Mastering the Parts of a Cell

There are great lessons and tricks you can use for teaching your students about cellular organelles.

By Lynsey Peterson

organelle lesson plans

Learning the structures and functions of cell organelles is often the first experience that students have with the challenges of biology vocabulary. It is important for students to understand the structures and functions of organelles in order to understand the material that follows, so I have tried many strategies for getting students to learn the parts of the cell

First, I have students make flashcards to help them study the parts of the cell. On one side of the index card, I have students write the name of the organelle and a drawing of it. On the other side, students write the job that the organelle has in the cell. Students can make a set of flashcards individually, or create a set to use as a group to quiz each other. After working on the flashcards, students can conduct a scavenger hunt to review the parts and their functions. I give each group a list of organelle functions, and they have to identify the organelle and find where I’ve hidden a corresponding picture. They write down the organelle name, make a drawing, and tell where the picture is located in the classroom. Crosswords and other types of puzzles can also help students review the parts and their functions. As a challenge activity, you could have students create an analogy relating the cell and its parts to something else.

There are also many ways to show students real organelles. After introducing microscopes, students can use them to find organelles in living tissue. While prepared slides may be used, students also enjoy preparing their own wet mounts. Paper thin pieces of onion skin allow students to see cell walls, cytoplasm, and nuclei. Thin slices of red pepper can be used to show chromoplasts. By treating a thin slice of potato with iodine, students can view the leucoplasts used to store starch in the root.  Elodea leaves are easily used to view chloroplasts. For animal cells, prepared slides are often best.  If you do make live tissue slides, you may want to dispose of them in a biohazard bag, just in case.  The classic example is using the cells from the inside of your mouth, dyed with methylene blue to show the nucleus of the cell.

Finally, I review  the parts of the cell and work to make the organelles relevant.  I use a Power Point Jeopardy Game for whole class review. To make the parts of a cell relevant to students, I preview the rest of the course in terms of the organelles. For example, endo- and exocytosis require the use of vesicles.  Students need to know about the chloroplast and mitochondrian to understand cell energy. To fully comprehend DNA and its expression, students must know how the nucleus, ribosome, endoplasmic reticulum, and golgi apparatus work together to manufacture proteins. I always stress that biology builds on itself and although one part may not seem to matter in their lives, the study of life does concern them. What follows are some great cell lesson plans you could use in your classroom.

Parts of a Cell Lessons Plans:

String Cells

In this lesson students work in groups to construct a model of a cell. This allows them to get hands-on experience with the structure of a cell.

Cell Organelles

This lesson has students learn about the structure and function of cell organelles. They practice identifying the parts.

Cell Model Project

This is a terrific way to have students apply what they have learned about organelles. They are asked to classify organelles by shape, size, and distinguishing characteristics. They then match them with the correct cell, plant, or animal.

Cell Discoveries

In this lesson students look at cell organelles and describe their function, structure, and operation. They take this information and put it into a database. Then they organize their database, and sort it to find out information.

Biology Guide

Lynsey Peterson