that the two animals are indeed closely related to the level of the Order, but then separate into different Families, Genus and Species.  This makes it very apparent to the students that scientists can use the binomial system to improve communication and understanding of the classification and relationships between living organisms. Thus both the Nature of Science and the required content are covered in this lesson.  An additional extension could be to name a common name in English and then have students translate it into their mother tongue.  Jellyfish is a good example, as it is nonsensical when translated into many languages (not to mention it is not a fish!)

How do other IB Biology teachers teach classification?  How do others use language to frame the lesson?  I would love to hear from you.

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