Both the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and nearly every state standard require the teaching of cells and their organelles in both middle school and high school.
Teaching students about cells is important for a number of reasons. As cells are often referred to as the basic building block of life, learning about cells is a building block or primer for learning about the human body and other living things.
This post will explore what is typically covered on the topic of cells in middle school classrooms, teaching tips, and differentiating and scaffolding your instruction of cells.
Eukaryotic Cells Vs. Prokaryotic Cells
While the NGSS don’t specifically use the terms Eukaryotic Cells vs. Prokaryotic cells, the disciplinary core idea LS1.A: Structure and Function states: 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). (MS-LS1-1). The performance expectation MS-LS1-1. states: Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells; either one cell or many different numbers and types of cells.
Many state standards are similar and have similar expectations. This is where the teaching of Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic Cells comes in.
Prokaryotic cells are unicellular, simple cells that have the potential to thrive in diverse environments. They lack a defined nucleus, and their genetic information flows freely around the cell. They do not have membrane-bound organelles. Examples of prokaryotic cells are bacteria and archaea.
On the other hand, eukaryotic cells are more complex and sophisticated in the way they communicate with other cells. They have a nucleus that acts as the control center of the cell, and houses deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
When thinking about science for English learners, we always need to consider language in our science instruction. Therefore, teaching the difference between prokaryotic and eukaryotic as adjectives that describe cells and the terms eukaryotes and prokaryotes as nouns that denote the different types of organisms is imperative.
Another opportunity for direct language instruction is through the prefixes uni and multi. By teaching your English learners (as well as your developing readers) the meaning of common prefixes, students will understand the more complex vocabulary that contains these prefixes in the future.
Also, a common misconception is that all eukaryotes are multicellular. While prokaryotes are always unicellular, eukaryotes can be unicellular or multicellular.
Eukaryotic Cell Organelles
Teaching the main parts of the cell, aka cell organelles, is typically required no matter the standards you use. Teaching students about cell organelles helps them to gain a better understanding of the concepts of structure and function and homeostasis.
While which organelles you are required to cover may vary by district and/or state, the NGSS for middle school specifically mention the nucleus, chloroplasts, mitochondria, cell membrane, and cell wall.
Regardless of which organelles your standards require you to cover, it’s important to teach students how specific organelles work together to maintain homeostasis within the cells.
For example, the cell membrane allows oxygen into the cell that the mitochondria can use for cellular respiration. Without the cell membrane (and its important function), the mitochondria cannot function, which in turn means the cell cannot function and will die.
Comparing Animal Cells and Plant Cells
When teaching your cell unit, comparing and contrasting animal and plant cells is typically covered. One of the most important differences that are covered is the cell wall and chloroplasts.
When teaching the cell wall at the middle school level, the main takeaway is that the cell wall gives the plant cell its “boxy” shape. We teach about chloroplasts due to their importance in photosynthesis.
A common misunderstanding/point of contention when teaching about plant cells is the relationship between photosynthesis and cellular respiration.
It is important to thoroughly teach that photosynthesis is the process through which plants use energy from the sun, carbon dioxide, and water to create their own food in the form of glucose. That glucose can in turn be used by the mitochondria for the process of cellular respiration.
Creating a Cell Organelles Worksheet
While there are many ways to deliver your instruction when it comes to cell organelles, teachers often rely on worksheets to support their teaching.
Here at Lit Science, we believe in the use of interactive worksheets to supplement teaching. However, we define worksheets a bit differently than they were thought of back in the day. We view worksheets as customized graphic organizers that walk students through your lessons, the content, and/or activities.
Cell organelle worksheets that can be helpful are Venn diagrams and simple tables. The following table is a simple graphic organizer that helps students to organize what they’ve learned about the function, structure, and location of cell organelles.
Differentiating and Scaffolding Cell Organelle Worksheets
Here at Lit Science, we specialize in science for English learners as well as developing readers (sometimes referred to as students performing below grade level or at-risk students). Scaffolding is a way to provide access to grade-level science for students who need support.
Because many of us teach in diverse classrooms, it’s important to differentiate. Differentiation allows us to give students what they need based on where they’re at.
Because of this, our cell organelle worksheets are differentiated and scaffolded to meet the needs of your diverse learners.
Lit Science Cell Organelle Worksheets
We offer a number of resources to support you in teaching cell organelles to your students. The following is a walkthrough of an example of how we have differentiated and scaffolded a reading about cell organelles.
In the first part of the lesson, students are asked to describe how two parts of the school work together. The purpose of this warm-up is to activate prior knowledge about structure, function, and parts of a system working together. In the scaffolded version, students are given a model.
Next, there are two versions of the text. In both versions, the students are given space to annotate in the margin. The text is chunked, and questions appear after the chunk of text. In addition to this, in the scaffolded version, students are provided with the following additional scaffolds to help with vocabulary.
1. Visuals embedded in the text.
2. Synonyms in the parentheses.
3. Student-friendly definitions in the margins.
All of these supports were created with English learners in mind.
As with most Lit Science resources, the Plant and Animal Cells Reading Comprehension – Differentiated and Scaffolded resource includes a PDF version for printing, a Google Slides version that you can make a copy of and save to your Google Drive and/or assign in Google classroom, as well as a TPT Easel version.
The topic of cell organelles is an important part of any middle school science curriculum. However, if students cannot access the content, it must be scaffolded for them.
We understand the burden of creating all your lesson from scratch. Check out Lit Science’s no prep/low prep cell organelle worksheets to save time and serve all students.
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