How She Teaches Being Alive: 6 Characteristics of Living Things

The 6 characteristics of life are: movement, organization, homeostasis, energy utilization, reproduction, and growth and development. My favorite way to teach the 6 characteristics is through The Biology Coloring Book coloring page.

6 Characteristics of Living Things

Biology is the study of living things. So it makes sense to start the year by learning what it means for something to be alive. This is a memorable lesson for students that I can refer to throughout the year. It’s great to bring up again when we study cells, since all living things are made of cells and they are the smallest unit of life.

Biology Coloring Page

For this lesson I like to use a coloring page from The Biology Coloring Book, which I love. I wish I had this coloring book when I was in college. It is high level, probably great for AP Biology, but it works great for regular high school Biology, too. The coloring book makes it very straight forward to go through and explain each characteristic of life. In addition to the actual coloring page, it includes descriptions and a script to follow to complete the coloring. You know I love a Teacher Script! Coloring is relaxing. It is a nice change from the typical middle and high school activities during the school day. My students enjoy learning through coloring, and they get excited every time we do a coloring page.

Coloring may seem juvenile, but there are benefits to this teaching strategy because of how our brains work. I need to write a whole blog post on it! Coloring or doodling requires just enough focus to keep you from zoning out, but not enough to distract you. Students listen to my explanations and examples, and also follow my directions to color. The words, logic, and reasoning activate the left side of the brain. The colors, creativity, visuals, and art activate the right side of the brain. Any time you can encourage interaction between the hemispheres of the brain, you get a boost in brain alertness, creativity, and memory!

A comparison between a rabbit, a plant, and a rock can help us distinguish between living and non-living things. It is commonly known that a rabbit and a plant are alive, whereas a rock is not. The images above come from The Biology Coloring Book.
I love The Biology Coloring Book and the coloring activities. I highly recommend you buy a copy, even just to use as a reference for sketch notes and lesson ideas.

Other Ways to Teach this Lesson

If you don’t have the coloring book, feel free to use the Being Alive slide presentation I made. A Teacher Script with examples is embedded in the speaker notes of every slide, hopefully saving you some valuable planning time! Go through each characteristic as a mini-lecture and students can add the 6 characteristics of life to their Vocabulary Log. Another option is students can create their own sketch notes for the 6 characteristics of life. They draw pictures and label the characteristics, similar to the coloring page.

During the pandemic and remote learning, I asked students to complete this Edpuzzle I made. It’s not as good as the coloring page activity, but it was during a time when we had to get really creative and utilize more digital tools and resources. You can watch my Edpuzzle to see how I explain the 6 characteristics of life. It includes questions you can ask to check for understanding. You can even use my slides and script to make your own Edpuzzle or video!

Fortune Telling Fish

Fortune telling fish is a fun demonstration you can do with this lesson. They are relatively inexpensive, so you could get one for every student in the class. I guarantee they will have so much fun bringing it home and quizzing their family and friends! Just Google “fortune telling fish” and you can find YouTube videos of the fish in action. I would start the lesson with the fish, as an inquiry-based approach. At first glance the fish appears to come alive in your hand! But with a closer look, and an understanding of what it means to be alive, students can explain why the “fish” has more in common with a rock than a rabbit.

Nature Walk

This is another fun thing I like to do with my classes when we are learning about living things. It might only be for 20 minutes, but it is so nice to get out in the sunshine, breathe some fresh air, and break up the normal routine. Recorders bring their science notebooks outside so they can record observations for their group. We look for ABC’s.

  • A stands for Abiotic. Look around and identify as many abiotic factors you can see: prefix a means without or non, and bio means life. So these are things you can see that occur naturally, but are not themselves alive. 
  • B stands for BioticBio means life, so you’re looking for living things….
  • C stands for Community.  Community factors are things that are man-made, and how humans have altered or impacted the natural world. What are the community factors that you can see? Come up with as many as you can. 


Living things display all of the characteristics, or qualities. Some non-living things can display one or two characteristics of living things. Such as a washing machine moves. Or a car needs to be fueled with gasoline in order to move (energy utilization). Or a cloud that grows bigger. But living things show ALL of the characteristics. 

How do you teach the characteristics of life? Do you use coloring in your classroom? Leave a comment and tell me about your favorite lessons and ideas. I would love to hear from you! To read more about me and my classroom, check out the blog posts below!

Vocabulary Logs

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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