Cell Activity - Room as a Cell

By Laura Hospitál on Dec 05, 2014

Many young students of cell biology become overwhelmed trying to memorize all of the terms which describe parts of the plant and animal cells and the functions associated with each.  The following activity gives students the opportunity to experience the various parts of the cell described by the function that each performs using everyday materials.


Set up the Room as follows for first a plant cell and then an animal cell.   Students will enter the plant cell and go through cabinets to discover the organelles of a plant cell and then repeat the process for an animal cell. 

Prepare a label for each student for each of the following cell parts in the appropriate reading medium:

  • vacuole
  • mitochondria
  • lysosome
  • Golgi apparatus
  • chloroplast

Put each student's initials on the card unobtrusively(in print) so as to determine after the activity whether he/she correctly labeled the organelles.   The other parts of the cell will be discussed as a group. 

The students should determine whether the cell is a plant cell or an animal cell based on the structure(s) surrounding the cell and the structures within the cell.  This can be discussed as a group as students enter the room and with individual students throughout the activity.

Give students cards with the names of the structures in large print or braille and allow them to label them.  When they have determined which structure is represented by the items in a particular cabinet, they should place the card in the small tub on top of the cabinet. (I used the styrofoam containers from mushrooms but any small container would work.)

Plant cell only:

  • Cell Wall - The door and walls of the room will represent the cell wall.
  • Central Vacuole - Place many cans and containers of food and bottles water in one cabinet - This will represent the central vacuole.  Plant cells will only have ONE vacuole.
  • Chloroplast - Place sugar packets in several cabinets to represent the sugar produced by plants in the chloroplasts.  There are many chloroplasts in plant cells.

Animal cell only:

  • several vacuoles - Animals have many vacuoles so several cabinets should be filled with a few containers and cans of food and bottles of water. I have not included these yet but models of excrement for the vacuole can be purchased from Acorn Naturalist www.acornnaturalists.com
  • lysosomes - A bin full of recyclables - The lysosome is the place in which molecules are broken down for reuse in animal cells.

Found in both:

  • Cell membrane - thick shower curtain which is hung on the inside of the door for the plant cell or hung across the open door for an animal cell (See picture)
  • Nucleus - As large a sphere as can be found - Very large beach ball or the Sun from a large model of the Solar System
  • A model of DNA (preferably the APH model www.aph.org) should be available to describe its location in the nucleus.
  • Mitochondria - Several cabinets should contain batteries to represent the mitochondria which produces energy from food in the cell (See picture)
  • Golgi Apparatus - a pile of old mail - Processing and repackaging of proteins occurs in the Golgi Apparatus (known as the post office of the cell)
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum - A train track found in various parts of the room. The Endoplasmic Reticulum moves proteins and other substances around the cell (The Endoplasmic Reticulum will be discussed and not labeled by students.)


  • Shower curtain (for cell membrane)
  • Large beach ball (for nucleus)
  • APH model - DNA twist (aph.org)
  • Old Mail (for Golgi Apparatus)
  • Various types of batteries (for mitochondria)
  • Small tub or bin of recyclables -various items (for lysosome)
  • Cans and boxes of food and bottles of water as well as models of excrement (waste) These can be purchased from Acorn Naturalists - See Resource Post http://www.perkinselearning.org/accessible-science/acorn-naturalists (for vacuole)
  • Small tubs for students' labels
  • Large tubs for items in cabinets (See picture)

Labels of the following cell parts in large print or braille as appropriate.  These can be printed or embossed several to a page and cut out if there are several students in the class.

  • vacuole
  • mitochondria
  • lysosome
  • Golgi apparatus
  • chloroplast


  1. Tell students that cabinets will be filled with items that describe the function of each organelle on a card.
  2. Give students each a set of cards of each of the following. Explain that they will place the appropriate label in a tray above each cabinet.
  • Golgi apparatus
  • mitochondria
  • vacuole
  • Lysosome
  • chloroplast

The following will be in the cabinets in tubs. 

  • Mitochondria -- Batteries 
  • Lysosome – recyclables
  • Vacuole – food and water and models of waste 
  • Chloroplast –sugar
  • Golgi Apparatus- A pile of mail

This is a picture of the model of the Golgi apparatus- a pile of mail.

This picture is of a cabinet labeled 'mitochondria' and it's contents - batteries.









  1. Enter cell through the cell membrane.  Use a large shower curtain for the cell membrane.  Discuss the structure with the students.  Is it firm or flexible?  What structure do they believe it is?  Have students think about this before having a student answer. Ask students to think about whether this is an animal cell or a plant cell.  When all students have thought about this - Discuss - Students should identify it as an animal cell due to the cell membrane on the outside of the cell (and the lack of a cell wall).
  1. Once in the room, tell students that they are no longer surrounded by air but by a gooey gell-like substance, ask them what it is - Cytoplasm.  If the group would enjoy this, have them "swim" through the cytoplasm by moving their arms.
  2. Descibe the nucleus to the group:– Large plastic beach ball or large sun from solar system model
  3. Ask the class what they might expect to find in the nucleus -(DNA) - Show the students the model of DNA and discuss.
  4. Students will be given the cards to place in appropriate trays.  They will work individually to label the cell organelles. Explain that there may be several examples of some organelles and that only one example need be labeled.  Explain that one of the labels will not be used for this cell but do not tell students which (chloroplast).
  5. Once students have completed the activity, they will write down each organelle and describe why the organelles were labeled as they were.  For example, a student might say, " The mitochondria was represented by the batteries because the mitochondria is where energy is produced in the cell." 
  6. When completed, close the door and reattach the cell membrane to the inside of the door.  Add the label for cell wall to the outside of the door.  This way when the cell wall (door) is opened the cell membrane will be broken.
  7. Add the chloroplast (sugar packets) to several cabinets
  8. Move all food and water (and waste) to one cabinet to represent the central vacuole.  Explain to the students that this organelle is actually much larger than the cabinet represents.
  9. Repeat the activity for the plant cell having students label the extra cabinets.  Leave labels for the other organelles in their trays until all the plant cell organelles are labeled.
  10. Pick up all the labels and use as an informal assessment of the students' understanding of the organelles.
  11. After the activity, discuss the differences in plant and animal cells. Discuss all three features unique to plant cells. Relate structure to function as you discuss the various organelles.


First variation: Rather than having the students label the parts of the cell, labels can be placed on the cabinets and the instructor can discuss each organelle as it is found by students in the cabinets. (See picture of mitochondria above.)

Second Variation:  For younger students who have not learned all the parts of the cell, eliminate organelles that they have not yet learned.  Examples of organelles that might be removed for the younger students might be the lysosome in animal cells and the Golgi Apparatus and Endoplasmic Reticulum in both plant and animal cells.

NGSS Standards:

Within cells, special structures are responsible for particular functions, and the cell membrane forms the  boundary that controls what enters and leaves the cell.

Understanding the cell as a room collage



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