Cell Parts

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Students will analyze the nature of the relationships between structures and functions in living cells and explain the role of cell organelles for both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

Big Idea

The whole is better than the individual parts.


5 minutes

Warm-up question:  “How does the size of a cell in a whale compare to the size of a cell in a tadpole?” 

Allow students to engage in academic discourse around this question. Remind them to use the sentence prompts in their responses. The intent of this question is to allow the misconception that larger animals have larger cells to surface during the ensuing discourse between students.  Look for students to identify that cells are not that different in size.  The reason that the whale is larger is because it has more cells than a tadpole.

Allow them to share for 1-2 minutes to see if any student will be able to correct the misconception.  However, if the misconception is not corrected within the student sharing, address it at the point that it is raised so that students won’t build new knowledge on incorrect information.  

Introduce New Material

20 minutes

Build on the warm-up question by asking students, how many cells do you think we have in our bodies.  Allow 2-3 students to respond. You will likely hear quantities that are much lower than the actual number of cells in a human.  Tell students, “Let’s watch the video clip to see if your estimates are correct.” 

Play the video clip, Introduction to Cells. 

Before watching the clip, ask students to select one thing that is a new or surprising fact that they learned from the clip.  Setting this expectation before viewing allows students to watch the video with a purpose, and hopefully lends to more engagement from students.  

Guided Practice

10 minutes

Using a computer and LCD projector, model how to access the virtual cell simulation.  The virtual cell website allows students to get a close-up view of several organelles in 3-D.  The intent of this activity is to provide students with a better feeling of the structure, function, and location of the organelles.

In advance of the class, make sure that each desk has a laptop computer.  This eliminates the use of class time for a distribution procedure. Instruct students step by step on how to access the virtual cell website.  This is done because there are always a few students in a class who are not computer literate and need the detailed explanation of how to get to a website using an internet browser. 

After you model how to access the website, make a quick circuit of the room to ensure that all students have successfully navigated to the virtual cell page before continuing. 

Ask students to work as teams to check their neighboring student computers to see if their neighbors are on the correct page.  Once you have ensured that everyone is on the correct page, explain and show students how to navigate the website, particularly how to advance from one page to another.    

Give students a chance to roam the site and become comfortable with the site functions for about 5 minutes.  Walk around and provide assistance as needed to students who require help. 

Independent Practice

30 minutes

Distribute the virtual cell worksheet that supports the cell simulation. Instruct students to view and read the narrative for each of the organelles listed on the sheet.  This activity will allow students to familiarize themselves with the structure and function of the listed organelles. 

Instruct students to draw the structure of the organelle in the box located to the right of each organelle description.  Make sure students understand the intended purpose of the drawing is focused on their artistic ability but on learning the structure of each organelle.  Give students 25-30 minutes to complete this activity.  

The two student work samples included show varying degrees of artwork but also show that both students were able to correctly identify the organelle functions. Student work1 is much more detailed in the drawings than student work2.  Both samples are included to show that the focus of the activity is not the artwork but the efforts to identify the structure and function of each of the organelles. 


5 minutes

Instruct students to complete  3-2-1 closing activity on the bottom of the  virtual cell worksheet.

  • 3 things you learned from today’s lesson,
  • 2 questions they have about cell parts, and
  • 1 thing you want me to know from today’s lesson.

Ask 2-4 students to share their responses before you dismiss the class.  Once you collect the worksheets, read over the closing ticket responses.  Before the next class, prepare responses to address the questions that are identified.