Unit Overview

Learners will understand that cells 1. consist of many parts, each of which serves a specific function and 2. work together in order to allow our bodies to function. Learners will take a journey throughout the body, exploring the function of three main cell parts within different types of body cells. In a hands-on lab, students then discover the differences between plant and animal cells and create an analogy that synthesizes their understanding of cells. Students will use that understanding to design a unique cell, focusing on the connection between form and function.

Lesson Overview

Medium 1s 640Solve: Hunger Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map

When Eric collapses during a hike, Mosa is called to the scene to investigate. After taking a journey into the body, learners will discover that there are many cells-and many parts of the cell-that are responsible. (75 minutes)

Medium cells 320Make: Explore Cells!

Learners will explore plant and animal cells under a microscope and construct a cell analogy to present to the class. (330 minutes)

Medium 3e 640Engineer: Engineer a Never-Before-Seen Cell

Learners will design a cell that does a specific job, focusing on the theme that structure helps support function. (120 minutes)

Next Generations Science Standards

Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells; either one cell or many different numbers and types of cells.
Develop and use a model to describe the function of a cell as a whole and ways parts of cells contribute to the function.

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Structure and Function

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science
  • Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • Scale, Proportion and Quantity
  • Structure and Function

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Learners find it difficult to make the connection between food, nutrients, and glucose. The idea that food is broken down into glucose, which is then used by cells to make energy should be made explicit throughout the activities.
  • Learners find it difficult to understand that the mitochondria and cell membrane have their own functions, separate from the nucleus “directing” cell activities, which actually refers to creation of protein products.
  • Learners may have previously seen diagrams of cells that assume all cells look alike, so differentiation in structure and function should be emphasized through this unit.


    • Glucose
    • Cell
    • Membrane
    • Nucleus
    • Mitochondria
    • Energy
    • Muscle Cell
    • Small Intestine Cell
    • Brain Cell

Content Expert

  • Anjelica Gonzalez, PhD
    Donna L. Dubinsky Associate Professor Biomedical Engineering Yale University


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Vocabulary Mind Map
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

* To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

  • Keeping Us Alive

    Medium 11 204
    The balance that living things must maintain on the inside is called Homeostasis. Each of your cells and organs has a specific job, or function, which allows them to specialize and become a pro at whatever they do.

  • Living Energy

    Medium 53 110
    Many of the living things we see around us either eat food or make food and then have to break it down. We have special parts of our cells, called mitochondria, that help with this and allow us to create usable energy in a process called cellular respiration.

  • Different Kinds of Building Blocks

    Medium 16 72
    Both plants and animals are made of building blocks that we call cells. Both plant and animal cells have unique characteristics and also many similarities.

  • Let's See What You're Made of

    Medium 15 202
    Living things come in many different shapes and sizes. Some (like you) are made of many cells, but other are just one single cell. You may not be able to see each of these organisms, or the small parts that you're composed of without a microscope.


    Medium 14 201
    How do we decide what is alive? Some of the criteria we have is that they must develop, reproduce and use energy. Each of the living things we've found on earth is made of cells and we can call an organism.

  • We Live off of Plant Waste?

    Medium 129 549
    In this article, students read about the basics of cellular respiration. The article describes how cells use glucose and oxygen in their mitochondria to get the energy they need to live.

  • You Know You're a Plant if You...

    Medium 20 583
    If you find yourself looking in the mirror and realize you've got a cell wall, chloroplast and large vacuole. . . how are you even reading this? On a more serious note: Plant cells have a cell wall for structure and protection, chloroplasts to create food, and large vacuoles to store water and waste.

  • Little + Little = Bigger

    Medium 18 205
    Your body is probably much more well organized than you'll ever be. Each cell is organized into tissues which come together to make organs that then work day and night as organ systems to keep you alive!

  • Things Get More Complicated When You're Older

    Medium 17 582
    Your body is pretty smart. Just like each different person in a house might have different chores, your body has a division of labor that it can achieve through differentiation. You start out as a collection of stem cells that develop into each of the different cells that make up your body now.