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Potato Chip Classification Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-SPS004
Submitted by: Janet C. Duncan, Meadow Glade School Battle Ground, WA
Endorsed by: These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center’s Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops.
Date: May 1994

Grade Level(s): 5, 6, 7, 8


  • Science/Process Skills


The purpose of this activity is twofold. Used at the beginning of the year, it introduces the structure and function of a dichotomous key preparatory to asking students to identify plant and animal specimens. It also reinforces the idea that there are many right answers in science.


Students will be able to:

  • Classify specimens (in this case, potato chips) according to observable characteristics.
  • Prepare a key showing their classification system.
  • Use their key to identify a specimen.
  • Recognize the validity of classmates’ classification systems.

    • Eight bags of potato chips selected for differences in observable characteristics (i.e. color, texture, brand name, flavoring, etc.)
    • Chalkboard or overhead projector for recording class key.
    • Representative samples of each type of chip in labeled plastic bags. (Quantity determined by number of student groups.)
    • Paper and pencils for student group recording.


  • Display bags of potato chips and discuss their similarities and differences.
  • Ask volunteer to divide chips into two groups using an observable characteristic (i.e. flavored/not flavored).
  • Record results of first division.
  • Continue to divide groups of chips, using a different characteristic each time, until only one bag of chips remains in each group. Continue recording results.
  • Using the class key, identify unknown chips.
  • Divide class into groups of four to six students.
  • Provide each group with a sample set of chips.
  • Ask each group to devise and test a dichotomous key that is different from the class key.
  • Record and share results.
  • Eat the chips!

  • Repeat activity with other objects such as candy, shoes, etc.
  • Share story of potato chips resulting from mistake. (Mistakes that Worked by Charlotte Jones)
  • Introduce and use plant and animal keys.

    Chips in a box

    • flavored
      • orange (Party Pride Barbeque)
      • not orange (Party Pride Sour Cream)
    • not flavored
      • ridges (Bell Dip Chips)
      • not ridges (Party Pride Potato Chips)

    Chips in a bag

    • ridges (Nalley’s Dip Chips)
    • not ridges
      • not gourmet (Lay’s Potato Chips)
      • gourmet
        • salted (Kettle Chips Jalapeno)
        • not salted (Kettle Chips Unsalted)