Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Cells in the Making

Sandi King
Bay District Schools


How do cells keep us alive? Through reading and hands-on activities, students learn about parts of a cell, and their functions in carrying out processes for life. Study skills are taught and modeled as students make entries in science notebooks.


The student understands explicit and implicit ideas and information in fourth-grade or higher texts (for example, knowing main idea or essential message, connecting important ideas with corresponding details, making inferences about information, distinguishing between significant and minor details, knowing chronological order of events).

The student reads and organizes information (for example, in outlines, timelines, graphic organizers) throughout a single source for a variety of purposes (for example, discovering models for own writing, making a report, conducting interviews, taking a test, performing a task).

The student writes notes, comments, and observations that reflect comprehension of fourth grade or higher level content and experiences from a variety of media.

The student knows that living things are composed of cells.

The student knows that processes needed for life are carried out by the cells.


- One coffee filter
- One tablespoon of coffee
- One twist tie
- One clear glass bowl (about 2 quart size)
- Peanut butter cookie dough (one tube serves 24 students)
- Vanilla pudding (one-half cup per group of 5 students)
- Candy kiss (one per student)
- M&Ms (one red, blue, yellow, brown, and green per student)
- Transparency of the graphic, Parts of a Cell and Life Processes, from the associated files
- Science notebook made in lesson plan: Cells, Building Blocks of Life
- Overhead projector
- Copies and transparency of the article, Our Amazing Cells, from the associated files (one copy per student plus the demonstration transparency)
- Transparency of the model outlines from the associated files
- Vocabulary and definitions cards from the associated files (one set per group of 5 students)
- Vocabulary written on sentence strips for display on the unit word wall
- Formative Assessment Checklist from the unit associated file (see Extensions section for a link to the unit)
- Dictionary


1. Locate one coffee filter.
2. Locate one tablespoon of coffee.
3. Locate one twist tie.
4. Locate one clear glass bowl (about 2 quart size). Fill with clear water. This may need to be hot water, depending on the time available for the demonstration.
5. Purchase one tube of peanut butter cookie dough. One tube serves 24 students. The night before the activity, form the cookies into nests and bake. Using the peanut butter dough, no flour is needed to roll the dough in your hands. One tablespoon of dough is about the right size. After rolling the dough in a ball, make a nest in the dough with your thumb. Bake as directed, however, about half way through the baking, remove the cookies and with a teaspoon, mash the nest back into the cookies. When the cookies are finished baking, use the teaspoon to mash the nest back into the cookies one last time. Make enough cookie nests for each student and one for you to be used as a model. When cooled, box to transport to school. A trustworthy parent volunteer or room mother can accomplish the preparation of these cookies.
6. Purchase and prepare one half cup of vanilla pudding per group of 5 students. This can be commercially prepared or home made.
7. Purchase candy kisses or any similar size piece of candy. You need one per student.
8. Purchase and separate M&Ms. Each student needs one red, blue, yellow, brown, and green M&M.
9. Download, print, and make a transparency of the graphic Cells and Life Processes from the associated files.
10. Locate an overhead projector.
11. Download, print, and duplicate the articles, Building Blocks of Life and Our Amazing Cells, from the associated file for each student. One transparency must also be made of each article.
12. Download, print, and make a transparency of the model outlines from the associated files.
13. Download, print and duplicate the vocabulary and definitions cards from the associated files. Make one set per group of five students.
14. Download and print the Formative Assessment Checklist from the unit associated files. (see Extensions section for a link to the unit)
15. Write the vocabulary words for the day's reading on the board or chart. (see procedure # 2 for the list of words)


This lesson plan is to be used on day 3 of the unit, The Inside Story - Cells, Organs, and Systems of the Human Body. This is lesson plan two of twelve included in the unit.

This lesson plan contains reading, writing, and science integration.

