Cell Game

By William Bobrowsky, November 8, 2007

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Science
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Three fifty-minute class periods with time in between class two and class three for construction


Every high school biology class spends time learning about cellular structure and function. By asking students to use their knowledge of cells to design and build a game that tests the knowledge of other students, learning about cells becomes fun and exciting. This activity is one that should be used in the latter part of a unit on cells, as it depends on a strong base knowledge in order to be able to think about game design.

National Standards

Common Core State Standards:

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Anchor Standards for Writing

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:
  • describe the structure and function of various organelles that make up plant and animal cells
  • brainstorm ways to learn about cells
  • learn about and research game design
  • work as a team to brainstorm
  • design a game to teach other students about cells
  • create a prototype of their game
  • critique and provide feedback for other groups



Random types, thicknesses, and colors of paper; cardboard; orphaned game pieces; dice; foam; scissors; staplers; glue sticks; rubber bands; markers, etc.


Students should have prior understanding of cells and organelles before starting this lesson. Introductory lessons surrounding these concepts should have preceded this activity.
  • Before the students start the project, decide as a class how much “copying” of existing games will be allowed. Can the groups simply make their own version of Jeopardy! or Concentration, or will they have to think of an entirely original game?
  • Break students into small groups of 3.
  • Problem Statement. Introduce the challenge to the students: each group must design a game that uses cell biology as the basis for competing. Leaving the parameters of the challenge open will encourage students to think creatively about what to include in their games.
  • Have students check out the following Web sites in order to gain an understanding of game design. Game design embodies physical games, board games, and even Web games. By researching game design, students will better understand the creativity and limitlessness of what they can design. https://www.instituteofplay.org/; https://www.gamersmob.com/
  • Idea development. As a group, discuss games and what makes games interesting and fun; for example, complexity (Diplomacy, Dungeons & Dragons), simplicity (Concentration), realism, (Monopoly), fantasy (Magic), etc. With few exceptions games rely on the skill of the player, and not on the simple roll of the dice. This conversation should help groups brainstorm what type of game they would like to design.
  • Ideation. Engage each group in a brainstorming session and write several ideas for games on the board.
  • Idea flaring. Groups should then meet individually and add to their list of potential ideas for games, creating a list of criteria for their game.
  • Focusing. Each group member should propose three ideas for a game that meets the broad criteria the group previously created. These ideas should be drawn up in some form of diagram. Offering students a template for this can be helpful (the attached “Cell Game Idea Focusing” can be used for this).
  • Students in each group should then discuss how each proposed idea is similar or different.
  • Vision building. Each group should end the class by sharing a vision of their game. This vision might combine the ideas from more than one diagram and can draw from anywhere.
  • Break students back into groups and, as a class, briefly discuss what students completed in the previous class.
  • Prototyping. Groups should create prototypes of their games. The prototypes should be made quickly and will be very rough around the edges. The fit and finish of the prototypes is of no concern for this round. If the game involves questions and answers, just a few will do. If given too much time, students will try to make their game look good, rather than using the prototype as a proof of the concept.
  • Testing the prototype. Two groups should come together to examine each other’s game prototype. Group 1 should explain to Group 2 the idea of the game and demonstrate a round of play, indicating how the game is played. Group 2 should then actually play the game, not just observe, and give constructive feedback on the design, both positive and negative. The groups should switch roles and look at Group 2's prototype. All team members should take notes during this process.
  • Redesign. Groups should separate and redesign their game depending on the feedback given by the other group. Some groups may have to scrap their prototype and start over, while others will have to tweak a solid design before beginning final construction.
  • For homework or in an additional class, students should complete their designs and build the final version of their games.
  • Design rollout. Have each group present and describe their game designs to the class in a short presentation. Then, play! Have one person from each group stay with their game, while the other group members circulate and play other games. Throughout the class, groups should switch members that stay with the game so everyone can participate.
  • Process the process. As a group, discuss the games. What were the best games? Why? How could each group improve on their game? Did each game meet the goal of teaching cell biology? Did designing a game on cell biology increase the designers’ knowledge of cells? What did students think about the process of designing the games? How did the prototyping help design a better game? If students did this process over again, what would they do differently?


This project does not lend itself to quick and easy recognition of how much students’ understanding of cell structure and function has improved as a result of engaging in game making. Paying close attention to student discussions as they prototype and play the games will give you a sense of their present knowledge in regards to the content. This can also be a nice prelude to a larger scale assessment. Playing the game as a whole group can help you see what students understanding well and where they may need extra attention. Asking students to write about the process individually can help you assess their understanding of the different steps. Lastly, this process is team-focused, so judging individual accountability can be tough. Pay close attention to the group dynamics as the teams work.

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • This lesson could be taken to the next level by creating a game design competition for another class or the entire school to participate in.
  • Also, students could further research game design. Since most students play video games, this could segue into a technology lesson or a marketing lesson about game design.

Teacher Reflection

I can’t say enough about how well this project went with my students. A few groups struggled to “think outside the box” and couldn’t think of anything but a Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit type game, but some really showed their creativity by creating games that were hybrids of board and card, or trivia and adventure style formats. I was concerned about how I was going to evaluate their games, but it turned out that the students themselves become their own harshest critics in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their games. In terms of understanding where students' content knowledge was, I was also surprised to see that as students made their cards, or questions, or built their game boards to look like cells, they demonstrated reasonably accurately how well they knew cell structure and function. Misspellings and easy level questions were some of the things that jumped out at me as areas to attend to in subsequent discussions.

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