Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 3-8, students use the drag-and-drop game Build-A-Cell: Animal to explore the organelles that make up an animal cell. Working in pairs or small groups, students drag and drop organelles to build an animal cell. Case studies challenge students to put their new knowledge of animal cells to the test.  

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Work collaboratively to identify and learn about animal cells and the role of each of the organelles.
  2. Build an animal cell by assembling its organelles and substructures, and discover how they fit together.
  3. Analyze problems related to animal cells and identify the affected organelles.


  • Computers or other devices with Internet access
  • Interactive whiteboard
  • Small dry erase boards for each pair or small group, or sheets of paper


This lesson plan features the simulation Build-a-Cell: Animal developed by our partner,  Spongelab Interactive. This playful interactive challenges students to assemble an animal cell by dragging and dropping its organelles to the correct place. The interactive also challenges students to review case studies and identify affected organelles.  

Preview and play Build-a-Cell: Animal to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be playing in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations.

Depending on your classroom routines and available technology, you may want to consider these grouping options:

  • 1:1 with students and devices
  • Two to three students sharing one device and swapping ideas and the device back and forth
  • Station model where small groups rotate through using the devices
For more information about using interactive simulations effectively in the classroom, review our Educator’s Guide to Teaching with Digital Interactive Models and Teaching Strategies for Interactive Simulations.

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Cells, Mitosis, Cell Structures, Active Transport, DNA, Cell Specialization

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Prompt students to share what they know about animal cells, such as the organelles that make up an animal cell.
  2. After everyone shares their ideas, play the BrainPOP movie Cells on the whiteboard or other display.
  3. Divide the class into pair or small groups and project the Build-a-Cell: Animal interactive on the whiteboard. Explain that that today they will explore and assemble an animal cell. After, they will review case studies in which they must associate a problem within the cell with the affected organelle.
  4. Read, or invite a volunteer to read, the information about animal cells on the left side of the screen. Then choose, but do NOT click, Cell Membrane in the the tray on the right. Now challenge pairs or teams to come up with a definition for cell membrane and write it on paper or a small dry erase board. On your signal, instruct each team or pair to hold up their definitions.
  5. Now click Cell Membrane and read the definition that displays on the left side of the screen. Compare the definition to each pair/team’s definition and award points to teams based on the accuracy of their definitions (e.g., 3 points for a correct and highly detailed definition, 2 points for a correct definition that may be less detailed; 1 point for a partially correct definition, and 0 for an incorrect definition). For more in-depth game play, display all the responses in the front of the room and have the class analyze them together. They can rank the responses in the same way and a volunteer can keep track of each team’s points on the board
  6. After analyzing answers, have pairs/teams work at their own computers or devices to click Cell Membrane and drag it to the correct position on the screen. Point out that some organelles, such as the cytoskeleton, have substructures so they will need to assemble them before dropping them in.
  7. Repeat the process of defining, comparing definitions, ranking, and dragging/dropping for each organelle until the animal cell is completely assembled.
  8. After teams/partners assemble their animal cells, challenge them to solve the case studies. Model the first one by clicking the Case Studies link on the top right side of the screen. Select the first case study: Cyanide Poisoning. Read, or have a volunteer read, the case study that displays on the left side. Then show them how to answer the question the case study presents by clicking on the correct organelle.
  9. Have students work with their partner or team to complete the other case studies. Encourage them to discuss each case, and consider what they know, before clicking the organelle. Circulate as students work, listening in on their discussions and strategies, providing support as needed.
  10. Bring the class together to reflect on the animal cells and problems they explored through the interactive. Have them share what new information they learned. You can return to the discussion questions from the beginning to assess what they’ve learned.

Extension Activities:

Invite students to further explore the topic of animals by watching the following BrainPOP movies: Cells, Mitosis, Cell Structures, Active Transport, DNA, Cell Specialization.  

Challenge students to further research one of the issues featured in the Case Studies.