I'm a former middle school science teacher who has made and graded hundreds of plant and animal cell models over the years.
Learn About Cells the Fun and Easy Way!
You don't need to be an award-winning painter, baker, or sculptor to create an awesome 3D cell model for science class—and have FUN while doing it!
In this step-by-step guide, you'll find a complete list of plant and animal cell organelles, suggestions for edible and non-edible project materials, how-to videos, and photos of cell models to inspire you.
Whether you're building this model for science class, a science fair, or a homeschool project, your 3D cell model is sure to impress.
Let's get started!
Short on time? Here's everything you need to create an A+ cell model in one place.
- Plant & Animal Cell Model Supplies and Resources
I've put together an Amazon Idea List that has everything you need to build any type of cell model -- all in one place! Most items are under $10 but you can save even more money by splitting the cost of supplies with a friend or classmate.
Step 1: Choose Plant Cell vs. Animal Cell
First and foremost, you need to decide whether you will create a plant cell or animal cell.
Plant cells and animal cells are shaped differently and contain different parts.
The best way to decide? Take a look at some cell diagrams on an interactive site like CellsAlive.com. This site offers awesome animations of both plant and animal cells with descriptions of each organelle.
How to Make a Styrofoam Plant Cell Model
Step 2: Choose Edible vs. Non-Edible Model
Next, you should decide whether you want your cell model to be edible or not.
- Edible cell models can be eaten (yum!) and are often made with cake, large cookies, Rice Krispie Treats, Jell-O, berries, or candies (e.g., M&Ms, gummy worms, jelly beans, etc.).
- Non-edible cell models cannot be eaten and are often made with everyday craft supplies like styrofoam, pipe cleaners, shower gel, string, Play-Doh, or modeling clay.
There are pros and cons to each type of project. Consider how much money you want to spend, which supplies you already have in your home, your teacher's requirements, and the length of time your project will be on display (edible items may eventually rot, smell, or attract bugs). Also, consider your plans for after the school project or science fair is over. Do you hope to save the cell model in the basement or garage with other treasured mementos? Weigh your options carefully and choose your project accordingly.
Tip: If you are building your 3D model for school, check with your teacher to make sure an edible cell model is ok before you take the time to make it!
Step 3: Consider the Parts of the Cell
Now you need to make a list of all the parts, or organelles, that need to be included in your 3D cell model.
Organelles are the "mini organs" that are found inside every plant and animal cell.
Each organelle has a different function and physical appearance, and together they work to keep the cell alive.
While plant and animal cells share many of the same organelles, including the nucleus, Golgi apparatus, and mitochondria, there are a few key differences. Check out the chart below to see which organelles are found where.
Parts of the Animal Cell vs. Plant Cell
|Cell Part||Animal Cell||Plant Cell|
Animal Cell Model Inspiration
Step 4: Choose Your Materials
Here's where the real fun begins! It's time to decide which materials you will use to create each organelle.
Activity: To power up your creativity, set a timer for two minutes. During that time, write down every possible material you can think of. Here's a short list to get you thinking outside the box:
- Edible Materials: Twizzlers, Skittles, gummy worms, jawbreakers, gum, pretzels, marshmallows, cereal, cake, cookies, chocolate chips, Jell-O, icing or fondant, sprinkles, food coloring
- