Cellular Respiration - Kinesthetic Activity

By Laura Hospitál on Sep 05, 2015

I was reminded of this activity while considering kinesthetic activities that I use with my students for an interview with Stephanie Ludi.  I have found that students remember much better when they are involved in active learning.  Much research has supported this.   In this simple activity, students take on the roles of the reactants and products in one chemical reaction vital to life - cellular respiration.


  • Cellular Respiration: the process cells use to release energy from food molecules  
  • Reactants: one of the substances that is present at the start of a chemical reaction and takes part in the reaction
  • Products: substance formed as a result of a chemical reaction


  • Cut a thick string or a rope to a length of about 2 meters or more.


  • At least 4 students (The instructor may play one role if necessary)
  • A piece of thick string or rope about 2 meters long (no need to measure)


After initial instruction on cellular respiration, tell the students that they will play the parts of the major players in cellular respiration.

  1. Have the students stand in an open area of the classroom as space will be necessary.
  2. Assign each students a role:  carbon dioxide, oxygen, water, and food.
  3. Explain to the students that the rope represents the cell membrane.  Also, explain that like every model, it is imperfect as the cell membrane would be 3-D rather than 2-D. 
  4. Ask the students what the function of cellular respiration is.  They should remember that energy production from food is the function of cellular respiration.  Prompt them if necessary.
  5. Ask:  What is necessary to produce energy by cellular respiration? - Answer: oxygen and food. Discuss
  6. (You may want to ask where they get their energy if the students have forgotten the reactants. Answer - from food)
  7. Ask:  What are the waste products?  -  Answer:  Water and carbon dioxide
  8. Have the students that are "playing" the products (water and carbon dioxide) stand inside of the cell membrane as you begin the activity.
  9. Once they understand that food and oxygen are the necessary reactants, have the other 2 students "play" the food and oxygen and enter the cell through the cell membrane (rope). 
  10. After they have entered, ask:  What products are produced?  - Answer:  Water and carbon dioxide.  Have the 2 students who were in the cell exit as you explain the reaction. 
  11. As the reactants enter and the products exit, make a buzzing sound to represent the production of energy (or ask the students what sound should represent energy) as a result of the reaction of cellular respiration.  Describe this sound as the sound representing energy.  
  12. Have students write the formula in words or in the form of a chemical reaction depending on their levels.



NGSS Standards:

Grade 5 - Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems
LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1) 
Middle School: Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems
Within individual organisms, food moves through a series of chemical reactions in which it is broken down and rearranged to form new molecules, to support growth, or to release energy. (MS-LS1-7)
PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life
Cellular respiration in plants and animals involve chemical reactions with oxygen that release stored energy. In these processes, complex molecules containing carbon react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and other materials. (secondary to MS-LS1-7)
High School: Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems
As a result of these chemical reactions, energy is transferred from one system of interacting molecules to another. Cellular respiration is a chemical process in which the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and new compounds are formed that can transport energy to muscles.  Cellular respiration also releases the energy needed to maintain body temperature despite ongoing energy transfer to the surrounding environment.(HS-LS1-7)
LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
Photosynthesis and cellular respiration (including anaerobic processes) provide most of the energy for life processes. (HSLS2- 3)


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