We are fascinated by cells! But, “cells” might be one of the most difficult life science topics for middle school students. Even though most students learn about cells in elementary school, many middle schoolers don’t remember much about them. The idea of a cell, and all of its vital roles, is just so amazingly abstract it is difficult for many students to conceptualize. For that reason, we like to spend some time exploring “What is a Cell?”  We love to paint a picture to help students understand the excitement scientists felt upon seeing the first cells under a microscope or discovering that life doesn’t just “POOF!” and spontaneously generate out of thin air. By the end of this lesson students should be able to explain Robert Hooke’s contribution to cell studies and explain the cell theory.

Here’s what we’d typically do:

Sponge or bell work: Our lesson always starts with a bell-work question or activity that gets kids thinking about the topic at hand. For example:

  • Ask the students: What is a cell, and how do you see it? What do cells do? Where did the word cell come from anyway?
  • Begin the KWL template from our Cells Interactive Notebook activities
  • One thing we love about teaching Science is making it fun for kids and this video, ‘The Wacky History of the Cell Theory,’ (TedEd) is a great way to engage your students with lighthearted humor and solid scientific background knowledge.

Let’s Explore: Set-up stations to allow students to explore background information about Robert Hooke. You can provide laptops with suggested websites, printed articles, and even class textbooks. Students can use their own devices at BYOD schools.  Or we have a great set of Cell Theory STEAM based lab stations in which students will learn about the discovery of the cell, cell theory, the scientists that developed it, microscope discovery, and usage. Have students complete the “Robert Hooke’s Contribution to Cell Studies” template from the Cells Interactive Notebook.

Explain It: Don’t forget to review the answers to “Robert Hooke’s Contribution to Cell Studies” with your students. An answer key is provided in the Cells INB Activity Pack.

Ready for the real meat and potatoes? Use a visual presentation to communicate your excitement about the topic of cells. We love to use our Cells PowerPoint which walks teachers and students through the cell theory, ‘What is a Cell?,’ and the types of cells. Whatever you use, your slides should have tons of visuals which will help students to make deeper connections, especially for your   auditory and visual learners. Depending on your style, you might have students listen to your explanation or you might have students taking their own notes.

Did They Get It? At the end of class use the Cell Theory INB page from the Cells Interactive Notebook as a formative assessment. Can the students accurately describe all the parts of the Cell Theory? Alternatively, revisit and complete the KWL you started during bellwork.

Here’s a Few Extensions for this Lesson:

  • Have students research spontaneous generation. Click here for an online simulation.
  • We love this video: Seeing the Invisible, created by the NY times and featuring paper puppets and the story of Antwon Leeuwenhoek and his homemade microscopes.
  • Have students make a Junk-o-scope out of materials found around the house.

Need to Modify?

  • Pre-cut INB templates or have students peer assist
  • Upload the PowerPoint slides into NearPod and add your own Formative Assessment questions after each slide to ensure mastery.
  • Provide fill-in-the-blank structured notes for ELL students.

Happy teaching!

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