Teaching plant and animal cells is included in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and most (if not all) state standards for middle school. There are a number of ways to teach the structure (cell organelles) and function of plant and animal cells.
One of these ways is through the use of coloring pages that require students to identify, label, and color the different parts of the cell. This post will explore how (and how not) to use a plant and animal cells coloring worksheet in your middle school classroom.
Teaching Cell Biology
As science teachers, we understand the importance of teaching about cells as a basis for understanding living things and the human body.
There are different requirements for teaching the parts of a cell depending on the grade level you teach. Typically, the major organelles are taught at the middle school level, while additional cell parts are added on in high school.
The Next Generation Science Standards mention the following organelles in the performance expectations:
- The Nucleus
- The Cell Membrane or Plasma Membrane
- The Cell Wall
You may be thinking, what about all the other cellular organelles such as the vacuoles, ribosomes, Golgi bodies (aka the Golgi apparatus), smooth & rough endoplasmic reticulum, centrioles and nucleolus?
While these organelles are critical in the functioning of eukaryotic cells, they are not required to be taught in middle school for those following the NGSS. These may be required in state standards or at the high school level.
While the NGSS doesn’t dictate how to teach the required standards, many of the NGSS-aligned curricula include lesson plans full of anchoring phenomena, simulations, Google slides lectures, labs, readings, activities, and projects.
While all of these methods are fantastic ways to introduce, practice, and assess students’ understanding of the various organelles, cell organelle color pages abound on the internet. So where is their place in all of this?
The Benefits of Coloring
Step into any daycare center or preschool around the world and you are likely to find children engaged in coloring. According to Scholastic, coloring can help children develop fine motor skills and train the brain to focus.
Similarly, research shows that coloring can have immense mental health benefits for adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, coloring promotes relaxation and reduces stress. This is a major reason that adult coloring books have been big sellers in the US over the past decade.
So what does this mean for middle schoolers? While adolescents typically have developed fine motor skills, some students still need support in this area (including students with special needs).
As adolescence is a time period that represents major physical and emotional changes, it’s no surprise that our middle school students experience stress.
For these reasons, coloring can benefit our middle schoolers.
The Disadvantages of Coloring in Middle School Classrooms
While coloring worksheets may seem like a great way to engage students, they can actually be harmful if not used appropriately.
We should never give students these types of activities if we feel they cannot complete grade-level work. Giving students a worksheet to color because they don’t speak enough English or they don’t read or write on grade-level is lowering expectations, which further widens the achievement gap.
Effectively Using a Plant and Animal Cells Coloring Worksheet
Here at Lit Science, we define worksheets as customized worksheets that are specific to the learning objective, tasks, and activities students are required to complete.
We believe customization, differentiation, and scaffolding of worksheets provides great learning experiences and access to grade-level content for all students, including English learners, students with special needs, and developing readers and writers.
So how can a plant and animal cells coloring worksheet be used without being harmful to students?
- As an early finisher activity: Engaging students who finish their work ahead of time can be a challenge. However, coloring worksheets can provide a solution. By having a plant and/or animal cells coloring worksheet on hand, teachers can offer early finishers an enjoyable content-related activity to occupy their time productively. This is especially helpful for those who finish an exam early as it may help them to unwind and quiet their minds.
- As a brain break: As a middle school science teacher in Title I schools in Brooklyn, “brain breaks” were often necessary for some of my students. Whether promoted by a physical altercation early in the day, side effects of a new medication, or a number of other reasons, I needed to be flexible in providing my students with a safe space to take a brain break. I’m in no way suggesting students needing said breaks get a pass from completing required work. But there are times in which we need to be flexible with our students. In those times, content-related coloring worksheets were great to have on hand. When given for a “brain break,” I would often notify my principal and guidance staff of what led me to make this decision to ensure any serious issues the child was experiencing were addressed by the school’s support system.
- Blips in the School Schedule: I’m looking at you pep rallies, snow day delays, and hours before Christmas break. Let’s be real. We’ve all experienced those frustrating times when we cannot teach a full lesson. The school pep rally cut your 8th-period class down to 15 minutes. The district didn’t close the school during a major storm, so you have 4 kids in your class for the day. Spirit Week transforms after-lunch instruction into fun electives. No matter the blip in the normal programming, content-specific, low-stakes coloring worksheets are a great way for kids to engage in a fun activity that is related to content.
Free Plant and Animal Cell Coloring Worksheets
Looking for a plant and animal cells coloring worksheet? There are a number of free ones available online.
Check out this one from Ask a Biologist. It requires students to label and color the parts of an animal cell. It also comes with a teacher answer key.
Biology Corner’s Animal Cells Coloring Worksheet requires students to color and describe each organelle’s function.
Finally, Teacherspayteachers offers a number of free animal cells coloring resources.
In conclusion, when used thoughtfully, a plant and animal cells coloring worksheet can serve as engaging early finisher activities, provide much-needed brain breaks, and come in handy during unexpected interruptions to the school schedule.
However, it’s crucial to exercise caution and ensure that coloring activities are used to enhance learning, not as a substitute for grade-level work.
If you’re looking for grade-level plant and animal cell lessons, readings, activities, and projects that are accessible to all students, check out Lit Science’s Cell resources in our TPT store.