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: Bacterial to explore the organelles that make up a bacterial cell. Working in pairs or small groups, students drag and drop organelles to build a bacterial cell. A case study challenges students to put their new knowledge of bacterial 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 bacterial cells and the role of each of the organelles.
  2. Build a bacterial cell by assembling its organelles, and discover how they fit together.
  3. Analyze a problem related to bacterial cells and identify the affected organelle.


  • 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: Bacterial  developed by our partner,  Spongelab Interactive. This playful interactive challenges students to assemble a bacterial 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: Bacterial 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: Bacteria, Antibiotic Resistance, Immune System, Lyme Disease, Avian Flu  

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Prompt students to share what they know about bacterial cells.
  2. After everyone shares their ideas, play the BrainPOP movie Bacteria on the whiteboard or other display.  
  3. Divide the class into pair or small groups and project the Build-a-Cell: Bacterial interactive on the whiteboard. Explain that that today they will explore and assemble a  bacterial cell. After, they will review a case study associated with bacterial cells and answer a question.    
  4. Read, or invite a volunteer to read, the instructions on the left side of the screen. Then choose, but do NOT click, Capsule in the the tray on the right. Now challenge pairs or teams to come up with a definition for a bacterial cell’s capsule 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 Capsule 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 Capsule and drag it to the correct position on the screen.
  7. Repeat the process of defining, comparing definitions, ranking, and dragging/dropping for each organelle until the bacterial cell is assembled.
  8. After teams/partners assemble their bacterial cells, have them review the Case Study by clicking the link on the top right side of the screen and answering the question. Circulate as students work, listening in on their discussions and strategies, providing support as needed.
  9. Bring the class together to reflect on bacterial cells and share what new information they learned. You can return to the discussion question from the beginning to assess what they’ve learned.

Extension Activities:

Invite students to further explore the topic of bacteria by watching the following BrainPOP movies: Bacteria, Antibiotic Resistance, Immune System, Lyme Disease, Avian Flu