We propose to use a model-independent criterion based on first integrals of motion, due to Noether symmetries of the equations of motion, in order to classify the dark energy models in the context of scalar field (quintessence or phantom) FLRW cosmologies. In general, the Noether symmetries play an important role in physics because they can be used to simplify a given system of differential equations as well as to determine the integrability of the system. The Noether symmetries are computed for nine distinct accelerating cosmological scenarios that contain a homogeneous scalar field associated with different types of potentials. We verify that all the scalar field potentials, presented here, admit the trivial first integral namely energy conservation, as they should. We also find that the exponential potential inspired from scalar field cosmology, as well as some types of hyperbolic potentials, include extra Noether symmetries. This feature suggests that these potentials should be preferred along the hierarchy of scalar field potentials. Finally, using the latter potentials, in the framework of either quintessence or phantom scalar field cosmologies that contain also a non-relativistic matter(dark matter) component, we find that the main cosmological functions, such as the scale factor of the universe, the scalar field, the Hubble expansion rate and the metric of the FRLW space-time, are computed analytically. Interestingly, under specific circumstances the predictions of the exponential and hyperbolic scalar field models are equivalent to those of the $\Lambda$CDM model, as far as the global dynamics and the evolution of the scalar field are concerned. The present analysis suggests that our technique appears to be very competitive to other independent tests used to probe the functional form of a given potential and thus the associated nature of dark energy.Comment: Accepted for publication in Physical Review D (13 pages
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