nerve cell

Cell Structure and Function

nerve cell

Cell Structure and Function

Cells are the building blocks of all organisms. The properties, organelles, and characteristics of a cell determine its role within the organism. Understanding the relationship between the cell’s structure and its function is an important topic in any biology course.
This guide breaks down the important information students need to know, provides links to products and free digital resources, and includes suggestions for hands-on labs that reinforce student learning.

We have gathered a variety of products and resources to better help you teach this concept. They include:

Models and manipulatives to simplify teaching cell structure and function
• Microscope slide sets ready to ship for your cellular exploration
• Cell structure and function activities, experiments, and kits
• Free resources for you and your students

The major areas covered in this topic are:
Prokaryotes and Microorganisms
Plant Cells
Animal Cells

Prokaryotes and Microorganisms

Observing single-celled organisms is a great way to introduce cells in your lab. Although prokaryotic cells lack a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles, they allow students to learn about basic cell morphology, reproduction, and evolution. Introduce eukaryotic cells to students with protists, popular microorganisms. Students can observe nuclei, organelles, and movement under the microscope!

131210 Structure and Function Kit

This kit contains 3 activities that highlight the structure and function of eukaryotes, prokaryotes, and viruses.

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Bacterial types images and microscope slides
294060 Discovering Bacteria Types

Microscope slide shows 3 typical bacterial forms in separate smears. Unit includes a self-study card and labeled photograph with descriptive text.

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Cultures of protozoa in jars.
131008 Protozoa Survey Set

Set consists of 6 individually labeled cultures: Amoeba, Euglena, Paramecium, Stentor, Volvox, Spirostomum.

Use this Lab Sheet to guide you through the activity.

Intermediate—Easy to perform; requires some background knowledge.

Plant Cells

Plant cell structure and function can be explored in a variety of ways. We have live materials, models, manipulatives, and microscope slides to help. Students observe what makes plant cells unique, such as the cell wall and chloroplasts, while learning the functional importance of each.

Microscope slides and images of plant cells
292102 Discovering Plant Cells

The Discovering Plant Cells Set includes slides of the 2 most commonly studied examples of plant cells (onion bulb epidermis and privet leaf).

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Colorful paper model of a plant cell
569652 Origami Organelles™ 3-D Paper Model Kit: Plant Cell

Models are powerful tools for teaching science as they provide useful simplifications of structures and processes, helping to make the unseen seen and the complex simple. Your students will enjoy learning about plant cells with this colorful model. It covers all the main parts of the plant cell, including the cell membrane, cell wall, chloroplasts, nucleus, chromosomes, and mitochondria. For more advanced learners, you can extend the model with the included optional organelles to study rough ER, smooth ER, and Golgi apparatus.

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Aquatic snails crawling on elodea
162101 Elodea

In this lab, students observe Elodea leaves under magnification. They will see cell walls and chloroplasts. From the movement of chloroplasts they will infer that cyclosis, or protoplasmic streaming, is occurring. They also will observe that most chloroplasts are pressed tightly against the cell wall and should infer from this that much of the cell is occupied by a vacuole.

Intermediate—Easy to perform; requires some background knowledge.

Animal Cells

Observing human cheek cells and using cell models are popular ways students learn the basics of animal cell structure and function. This knowledge is the foundation of future teaching topics, including cellular differentiation, division, and osmosis.

materials needed to build a cell model
211336 DNALC Baggie Cell Model Kit

Introduce students to the concept of “form fits function” by familiarizing them with different kinds of cells, their organelles, and the specific jobs each organelle performs. Students work in pairs to build a model animal cell using common materials. Each cell component is identified to indicate which organelle it represents.

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Microscope slides and images of animal cells.
292104 Discovering Animal Cells Self-Study Unit

The Discovering Animal Cells Set includes slides of the 2 most commonly studied examples of animal cells (human cheek cells and Amphiuma liver).

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Colorful paper model of an animal cell.
569650 3-D Paper Model Kit: Animal Cell

Use this easy-to-assemble model to teach students about the animal cell. This colorful model and accompanying information cover cell parts, including the cell membrane, nucleus, chromosomes, and mitochondria. For more advanced learners, optional extensions include rough endoplasmic reticulum, smooth endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi apparatus.

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Cell Structure and Function Kits

Explore hands-on lab kits that cover cell structure and function below.

Colorful poster about the cell and slide set.
292101 Cells, Units of Life Slide and Poster Set

Students easily compare animal and plant cells, single-celled organisms, and specialized cells using this set of 10 slides and helpful poster. They can explore the cell membrane, cytoplasm, and nucleus within a typical animal cell and look at the structure of typical plant cells, identifying the cell wall, chloroplasts, and vacuoles. Students can also observe examples of specialized cells, including blood, skin, and nerve cells. The laminated poster provides full-color, labeled images and descriptive insight into cellular structure.

Beginning—Easy to perform; requires little or no prior knowledge.

Onion bulbs and slide preparation materials
319328 Typical Animal and Plant Cells Slide Kit

This kit demonstrates the typical similarities and differences between animal and plant cells. Students prepare slides of their own cheek cells and an onion bulb epidermis. 

Intermediate—Easy to perform; requires some background knowledge.

Protists, onion, and additional materials for preparing slides of a variety of cell types.
131194 Cell Study BioKit®

 Introduces the cell, its basic structure, and general concept. Includes AmoebaEuglena, onion, elodea tips, cork, microscope slides, coverslips, forceps, razor knives, toothpicks, pipets, Protoslo®, stain, and teacher’s manual with reproducible student guide.

Intermediate—Easy to perform; requires some background knowledge.

Manual, slide materials, and specimens to investigate a variety of cell types
251001 Inquiries in Science®: Investigating Cell Types

Students explore the cell as the basic unit of life. Using a guided-inquiry technique, they first view cells with a microscope (not included). They then study Euglena, Paramecium, and elodea samples and observe their responses to different environmental conditions. As a final assessment, students design their own experiment to test cellular responses to environmental changes of their choice.

Intermediate—Easy to perform; requires some background knowledge.

Cell Models

Carolina has a variety of high-quality models to fit your needs. Check out our selection of prokaryotic, eukaryotic, plant, and animal models here.

Additional Cell Structure and Function Support

We have free resources to help you teach this concept, including:

  • Free Activities and Infographics
  • How-to Videos
  • Helpful Buying Guides

Free Cell Structure and Function Resources

Use these free resources to supplement your instruction about cell structure and function.

Microscope Skills Videos

Do your students need to brush up on their microscopy and slide preparation skills? These videos can help.

Buying Guides

Choosing the appropriate equipment for your labs can be a challenging task. Our buying guides are designed to make your decisions easy. Review Carolina recommended microscopes or one of these handy guides.

For More Guidance

These are our top picks. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, we’ll be happy to help you find the right activities and kits to simplify your planning and implementation. If you have questions, please contact us at product@carolina.com.

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