Both the NGSS and many state standards require the teaching of levels of organization in middle school science. Teaching students levels of organization is an important foundation for teaching students about the human body. 

Making information about the relationship between cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems accessible for all students will set them up for success in your cells and human body units.

Levels of organization with corresponding images. Organism - Organ Systems - Organs - Tissues - Cells

In this post, we’ll review basic information about levels of organization, advice on how to make your instruction accessible to all students (including your English learners), and a simple yet, effective worksheet to save you time. 


Nearly all middle school science standards include the teaching of cells. This makes sense considering they are (as they are typically referred to) the basic unit of life.

Understanding what cells are and their importance in the body helps students to understand a range of real-world connections such as the reason for getting blood work done at a yearly physical.

We also teach students that cell organelles work together to maintain homeostasis and keep the cell alive. In order for the human body to thrive and stay alive, homeostasis must occur at the cellular level. 

Making the connection between the life and health of the cells and the health of the entire body can help engage students with this often abstract concept. Therefore, the teaching of levels of organization helps students to make the connection between microscopic cells and the entire body.

Animal Cell - Cells. The Basic Unit of Life


Once students understand the function of cell organelles as smaller parts of the cell that work together to ensure the proper functioning of the cell, they are ready to apply that same concept to tissues. 

A group of cells functioning together is called a tissue. The major tissue types in the human body are epidermal tissue or epithelial tissue, connective tissues, muscle tissues, and nervous tissues.

Cells clumped together - Tissue - A group of cells working together for a specific function.

Within muscle tissues alone, there are several types. The following muscle tissues are a prime example of the variety that can exist within the same type of tissue:

1. Cardiac Muscle – Found in the Heart

2. Smooth Involuntary Muscle – Like those found inside blood vessels or blood vessel walls

3. Skeletal Muscle – Muscles such as the biceps and triceps. 

To help students understand this concept, let’s use cardiac muscle as an example. A group of specialized cells in the heart work together to create cardiac tissue. The functioning of those cells is imperative to the functioning of the tissue that composes one of our most vital organs – the heart.  


Organs are groups of tissues that work together for a specific purpose. For example, the tissues of the heart work together to ensure the heart functions to pump blood throughout the body. 

Without healthy cardiac tissue, the heart cannot function properly. If the heart doesn’t function properly, the body doesn’t function properly. 

In addition to the heart, some of the major organs in the human body are the lungs, the kidneys, the small intestine, the brain, the stomach (pictured above), and reproductive organs such as the ovaries and testicles. 

Organ Systems 

A group of organs that function together are referred to as an organ system. Let’s go back to our heart example. Heart cells working together form cardiac tissue. Cardiac tissues working together create the heart (organ). The heart is one of the organs found in the cardiovascular system (organ system). 

Organ system - A group of organs working together for a specific Function.

Other major organ systems in the human body include but are not limited to, the integumentary system, skeletal system, muscular system, nervous system, and digestive system. 


Finally, a complex organism (like a human being) consists of multiple organ systems working together. The health of the organism depends not only on the health of the organ systems but also on the health of all the levels of organization before it. 

2 pictures of human body model front and back - organism multiple organ systems working together.

Teaching Levels of Organization

Teaching levels of organization is an important concept in biology that helps students understand the structure and function of living things. 

Levels of organization are a major theme in many state standards and The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS emphasizes the interconnectedness of different systems and how they work together. 

As the NGSS focuses on what students should do by the end of the unit (in the form of performance expectations), MS-LS1-3 states that students must construct an explanation supported by evidence for how the body is composed of interacting systems consisting of cells, tissues, and organs working together to maintain homeostasis.

MS-LS1-3 Construct and explanation supported by evidence for how to body is composed of interacting systems consisting of cells, tissues, and organs working together to maintain homeostasis.

However, the NGSS does not outline how this must be taught. Therefore, teachers have autonomy in how they get the students to the performance expectation. 

To teach the NGSS or state standards related to levels of organization, you can use a variety of approaches, such as scenarios & case studies, readings, guided notes, collaborative student-centered activities, projects, and or labs.

Cells, Tissues, Organs, and Organ Systems Worksheet Ideas

Here at Lit Science, the term worksheet refers to worksheets that have been customized to specific learning objectives, activities, and tasks.

We believe the customization of worksheets also includes differentiation and scaffolding to ensure all students have access to the content — including English learners, students with special needs, and students performing below grade level.

The following is a list of worksheet ideas that can support your instruction on cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems.

Image of Levels of organization worksheets - guided notes. Text reads - Levels of Organization Guided Notes. These guided notes act as customized worksheets that support students in learning about the levels of organization.
  1. Guided Notes Worksheet: Students are given a packet of customized worksheets that act as guided notes for a teacher presentation. This is a simple yet effective way to teach the levels of organization in a straightforward manner. While some might argue that students can simply write notes as the teacher presents, a guided notes worksheet helps provide access to students learning English, students with special needs, and students who need extra support. 
  2. Card Sort: After students have completed guided notes, a card sort is a great way for them to practice and apply their understanding of levels of organization. Students are given cards to sort and organize based on levels of organization and their definitions. Through this card sort, students can also organize cards from least complex to most complex. Students can fill out a customized worksheet once the card sort is complete. 
  3. Diagram Poster: Once students have been taught about the levels of organization, they can create poster-sized diagrams for the levels of organizations with examples. To brainstorm and prepare their posters, they are given customized worksheets that outline the required parts. I love using poster projects as collaborative classwork projects. After completing their posters, student groups can present their work. You can hang the posters around your classroom as they make fantastic student-made anchor charts. 

Lit Science Cell Resources

However you decide to teach levels of organization, Lit Science has got you covered. Ensure all students have access to grade-level content AND take back your free time.

Check out our differentiated and scaffolded cell resources in our TPT store

Thumbnail images on a desk. Plant and Animal Cells Project and Cell Organelle Poster Project

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