Teaching vertebrates in the elementary grades means answering the most basic question, "What is a vertebrate?" Begin by explaining to your students that almost all animals fall under one of two categories: Vertebrates and Invertebrates. Continue by providing the following basic definitions:
A vertebrate is an animal that has a backbone.
An invertebrate is an animal that does not have a backbone.
You can go on to explain that while the majority of common animals we often see, read about and think of (like dogs, cats, frogs, alligators, birds and fish) are vertebrates, there are actually more invertebrates living on our planet.
To further aide in the discussion, you may wish to consider reading the book What is a Vertebrate? by Bobbie Kalman. Geared for teaching vertebrates to children ages 6 to 10, this nonfiction story gives the reader a unique look at an animal from the inside out. Students will actually be able to distinguish the backbone for each vertebrate shown.
Finally, remember to point out to your students that they are vertebrates, because each one of them has a backbone!
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