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Living and Non-Living Things

Context for this Lesson

School or Organization: 

TOPIC: Living and Nonliving Things
GRADE LEVEL: Kindergarten

  • What are the characteristics of living vs. nonliving things?
  • What questions can we ask to help us decide whether something is living or non living?


  • K.9A Differentiate between living and nonliving things based upon whether they have basic needs and produce offspring.


  • Magician’s Hat
  • Letter from the Magician
  • Living/Nonliving cards

1. ARTIFACT - The Magician’s Letter
Enter classroom with a letter. Explain that on the way to class, a mailman gave them the note, and said it was urgent and that it should be taken to the smartest group of kindergarteners the teacher knows. (Well of course I came here!). The letter reads:
Dear (Teacher's Name),
Please come help! One of my spells has gone terribly wrong and everything has come to life! It's so confusing and I don't know what to do. Please come to Wacky Land as soon as possible! I need some experts on living and non-living things to help me sort all of this out.
Madge the Magician
Read the letter, and engage in the following questions:

  • What did we learn from the letter?
  • What do we know about living and non living things that might help Madge the Magician?

"We better get to Wacky Land right away to help her/him out! Now this magician lives very far away (or in another world) so in order to get to him in time, we’re going to need to take our travel machine."


2. TRAVEL MACHINE -  to the Magician’s World

"What do you think we can do, as students, to make this a successful journey?" Take a moment to establish expectations. Take this time to set up the idea of frozen images with our bodies, and 3, 2, 1, FREEZE! Perhaps try an example before we set out.
"Great! I think we’re ready to begin! But before we get in our travel machine, I think we need to pack."
Packing Questions:

  • Hearing the Magician’s predicament, what things might we need to bring with us?
  • What do we want to wear?
  • Since we’re going to a short trip, what else might we want to bring?

After we pack, we preparing the machine and take off - Physicalize each of the following with students: 

  • Take out your screwdriver - tighten up the machine
  • Open the machine
  • Once we’re inside - What do we need to do before we take off? (buckle our seat belts, check our mirrors, get out our map, put on our helmet, etc)
  • How do we make our time machine go? (seat belt, keys, enter in the coordinates, etc)
  • Count down - take off - land when our hands hit the floor.  
  • We get out of the travel machine

Transition: Once we arrive and get out of the travel machine, we are greeted by the magician.
Magician: "Oh! I am so glad you are here! Did you get my letter? Oh good! You see my magic trick went terribly wrong, and now everything is coming to life! I want to turn them back to normal, but I don’t know what was living and what was nonliving to start! Maybe you could ask some of these things some questions, and find out if they’re living or nonliving? I just don’t know what questions to ask, so maybe you could help me!"
The second facilitator/teacher (or possibly student if they are familiar with the information or are provided with a card with the information) enters and embodies several different objects while holding a card with a picture of the thing they are embodying (a tree, a kite, a fish, an ice cream cone, etc). The students interview the different things, asking questions about the following: Does it:

  • Eat
  • Move
  • Reproduce
  • Grow
  • Need air?

If students begin to jump to answers, the Magician can always ask students to explain their reasoning, because she doesn’t understand. Once the class determines whether an object is living or nonliving, the item card held by the facilitator is sorted, and the class performs a spell that either keeps the object alive or returns it to it's non-living state. The two spells are as follows:

  • 3, 4, 5, Stay Alive! 
  • 3, 2, 1, Playtime's Done! 

After the spell, move on to the next card. Then at the end of the lesson we reflect in role: before the final sealing spell is cast, we double check our sorting decision by asking questions/reviewing information about each picture. Alternatively… The students can also silently embody the different things - making frozen images to illustrate what the objects look like - if they go back to being nonliving or if they stay living. 
After all of the living/nonliving things are dealt with, we take the travel machine back to the classroom, making sure to repeat all of the same actions (tightening the screw driver, buckling up, etc)



  • What was your favorite part of our journey to help the Magician?
  • What did we do to help the Magician?


  • How might the questions we asked the objects today help us in science?


  • Students will be given a random picture card to write about, explaining why it is living or nonliving, then will be compiled as a class reference book.