Teaching Cells with Simple Activities for Elementary Kids

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Enjoy teaching cells to your fourth and fifth grade students! An introduction to cells for kids (as well as their organelles) helps elementary students understand processes like photosynthesis.

Ms. Sneed Considers Teaching Cells for Kids

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, tapped her pencil absentmindedly. “What’s wrong?” asked her mentor, Mrs. Brown.

“As you know, I’m ready to kick off my unit on plant parts. But I just don’t think elementary school kids have enough background information. How can they understand photosynthesis – or even how plants absorb water – if they know nothing about cells? I need something short to introduce organelles.”

Mrs. Brown opened her laptop and opened a file. “Take a look at this little cells unit! It was made to teach cells for kids in elementary grades.”

Ms. Sneed looked over her shoulder. “I see what you mean. It introduces cells with a simple microscope activity. Then kids research organelles. And look at this fun poster activity!”

Teaching Cells and Their Organelles

Bright and early Monday morning, Ms. Sneed dusted off the microscopes. As she placed them on the counter, she imagined her students’ reactions. And she wasn’t disappointed.

“Whoa! Look at those microscopes!” the kids yelled when they entered the classroom. “Do we get to use them? What are we studying next?” Everyone gathered around. Excitement grew.

“Cells,” their teacher simply stated. A little smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

Introducing Cells

“To begin,” said Ms. Sneed, “we need to know what a cell is. Let’s take a look at this information sheet.

“Tomorrow, you’ll look at cells just like these under the microscopes.” The students cheered.

When you introduce plant and animal cells to elementary students, use a simple information sheet to teach the basics.

After reviewing the sheet, Ms. Sneed showed the video Introduction to Cells (2:54) from Frank Gregorio. She knew it would help students understand the vast number, variety, and tininess of cells.

Introducing Microscopes

As the video ended, a boy in the back row piped up, “Can we use the microscopes now?”

“Hold on, partner!” said Ms. Sneed. “First you need to learn how to use them.”

As Ms. Sneed walked to the counter, she reviewed how to hold and carry a microscope. “We don’t want any accidents,” she said. Then she picked up a microscope. Holding it for all to see, she pointed out each part, named it, and told its function.

“Now,” she said, “you’re ready to use the microscopes. Today we’ll practice with larger specimens – salt, sugar, and sand. Sketch and label what you see. If you finish early, you can also try thread and hair.”

The kids broke into lab groups and followed Ms. Sneed’s directions. Soon, she could hear lots of little voices – voices of engagement. “Cool! Ms. Sneed, you’ve gotta see this! Come over here!”

Before elementary kids look at cells under a microscope, teach how to use it and let them practice.

Looking at Cells

The next day, Ms. Sneed’s class was ready to look at some cells. “As you can see on your lab sheet, you’ll be viewing animal and plant cells. Let’s read the directions together.”

When teaching plant and animal cells to fourth and fifth grade students, be sure to include a microscope activity.

Ms. Sneed demonstrated how to set up a dry mount slide. “You will work in your science lab groups,” she said. “However,I’ll be in charge of the onion and the iodine. Come to me when you’re ready for them.”

Then she walked over to a table where all the materials were displayed. “Number ones come up for the water and eyedroppers.” One student from each group approached the table. Ms. Sneed called more numbers and materials, and soon, all materials were distributed.

This lab was a little tougher. Ms. Sneed circulated, helping kids focus their microscope and pointing out organelles. Group members supported one another and shared their sketches. Before too long, most kids had viewed the cheek and onion cells. Some, however, were still struggling.

“Okay, everyone. Stop for a minute,” hollered Ms. Sneed. “This group has a great cheek cell specimen focused under their microscope. If you still need to see one, line up over here. And that group over there has a good onion tissue.”

Learning About Organelles

On the third day of teaching cells, Ms. Sneed introduced more organelles. “Let’s kick off our science lesson with this Organelle Rap (4:07) from Jamie Welsh,” she said. Looks of surprise ran across the students’ faces. Then they started bopping to the catchy beat.

“Today you’ll do a little research. You must find out what each organelle, or cell part, does – as well as where it’s found.”

Next, ask kids to research basic organelles. They should understand basic functions and whether they appear in plant or animal cells.

“I’ve shared the URLs for a few websites with you. The interactive cell models on Cells Alive! provide great visuals and information. It’s my absolute favorite. Additionally, you learn about cells on Biology4Kids and HubPages. And yes, I shared the link to the rap too. Those of you who are musically inclined may use it as a resource as well.”

The Organelle Trail

Ms. Sneed could hardly wait for Thursday to come. Her kids were going to eat up this fun organelle project!

“Okay, everybody, I’ve assigned partners for this next project. Each pair will complete a poster for one organelle. But this isn’t just any poster. It’s a wanted poster.” The kids grinned.

“Your poster needs to tell three things: (1) Why is the organelle wanted? In other words, what’s its function. (2) Where was it last seen? This, of course, means in plant cells, animal cells, or both. And (3) Who are the organelle’s cohorts? Or, what other organelles are found nearby or work with it?”

Ms. Sneed handed out the materials. Right away, her artists got down to business.

When teaching elementary students about plant and animal cell organelles, do this activity! In pairs, fourth or fifth grade students create a wanted poster that briefly explains - in a creative way!

A few days later, the partners presented their posters. After that, Ms. Sneed displayed them proudly in the hall. Her mentor, Mrs. Brown, took notice. “Awesome bulletin board,” she said to her mentee.

When your students finish their Organelle Trail posters, create a display on a bulletin board or in the hall.

Review & Assessment

All good things must come to an end. “It’s time to review for a little quiz,” said Ms. Sneed. Her students sank down in their seats. “With a little Bingo game,” their teacher continued. Everyone sat up a little taller. “I’m also giving you a study guide and some flash cards.”

When teaching cells and their organelles, wrap up with review and an assessment. This bingo game provides fun practice.

The Complete Unit and Beyond

Did Ms. Sneed enjoy teaching cells? You bet. She loved, loved, loved her unit that taught cells for kids. But now it was time for two more science adventures: plant and animal structures.

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