Cells: The Basic Building Blocks of Living Things

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SWBAT support a claim that cells are the building blocks of living things by using evidence from various sources.

Big Idea

What does your house plant, pet, and grandma have in common? Let's learn and explore.


5 minutes

Look at the 3 pictures below and answer these questions:

1)  What do all three pictures share in common?

2)  Are the objects found in the pictures living or non-living? How do you know?

3)  What do you think living things are made up of?


5 minutes

The purpose of this activity is to engage students in a new concept (cell biology) through the use of an animation to promote curiosity, generate enthusiasm and elicit prior knowledge. 

Introduction to Cell Size

Show the animation from the “Cells Alive” website which zooms in step-by-step and demonstrates the relative size of a red blood cell compared to objects that the students are familiar with. Particularly point out the comparisons in size to the tip of a needle, a dust mite, a strand of human hair, and a grain of pollen. This animation is an important tool to emphasize that cells are much too small to see with the naked eye. 

After animation, students complete the Invisible Cell handout.  The purpose of this handout is for students to compare the size of cells to objects students are familiar with.  This demonstrates to students that there are objects that exist that are so small that our eyes aren't able to see.


15 minutes

Purpose of this part of lesson is to provide students with a common exploration activity where I can assess misconceptions about current topic which I can address during the explain part of my lesson.


Living vs Non-Living

In this section of the lesson students explore the characteristics of living things through completion of Living vs Non-living.  Students, in pairs, are required to categorize a list of objects into either living or non-living.  Students are to discuss with their partners why they believe an object belongs to either side.  If students disagree in object placement they will place card in the middle between living and non-living to indicate their uncertainty.  This activity is a good way for me to measure students understanding of living things.  After students have placed all objects they are required to answer three reflection questions.  Purpose of the questions is to assess reasoning behind placement and to access prior knowledge regarding characteristics of living things.  The third question assess if they have knowledge that living things are made of cells.

I have attached three other resources that have same learning objective as above:

1) Classifying Living & Non-living Worksheet

2) Is It Living? Worksheet

3) Living or Non-living Worksheet


10 minutes

Purpose of this section of lesson is to provide students with deeper understanding of concept and address any misconceptions assessed during explore part of lesson.


Teacher Directed

In this section of lesson students take Cornell notes on Characteristics of Living Things.  This presentation goes over seven characteristics of living things. Characteristic 1 - Made of 1 or more cells - is the most important takeaway for students to meet the objective of this lesson.  

After I finish going over the seven characteristics, students are able to modify the worksheet they worked on prior to this present - Living vs Non-Living - based on knowledge they have acquired from presentation.  

If time permits, I show an 8 minute video that covers living, non-living, and once-living things. The video contains a 15 question quiz to assess student learning.


10 minutes

Purpose of this section of lesson is to broaden student understanding and apply their understanding to story.

Close Reading

In this section of lesson, students participate in close reading of Cells that Make Us article.  Students annotate text by first Marking The Text and then Writing And Drawing in the Margins using the visualize strategy.

It is important to note that my school uses the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) approach (or belief system), training teachers in holding "students accountable to the highest standards" through social and academic support.  Marking the Text and Writing and Drawing in the Margins are both AVID resources that I use in my classroom.

In terms of the lesson I only have student read paragraphs (#1-12) since the rest of the article goes into cell organelles which is not vital for this learning objective, the rest of the text will be read in a future lesson.


10 minutes

In this section of the lesson I assess students' mastery of the learning objective.  The purpose of the Exit Slip is two fold, 1) assess understanding that living things are made up of cells 2)  ability to cite evidence form class activities to support a claim.