We are in the midst of learning about cells in my science class. Every year I have students that struggle to understand how all the parts of the cell work together. We look at pictures, we label cell organelles, we color diagrams, but that still isn’t enough for some to connect the dots. Students can’t see inside a cell with their own eyes. Most classrooms don’t have the microscope power to see details either.

How does a teacher help students make these connections? Make comparisons to something students are familiar with! Using analogies in the classroom is a great way for students to better understand many concepts. When students can make their own cell analogies, it is even better.

Cell Analogies Activity

To introduce the activity to my class, I showed students this slideshow by Chad Foster on SlideShare.  My students thought the idea of a cell as a restaurant was hilarious – but they were understanding the connections! After we discussed the restaurant example, I had students work in groups to come up with their own analogy.

I helped provide a few ideas to get them going:
  • Sports Team
  • City/Town
  • Backpack
  • School
  • Supermarket

I also wanted students to use at least 4 different cell organelles to make their comparisons. What would the nucleus of the cell be in their analogy? How would the cell membrane be represented? Some groups immediately took off and came up several different ideas. Others though struggled at first. With these groups, I asked them – since the nucleus is the control center of a cell, what could be a control center in your example? The prompting helped them come up with their own ideas!

One of my favorite analogies made was a group that decided to compare a cell to a soccer field. They said the vacuoles of a cell are like the coolers the soccer moms keep – they store all the food!

Here are the posters in progress – I didn’t get many pictures because some of the groups got so into making details on their posters that they didn’t have time to finish!

A cell is like a city…
Cellopolis!

We will be working on these ex-CELL-ent analogies again this week!

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