How to Make a Model of a Cell With Playdough

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Cells may be the basic building blocks of life, but they are too small to examine in a typical classroom. This makes the concept abstract and a challenge for students to grasp. A malleable and familiar material such as Playdough makes learning about cells tangible. Cells are comprised of structures called organelles, which are represented with distinct shapes in learning exercises. A different color of Playdough is used to model each organelle.

    Identify the organelles on the picture of a cell. Note the shape of the organelles in the picture and use these as a guide when shaping parts of the cell.

    Create a chart with two columns. Label one column "Organelle" and the other column "Playdough color." Write the organelle name adjacent to the color of Playdough used to model it as follows: Cytoplasm is white, cell membrane is pink, golgi apparatus is orange, mitochondria is yellow, nucleus is brown, the rough endoplasmic reticulum is red and the ribosomes are black.

    Use the white Playdough to shape the cytoplasm as the base of the cell. Take a handful of Playdough and press it flat against your working surface. Press your knuckles into the center of the Playdough and push it outwards. Stretch the Playdough into a rough circular shape.

    Grab a piece of brown Playdough between two fingers to use as the cell nucleus. This is the biggest object in the plant cytoplasm. Roll the Playdough in a circle between the palms of your hands until it is a smooth sphere. Next, position it on top of the white Playdough.

    Take an equal amount of pink Playdough as that used to create the brown cell nucleus. Stretch the Playdough slightly and then place it between both hands. Rub your hands together so that the Playdough thins into a string shape. Make the string shape as long as possible.

    Wrap the pink string around the circumference of the white Playdough. This is the cell membrane. Make sure the pink, string-shaped Playdough membrane encircles the entire cytoplasm.

    Use three pinches of orange Playdough to model the golgi. Make the shape of these according to the picture of your cell. Golgi resemble elongated grains of rice Make these by twisting pieces of the Playdough between your fingers. Stack them together and lay horizontally on the cytoplasm.

    Make mitochondria with yellow Playdough. Take two to three pieces of the Paydough that are the size of your fingernail. Shape a rough circle with the yellow Playdough and flatten it into an oval. Place the mitochondria on the cytoplasm.

    Use red Playdough as rough edoplasmic reticulum. This is the second biggest organelle on the cytoplasm. Grab a chunk of red Playdough between two fingers, roughly the same amount as used for the nucleus. Split the chunk of red Playdough in two. Rub one piece of Playdough between your hands so that it is cylindrical in shape. Curve the red Playdough around the nucleus. Repeat with the second piece.

    Use one-quarter the amount of Playdough used for rough endoplasmic reticulum to make ribosomes. Take black Playdough and rub it between your hands to make a thin stringy shape. Split the string in two and layer one piece each on top of the rough edoplasmic reticulum.

    Things You'll Need

    • Picture of an animal cell
    • 8.5-by-11 sheet of paper
    • Pencil
    • 1 can of white Playdough (cytoplasm)
    • 1 can of pink Playdough (cell membrane)
    • 1 can of orange Playdough (golgi apparatus)
    • 1 can of yellow Playdough (mitochondria)
    • 1 can of brown Playdough (nucleus)
    • 1 can of red Playdough (rough endoplasmic reticulum)
    • 1 can of black Playdough (ribosome)

References

About the Author

Iam Jaebi has been writing since 2000. His short story, "The Alchemist," reached over 250,000 readers and his work has appeared online in Thaumotrope and Nanoism. His novel, "The Guardians," was released in 2010 by Imagenat Entertainment. Jaebi is also a business writer specializing in company naming, concept designs and technical writing. He graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering.

Photo Credits

  • Chad Baker/Photodisc/Getty Images