Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Cells Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:
Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period.
- Cells Pretest (FREE)
I like to begin my unit with a multiple choice pretest. I ask my students to focus on what they’re reading. Underline words they’re unsure of, and make guesses. I remind them that the first time you’re exposed to new information is always a confusing experience, and encourage them to experience that confusion. Sometimes we go over the answers to the pretest, sometimes I just post them for students to review later when they study for the test.
Topic 1: Cell Theory
Generally, I teach my students about the discovery of the cell theory using a variety of videos (This one is great.) and text resources that I have at my disposal. While it’s difficult for students to envision the world before science was the norm, I think scientific history is a fascinating and fun part of the curriculum we teach.
I like to use lots of examples of at-the-time mind boggling scientific discoveries to remind students that the Scientific Revolution is still a relatively recent part of our human past. For example, the existence of separate elements or the discovery of plate tectonics. If you focus on the drama between scientists, students will undoubtedly find the stories of scientific progress entertaining. This is also a great time to stress the interdependence of science and engineering.
Additionally, I always like to have the students create timelines in their interactive notebooks (something I relatively recently picked up, so please send me all your tips for effective usage). I print off little 2D busts of the scientists heads and let the students independently research what they’re famous for and create their timeline. The silly hair always draws a nice laugh.
- Cell Theory Self Checking Practice
Once your students are relatively well versed in the scientists who made the discoveries leading to the development of the Cell Theory, you can give them this practice as classwork or homework. It’s self checking, so they won’t study something that’s actually incorrect!
- Scientists of the Cell Theory
Finally, a formative quiz should wrap up your study of the Cell Theory and its contributors.
Topic 2: Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic
With your introduction to the Cell Theory, students will already have some concept of the different kinds of cells from the language of “animalcules” and Schlieden and Schwann’s discoveries of plant and animal cells.
Teaching the differences in cell types is a good introduction to types of reproduction and DNA. It’s also important that students wonder at the amazing variety of microscopic life which surrounds us, came before us, and will most likely outlast us!
- Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Presentation
This presentation gives a good introduction to the two types of cells, and will allow students to get some notes down about the primary differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and then students will delve deeper into the jobs performed by bacteria around us. They do much more than make us sick!
- Antibiotic Resistance Reading
I like to take the chance during this point in the unit to do a day on antibiotic resistance. This is one of many opportunities where, as science teachers, we have an opportunity to influence the future! It’s important that students not only connect their learning to the real world, but also develop the scientific literacy which will enable them to make smart choices in their practical lives.
- Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Self Checking Practice
Assign this practice for homework or classwork. The self checking style ensures that students practice correct information rather than mindlessly filling in blanks!
- Prokaryotic vs. Eukaryotic Quiz
Finish off the prokaryotic portion of the unit with this formative quiz!
Topic 3: Going Deeper into Eukaryotic Cells
Eukaryotic cells are amazing! How crazy is it that we’re made up of trillions of semi-independent life forms all working together in a hive mind. We are them and they are us! The complexity of a eukaryotic cell is incredible. It’s shocking how closely a eukaryotic cell mirrors our own macrobiology and even the parts of an even larger societal structure.
All that being said, I have the HARDEST time teaching this. Kids find it… dull. The curriculum is often a mile wide and an inch deep, and I can’t quite find a way to hold students accountable for knowing all the organelles and their functions without reducing it to pathetic flash card flipping. I always ask other teachers how they do it, so if you’ve got some tips send them my way!
- Organelles Reading Activity
One way I like to start organelles is with a reading activity. It’s very important that we help develop our students’ informational reading skills. As 21st century citizens, they need to be able to read and comprehend scientific information. And that includes suffering the relative boredom. Don’t forget that your class doesn’t have to constantly be a 21 minute tv show with flashing lights and bright colors all 180 days of the year. Teach your students to sit and focus on a text.
- Organelles Foldable
A foldable is a fun way for students to practice the information they’ve just acquired. You can also incorporate this into interactive notebooks if you use them.
- Organelles Practice Worksheet
Another quick review. As my students in America were subjected to gruelling state testing, it’s became very important to me that they be exposed to a variety of cell models and become adept at identifying organelles by name or in a diagram. I made this practice to work on that.
- Cell Organelles – Color by Number
Make practice a little more light hearted and decorate your room with this fun color by number! I love to give students things that they can do and they normally respond with excitement. Take this chance to praise your difficult students for a job well done! Hang their work front and center. Help them develop the confidence to continue trying even when the work is a bit more challenging.
- Cells Vocabulary Self Checking Practice
This self checker helps your students study their essential vocabulary. Math doesn’t get to take all the credit with their self checking assignments! Our students also deserve immediate feedback. Give it to them with this fun practice.
- Cells Quiz
This quiz covers all the topics in this unit: Cell Theory, Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic, as well as organelles. Use it as one final chance to give formative feedback to your students before the test.
- Cell Model Project
A classic project where students design 3D cell models. This final assignment should fully solidify students’ knowledge of eukaryotic cells and their organelles. I always mark this activity as a summative. Check out this blog post for ideas on how you could switch up the boring cell project to require higher order thinking.
- Cells Unit Test and Study Guide
Finally, the summative test with study guide! Be sure to make the study guide available to your students with plenty of time!
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