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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!

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