Get Inside a Cell!

Investigate how form and function are related in cells through scientific illustration. How can illustration show us the relationship between form and function in a cell?


Key Staff

This lesson may be taught by a general classroom teacher or science teacher.

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres
Life and Career Skills: Productivity and Accountability


In this lesson, students will gain an understanding of the components of an animal cell. They will match definitions of organelles with the organelle name, research the organelle’s form and function, and contribute to a class drawing of a cell by depicting a specific organelle within the composite cell. Through this lesson, students will explore answers to the essential question: How are form and function related in biology?

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn the definitions of organelles.
  • Research the properties and functions of the organelles in an animal cell.
  • Present research results to the class.
  • Demonstrate understanding of how form and function are related in an organelle.
  • Contribute to the class drawing of a cell by accurately drawing and properly positioning an organelle.

Teaching Approach

Arts Enhanced

Teaching Methods

  • Research
  • Simulations and Games
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Discussion
  • Multimedia Instruction

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
Required Plugins
Technology Notes

Prior to teaching the lesson, check to ensure that all Web sites listed are active and that all computers have the required plug-ins.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should be familiar with different types of cells and animal cells.

In-depth knowledge on animal and plant cells and examples and history of scientific illustration will also be helpful.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should have basic knowledge about cells and how they were discovered.

Physical Space



  • Individualized Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Before the lesson, prepare cards for the organelle name/definition matching game by writing either organelle names or definitions on separate cards. Make enough so that each student will receive one card with either an organelle name or an organelle definition. Ten of the students should receive one card each with a different organelle name. The rest of the students will receive one card each with a definition that corresponds to one of the ten organelle names. Depending on class size, there may be duplicate definitions.

Draw an large outline of a cell on posterboard and hang it on the wall. Students will need to be able to access the outline to attach their organelles.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Introduce the topic of cells. Inform the class that a cell is a small compartment, such as a honeycomb cell or prison cell. Then, tell students that the human body has cells and post the scientific definition:

  • Cells: small compartments that hold all of the biological equipment necessary to keep an organism alive and successful on Earth.

Cells in the human body are microscopic, which means they can only be seen under a microscope, such as this image of red blood cells.

2. Discuss the idea that the cell is a system. Inform and show students that each cell contains smaller parts called organelles. Organelles have specific jobs they do to help cells to do their work in keeping an organism alive. Post the definition on the board:

  • Organelle: a structure in a cell that performs a special function

3. Present the essential question. Write the following on the board:

How are "form" and "function" related in cells?

  • Form: shape or structure
  • Function: job or purpose

Provide the analogy of how the form of a hand (fingers and palm) is directly related to its function (picking up or holding things). Elicit other examples of form and function. Tell students that the class will be investigating the form and function of the organelles found in animal cells.

Build Knowledge

1. Research organelles. Students should individually research animal cells by visiting the web site, 'Cells Alive'. As they explore the Web site they should complete the Inside a Cell Worksheet handout located within the Resource Carousel.

2. Show and discuss scientific illustrations. Explain the scientific illustrations are done to represent an object as accurately as possible. Project scientific illustrations and elicit from students how these illustrations are different from other drawings or paintings. Point out how scale, accuracy and color are used in these works. Remind students that as they prepare to draw their organelles they should take care to make sure the scale is correct in relation to the outline of the cell.

3. Compare scientific illustrations to other artwork (optional). Teachers may wish to show examples of the scientific illustrations of Beatrix Potter and compare them against the illustrations found in her children's books. Students can explore the above Web sites, e-books and hard copies of her books to help them fill out a venn diagram comparing and contrasting the artwork.


Students will be organized into small groups. In their groups, they will conduct further research on their organelle to prepare for a five minute presentation. They will then sketch to scale, color, and cut out their organelle to add to the cell outline. Post and share Organelle Presentation Rubric located within the Resource Carousel criteria with the class.

1. Form groups by matching organelle names and definitions. Hand out one organelle name card or definition card to each student and allow them to circulate around the room to find their group members by matching the name and definition. (There may be several duplicate definition cards for each organelle name card.) If needed, students may use information from the Inside a Cell Worksheet.

2. Prepare for presentation. Groups should further research the organelle from their card by conducting Internet research and filling out the Organelle Worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. The worksheet should be used to help them prepare a five minute presentation on their organelle.

3. Draw organelles. Direct students’ attention to the outline of the cell hanging on the wall. Discuss the concept of scale. Draw three sizes of an organelle, only one of which is to scale. Have the students pick the most appropriate version. Explain to students that their organelles should be drawn accurately and to scale and colors should be used to effectively show the form. Consult with the cytoskeleton group to determine how they would like to incorporate their organelle (they may need to attach/draw it in last).


1. Place organelles on cell outline. Groups will need to work together in order to make sure the placement of their organelle is correct in relation to other organelles. Suggest to the class that before attaching their organelles, they should lay out them out to ensure that all groups agree on organelle position and placement.

2. Presentation of organelles. Allow students to discuss their drawing and the results of their research to the whole class. Groups should provide a definition in their own words, address the essential question, and discuss the positioning and placement of their organelle in the cell.

3. Reflect on process. Close with a discussion on what the students learned from the lesson. Refer back to the lesson’s essential question: How are "form" and "function" related in cells?

4. Describe and discuss organelles not included in the activity. Two organelles, cilia and cytoplasm, were not included on the cell. Provide a brief description of each and discuss with the students why they weren’t included (the cilia is located on the outside and the cytoplasm would be difficult to draw).


Teachers may assess the student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Jill Gerlman

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