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Tips for Teaching Cells

I get a lot of questions about teaching cell structure and cell organelles, so I thought I would take this opportunity to offer up some tips and suggestions for teaching a GREAT unit on cells.  In many of the questions I get, teachers admit to being bored when teaching their cell unit. I absolutely LOVE teaching about cells, and that brings me to my first tip.
Tip #1: Be Excited About Teaching Cells! 
We know that our students are hyper-clued in to what we teachers are feeling. If you feel bored teaching your cell unit, the students are guaranteed to be bored as well. This video (just 3 minutes!) is an exciting way to start your unit. Be sure to turn up the volume!

Tip #2: Cover the basics, but stress the relationship between structure and function.
Basic concepts (cell theory, prokaryotic vs eukaryotic, etc.) have to be covered, but when teaching the organelles, keep it simple and stress the relationship between structure and function. For example, show students how the two parts of the ribosome fit together around mRNA during translation. Show how the structure of the Golgi allows proteins to enter, be modified, then packaged for secretion. At this point, you can keep the function fairly simple, which leads me to Tip #3. 
Tip #3: Re-introduce organelles all year long.
Students are not going to fully understand the functioning of the chloroplast until you get to your unit on photosynthesis. With each new unit you teach, circle back and teach a more in depth lesson on the organelle associated with the unit.


Tip #4: Get out your microscopes!
Kids love microscope work! You want to get students excited about your Cell unit? Give them plenty of microscope time. There is no substitute for seeing a variety of cell types under the microscope.


Tip #5: Make use of engaging online resources.
There are all sorts of online sites that offer interactive experiences on cell organelles. One of my favorites is Cells Alive!  

Tip #6: Make it a hands-on experience.
Like many topics we teach in our science classes, concepts about cell structure and function can be rather abstract to many of our students. Anything we teachers can do to create “hands-on” learning will ensure that students gain a greater mastery of the subject matter content. 

Tip #7: Make it fun!
Let's face it … kids love to play games, especially competitive games! As you near the end of your unit, look for ways to review the content that involve game play. I hate to say that we teachers have to trick our students into participating in a review, but it's true!  
Tip #8: Review and reinforcement is essential.
A cell unit is dense in terms of new vocabulary and concepts. The old saying “Practice Makes Perfect!” should certainly be a part of your cell unit. Increase student interaction between terms and definitions as often as possible to ensure that the vocabulary has been committed to memory. 

The most important component of improving your Cell Structure and Function Unit is .... YOU! If you are having fun and engaging with your students, your unit will be a success!

Teaching Students to Read Science Informational Text

Science surrounds us every single day. From shopping at the grocery store for probiotic yogurts and organically grown produce to news stories on earthquakes, climate change, vaccines, and toxic chemical clouds produced from a train derailment. As a result, it is more important than ever that we teach our science students how to read "science informational text." 

In today’s world, students must be able to read, comprehend, and analyze science informational reading passages!

  • The science students of today will be the decisions-makers of tomorrow. 
  • Students must be able to function in a technical world.
  • It is increasingly important that students be able to discern fact from fiction, and fact from opinion.
  • The reading of "science informational text" helps students develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Reading scientific text can help students develop the language and vocabulary necessary to communicate effectively about scientific topics.
  • Reading and comprehending scientific text is a fundamental skill required for students to score well on college admission tests, such as the ACT.
  • Basic life decisions depend on the ability to read and understand science informational text. For example, "What are the pros and cons of purchasing an electric vehicle?"

The face of science teaching is changing. Common Core Science Standards, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards, are asking teachers to emphasis scientific concepts, rather than the memorization of large amounts of factual data. 

Click any image to view in my TPT store.

For many science teachers, the thought of having to teach students "how to read science" can be overwhelming. However, it's actually a lot easier than you might think. After all, we are already asking our science students to read the textbook, lab handouts, etc. With a few simple tools (Try my Science Reading Task Cards!) and a little planning, you can easily teach your students how to be better readers of science informational passages.

Students need to practice the skill of reading in science. When students are reading, they need to be given prompts on what to look for in the reading. To accomplish this, I developed a set of 75 Science Reading Task Cards that can be used with ANY type of science reading material. These task cards can be used in all science classes and with students in Grades 6 - 12. 

Each task card asks students to pull out specific information from the material they are reading. The task cards focus student attention and help them to determine the main idea, the purpose of an experiment, how to read a chart or graph, or whether the reading passage is based on fact or opinion.

Start by using a reading passage that we science teachers already use every day .... the TEXTBOOK! Ask the students to read a short section from their textbook. Provide 3 to 4 task cards to go along with the reading and ask students to write out answers for each task card question.

Tired of trying to get your students to read the lab handouts before lab day? Ten of the task cards from the set are designed just for this purpose. By answering these ten task card questions, students must read the lab handouts to write a hypothesis, identify variables, and make predictions about the outcome. 

Once your students become familiar with using the task cards while reading their textbook and lab handouts, start adding in an occasional current event article from a newspaper or magazine. You might even work up to assigning a book such as "The Double Helix" or "The Hot Zone."

The set of "Science Reading Task Cards" is available in my TPT store.  Additional information about the task cards includes:

  • The set contains 75 task cards.
  • There are different formats included: (1) Printable and editable version, (2) PowerPoint version to use with your classroom projection system, (3) Google Slides version with included text boxes for students to write in answers, (4) Google Forms version.
  • The cards can be used with any type of science reading material.
  • The cards are appropriate for Grades 6 - 12.
  • PLEASE NOTE:  Science reading passages are NOT included. The teacher must find and choose appropriate reading passages to use.
  • The set includes a detailed Teacher Guide as well as correlation to Common Core (CCSS) Standards.