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A Dichotomous Classification Key with a Holiday Twist!

Combine how to teach (or review) a dichotomous classification key with a wonderful community service project!

I absolutely love the holiday season for so many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons is that I look forward to this activity with my biology students so much!  I came up with this idea several years ago while racking my brain for an activity that could be done with my high school biology students just before the Christmas break.  I wanted to involve my students in a community service activity and also wanted it to be related to science in some way.

Starting this week, in the few days before we dismiss for Thanksgiving holidays, I will place a collection box in my classroom.  I tell my students that we are going to collect money for a project that will benefit those less fortunate than we are.  I encourage them to give what they can.  I let them know that we will be collecting money for several weeks.  Since most high school students usually have a bit of change in their pockets, I encourage them to place some coins in the box whenever they feel they can spare it.

After a few weeks, I use the money to buy various candies (Hershey bars, Reese's peanut butter cups, peppermint patties) and travel size toiletries (shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.) Then one day just before we dismiss for the Christmas holidays, I have my students complete my activity called, "The Dichotomous Key to Holiday Giving and Community Service." (FREE download.)

The students are given the different candies and toiletries.  They must use my dichotomous classification key to determine the "scientific" name of each item.  As the candies are classified they are placed into small red stockings.  As the toiletries are classified, they are placed in quart sized ziplock bags.  After school we deliver the stockings of candy and the bags of toiletries to our local food bank.  We live in a small town so many of the students are able and willing to accompany me to the food bank.  As the food bank distributes food for the holidays, they will include our candy and toiletries in the boxes of food they distribute.  The fine folks who work at the food bank are always so excited to get our small contributions, and many of my students will stay at the food bank for the afternoon and volunteer.

I have a particular fondness for our small, local food bank, but you might also consider doing this activity and donating your items to a nursing home or another worthwhile organization such as the Salvation Army.  Your students might not learn a whole lot of science in this activity, but they will experience the joy of giving and the value of serving the community.

You can download this activity for free:  A Dichotomous Key to Holiday Giving and Community Services.    I hope you enjoy this activity as much as I do!

Have fun teaching!

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