Animal Cell Model

Models are an important part of the scientific process, so they should be just as important in science education. Guide your students through the process of creating a model with this fun and hands-on guide created by Biology Wise. You can check out their guide here for more details and information.

Grade(s): 6-8


Cells are the fundamental units of life that are studied in biology. Many biology courses begin their semesters with a lesson and discussion on cell biology. They are of course an incredibly important topic in biology and should always be included in middle and high school instruction.

One of my most memorable experiences in middle school biology was the process of creating a cell model. We were instructed to create a cardboard model and use art supplies to represent various parts of the cell. The process of creating the model taught me more about cells than the lectures in class. As a result, I highly encourage you to include the process of creating a model in your own classroom instruction.

There are two main types of cells: prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotic cells contain a membrane-bound nucleus and organelles, and can be single-celled or multi-celled. Animals, plants, fungi, and insects are classified as eukaryotes in biology. Prokaryotic cells do not have a nucleus or any membrane-bound organelles. Bacteria are classified as prokaryotic.

Within eukaryotic cells, there are several organelles that help the cells to survive and function. These organelles are designed to protect and maintain the cell throughout its life cycle as it lives, divides, and dies. At the center of these cells are the nucleus, which contains all of the genetic information of the organism. It is within the nucleus that the process of cell division begins as genetic information is replicated. The mitochondria are also especially important as they power the process of cellular respiration. Mitochondria generate ATP which is a usable form of energy for living organisms. Mitochondria are unique in that they have their own separate DNA which is only inherited from mothers.

What You’ll Need

  • Colorful animal cell picture
  • Styrofoam balls
  • Playdough (or modeling clay)
  • Cardboard for base
  • Pipe cleaners
  • T-Pins
  • Duct tape or regular tape
  • Glue or adhesive
  • Ruler
  • Box cutter
  • Knife and scissors

What to Do

The guide created by Biology Wise can be found here, but I have included a shortened version to give you an idea of the process. I highly encourage you to allow students to express themselves creatively and shape their model in unique ways.

  • Select a large and detailed animal cell picture. Use a small ball or Styrofoam block to represent the nucleus, play dough to represent the organelles, and cardboard for the base to hold the model together
  • Begin by creating the organelles. Use play dough to represent different parts of the cell and label each organelle
  • Lay the cardboard base and start assembling the model. To create the plasma membrane, use a large rubber band and paint it with a brush. You can cut the rubber band and glue it around the perimeter of the cell model.
  • Place the nucleus in the center with tape or glue. For chromatin structures, use pipe cleaners and scatter them throughout the cell. Place organelles within the cell and attach their labels.
  • Create a color key by painting each organelle accordingly. You can encourage your students to create an illustrated accompaniment and descriptions of each organelle.

Connecting Concepts (NGSS)

Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells; either one cell or many different numbers and types of cells.

LS1.A: Structure and Function

  • All living things are made up of cells, which is the smallest unit that can be said to be alive. An organism may consist of one single cell (unicellular) or many different numbers and types of cells (multicellular).
Develop and use a model to describe the function of a cell as a whole and ways parts of cells contribute to the function.

LS1.A: Structure and Function

  • Within cells, special structures are responsible for particular functions, and the cell membrane forms the boundary that controls what enters and leaves the cell.

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