Reading/Science -

1. Review yesterday’s information about cells. Be sure to have students use their science notebooks as a reference as you ask questions about yesterday’s activities in science, reading in the content area, and writing in their science notebooks. Specifically, be sure to ask questions about cells; how we know they are there (see with a microscope), what they do for our bodies (take in food and oxygen and let out waste to keep our bodies alive and working properly). Be sure that students understand that every living thing is made up of cells. Different parts of our bodies have different kinds of cells. Cells must be kept alive for our bodies to stay alive. As you are reviewing yesterday’s information, be sure to mark the Formative Assessment Checklist that was begun yesterday. Oral feedback, both affirmative, "Great, you remember that all living things are made of cells." and corrective, "Oops, you know that muscles are made from muscle cells. What do you think bones are made of?" should be given.

2. Before students read the article, a study of the pronunciation of vocabulary words should be done.

* Write these vocabulary words on the board or chart: dioxide, urea, membrane, cytoplasm, organelles, nucleus. Use the dictionary as a source for finding the pronunciation of these vocabulary words.

* The words and pronunciations should remain written on the board for student reference while reading the article. Since comprehension of these vocabulary words should be gained from reading the article, no definition study should be done at this time.

3. As a reading activity, students silently read the article, Our Amazing Cells. Before reading, alert students that they are reading for a purpose. Today’s purpose is the same as yesterday’s, to discover the main idea of the article and to find at least three supporting facts for this main idea. Pass out individual copies of the article, Our Amazing Cells, and display a large projection of the article using the overhead. Allow about five minutes for students to read the article.

* As students are reading, orally praise any students who have gotten out a piece of paper and are making notes.

* After students have completed the reading, ask various comprehension questions concerning the article. Be sure to ask about the main idea and supporting facts as well as explicit and implicit information (refer to the associated files for possible questions) gathered from the article. An indepth study will be made of explicit and implicit questions later in the unit, however this may be an appropriate time to begin explaining the difference in explicit and implicit.

* Oral formative feedback should be given in response to the students' answers to your questions as you mark the Formative Assessment Checklist from the associated files. Use the checklist to note any students who had problems with the content yesterday and be sure to direct specific questions to these students. Mark your checklist as to their ability to answer today’s questions. Be sure to give corrective and affirmative feedback.

* Corrective feedback might include responses such as, “No, the cells do not get huge from all the food and water, what must they get rid of in order to make room for the food and water?” Affirmative feedback might include responses such as, ”You’ve got it! Cells get rid of the waste they can not use in order to make room for more food and water.”

4. One of the ideas that students often have problems understanding is how the food, oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, and urea enter and exit the cells through the membranes. This demonstration is a visual explanation for students.

* Display a coffee filter. Place one-half teaspoon coffee inside the filter. Explain to students that the coffee filter will serve as our membrane, and the coffee inside will serve as our cytoplasm and all organelles.

* Make a closed membrane by using a twist-tie to seal the coffee inside the filter. Demonstrate that the membrane (filter) keeps all the cytoplasm and organelles (coffee) inside the cell. Refer to the paragraph, Our Amazing Cells, which states that food, water, and oxygen are carried to the cells, and urea and carbon dioxide are carried away from our cells by our blood.

* A bowl of clear water will serve as our food, water, and oxygen rich blood. To demonstrate the action, place the cell (filter with coffee) into the blood stream (bowl of water). Because the pressure from the water outside the cell is stronger than the pressure of no liquid inside the cell, the water penetrates the membrane bringing food, oxygen and water to the cell. Lift the cell (filter of coffee) out of the blood stream (bowl of water). Since the pressure inside the cell is now greater than the pressure outside the cell, students will notice the cell waste of carbon dioxide and urea (coffee) being removed from the cell (filter) and passing back into the blood stream (bowl of water).

* For a slower version of this same principle, just let the cell (filter) sit in the blood stream (bowl of water) and eventually the water will turn noticeably browner. Using hot water for the blood stream will speed up this process.

Writing –

5. Remind students of how they organized the science information in their science notebooks yesterday (outline, paragraph, and illustration).

* Have students put their science notebooks on their desks. On the Table of Contents page, make the entry How cells work – page 5. Have the students turn to page 3 and looking at yesterday’s outline, review the rules of outlining.

* Turn to page 5 of the science notebook, and using the overhead, model making an outline of today’s information. Elicit entries to the outline from the students. Request that students tell you if the information is a main idea, fact or a supporting detail and where it should go on the outline. Students complete their outlines while the teacher is modeling.

* Upon completion of the outline, refer to the rubric that is in the back of the student’s science notebooks. Discuss your model outline in terms of the criteria from the rubric. Make any editing changes that may be necessary in order to receive that excellent rating for today’s outline. Be sure to explain why these changes need to be made. It is important for the teacher to model this editing procedure using the rubric, so as the days of the unit progress, be sure to make some errors in your outline model so that an opportunity arises that editing is necessary.

* Since only the outline has been completed, science notebooks are put aside for the next activity, but will be used again after the activity to complete the paragraph and illustration.

Science –

6. Display the transparency of the graphic, Parts of a Cell and Life Processes, from the associated file. Using the information from the article, Our Amazing Cells, discuss the various parts of the cell and their functions. This transparency should remain displayed as a reference for students during the next several activities.

7. Building a Cell –
* This is a group activity. Divide the class into groups with not more than five members in each group. Groups select a student to perform each of these jobs:
1. Gather materials
2. Spokesperson
3. Distribute materials within the group
4. Distribute items outside the group (such as to the teacher or word wall)
5. Clean up
Distribute a set of vocabulary words and definitions for the parts of a cell (membrane, cytoplasm, organelles, nutrition, waste, urea, oxygen, and nucleus) to each group. Have the groups use the graphic transparency, Parts of a Cell, to match the vocabulary words with the correct definition. Allow about three minutes, and then ask for oral definitions to the vocabulary word you recite. Place each vocabulary word and its definition, written on sentence strip, on the word wall or in a pocket chart. This is an opportunity for a formative assessment and feedback. Remember to give both corrective and affirmative feedback. See Day 2 #2 above for examples of feedback. Now that students have been introduced to the vocabulary for parts of a cell, students make a model of a cell.

* Each group needs these supplies for each member of the group: one baked cookie dough nest (membrane), one half cup vanilla pudding (cytoplasm), one candy kiss (nucleus), one green M&M (food), one blue M&M (water), one yellow M&M (oxygen), one red M&M (carbon dioxide), one brown M&M (urea).

* Read the following narrative as the students listen and follow directions.
“We know that cells are the building blocks of all living things. We know that to stay healthy, cells take in food, water, and oxygen and give off carbon dioxide and urea. We know the vocabulary for the parts of a cell. Now, let’s put all our knowledge to work as we build a model of a cell. The membrane is the outer layer of the cell that holds all the parts of the cell together. The membrane for our cell is the cookie. Pass out the cookies so that each person in the group has a membrane for the cell. The thick liquid inside the cell that contains the water and food and helps protect the other parts of the cell is the cytoplasm. For our cells, the cytoplasm is the vanilla pudding. Each cell needs one teaspoon of cytoplasm placed in the center of the cell. The nucleus is the largest organelle. It controls all the cell activity. For our cell, the nucleus is the candy kiss. Place one candy kiss in the center of the cytoplasm. To stay alive, each cell must have water, food, and oxygen. We will be using the M&Ms to stand for these. Place one blue M&M (water), one yellow M&M (oxygen) and one green M&M (food) together on one side of the nucleus to represent the organelles that house the food, water, and oxygen. A cell must get rid of the waste, carbon dioxide and urea, that is created when the cell uses the food, water, and oxygen. Place one red (urea) and one brown (carbon dioxide) M&M together on the opposite side of the nucleus from the water, food, and oxygen to represent the organelles that house the urea and carbon dioxide. Placing the organelles (M&Ms) in this way represents that as food, water, and oxygen enter the cell, urea and carbon dioxide exit the cell.”

* See the associated file for a photo of the finished cells.

