Cell Structure for low level adults

I have a class of adults in the Beaver County Jail (PA).They average about  grade level 7 and either don't remember taking Science before leaving school or never did take a course. I tried a way of helping them understand the very basic parts of a human cell.

I asked the class to draw a bird's eye view of their cell in the jail. This took a while as they were delighted to be able to use rulers (not allowed on their "pods.") Once that was done, I asked for a volunteer to go to the board and draw his cell. I then asked him who was in charge of his cell besides the warden and guards and eventually he came to say that he was in charge. So I asked him to draw a circle about 3" in diameter and fill it in to the side of his cell. I explained that this is the nucleus of the cell which is the essential part of a cell (much like he is in his cell). It controls the activity within the cell. He labeled the nucleus and drew an arrow from the nucleus to his figure. The other students did the same.

I asked the students what surrounds your cell? Walls. . . a door . . . a window.  On the board I had another student draw a free hand figure around the nucleus like a misshapen pancake. I tell them that is the cell membrane and he drew an arrow from the cell membrane to the wall of his cell and labeled it. I told them it surrounds and protects  what is in the cell and allows materials that go in and out of the cell..

I asked questions like what is everywhere in your cell (and other questions and gestures until air comes up!) In the human cell, a soup-like substance called cytoplasm is inside the cell and carries the various cell structures that have specific jobs like helping break down food for energy, growth, and reproduction. Then they drew an arrow from the human cell space to the jail cell space and labeled it.We review the basic parts of a cell and discuss kinds of cells they have heard of. Then we go to Steck-Vaughn's GED Science (2002) and look at a more detailed diagram of a human cell.


While it is extremely simple, it's a start.( at least they know three parts of a cell and their functions.) They enjoyed the" lesson" and are eager to learn more about the cell in the Steck-Vaughn text.


Hi, Cynthia,

This is a good question.  I am going to ask our group administrator how this can be done.  I will also send a message to Heather Erwin, the subject matter expert for correctional education.  This is a wonderful lesson and a great example of using what the student already knows!

Cheers, Susan

This is such a simple, yet ingenious, way to help them link a seemingly esoteric topic to something they very much identify with.  I don't teach in corrections, but will look at modifying it to use it in my own classroom.  Thank you!

Sue P.