8. As the students are cleaning up and eating their cells (the cytoplasm begins to dissolve the membranes of the M&Ms and the cookie becomes soggy if not eaten within 15 or 20 minutes), conduct a formative assessment on the parts of a cell, their functions and how the cells carry out the processes needed for life (nutrients in and waste out). This feedback should be given as the teacher circulates asking questions about the cells parts and functions. Give corrective and affirmative oral feedback as you are marking the Formative Assessment Checklist. By using the Formative Assessment Checklist, teachers can ensure that all students are receiving formative assessment opportunities. The checklist should be used to identify students who are struggling and need more teacher assistance.

Writing –

9. Now that students have read about cells, written an outline of the information, seen a demonstration of how nutrients pass into and waste passes out of the cell membranes, learned cell vocabulary, and made a model of the cell, they should be ready to complete today’s science notebook entries. First, demonstrate, using the overhead how to write a paragraph about the new science knowledge learned today. Your model should follow the Florida Writes models of main idea, facts, and supporting details. The paragraph should contain notes about factual information, as well as comments and observations about what has been learned through today’s activities. (See the sample paragraph from the associated files.) After your modeling is complete, allow about 15 minutes for students to complete their writings. Students may need to complete their paragraphs on the back of the outline. As they are writing, circulate around the room and give formative feedback to individuals. Be sure to give specific praise such as, “I see you have three details to support this fact.” and corrective feedback such as, “You need to add some details to support this fact.” The Formative Assessment Checklist is marked as appropriate.

10. The final activity for today is the illustration that must accompany each day’s entry in the science notebook. The purpose of the illustration is to organize information for a variety of purposes. Again, using the overhead as your media, model drawing an illustration of the parts of the cell, labeling each part. Today’s illustration should also contain a simple drawing of how cells receive nutrients and expel waste. After modeling and discussing your illustrations, allow students about ten minutes to complete their illustrations in their science notebooks. It is important to do the paragraph writing before the illustration since students may use excessive time on the illustration and not keep their focus on the modeling of the writing. Doing the writing first helps students remain focused.

11. Model using the rubric of criteria to self-assess your paragraph and illustration. See the note on Day 3, #4 above for an explanation of modeling finding errors and modeling the editing process using the rubric.

12. Science notebooks should be collected at this time. With the completion of this second day’s entries in the science notebook, a formative assessment should be made of the student’s entries in their notebooks using the rubric for criteria, with written feedback guided by the rubric given in the notebook. Be sure to mark the formative assessment checklist. This documentation will assist you in planning your next modeling and discussions as you strive to meet the needs of your students.


1.Formative assessments are integrated in this lesson plan and are described in activities #1, #2, #4, #7, and #10.

Examples of affirmative and corrective oral feedback are given in the procedures section of this lesson plan. A Formative Assessment Checklist is available from the unit's associated files. The purpose of the checklist is to document individual formative assessments and student abilities. The checklist is then used as a guide for assisting individual students.

The importance of individual formative assessment cannot be overstated. It is this formative assessment that guides teacher planning and individual assistance to assure that all students are successful.

2. Formatively assess the science notebooks using the rubric criteria. This criteria should also generate affirmative and corrective feedback which is written in the notebook. Be sure to mark the checklist for future reference.


1. The Beacon Unit Plan associated with this lesson can be viewed by clicking on the link located at the top of this page or by using the following URL: Once you select the unit’s link, scroll to the bottom of the unit plan page to find the section, “Associated Files.” This section contains links to the Unit Plan Overview, Diagnostic and Summative Assessments, and other associated files (if any).

2.The paragraphs can be read orally to assist students with reading problems.

3. The “coffee filter cell” demonstration can be done by groups of students rather than as a whole group demonstration in order to actively involve the students or to assist students in seeing in a large group situation.

4. The “make a cell” activity can be done as individuals rather than in a group setting.

5. Encarta by Microsoft can be used as a resource.

Web Links

This is an additional resource for teachers and advanced students.
Cells Alive

Attached Files

Reading text and associated materials     File Extension: pdf

Writing materials     File Extension: pdf

Vocabulary      File Extension: pdf

Graphics and associated materials     File Extension: pdf

Example of edible cell     File Extension: pdf

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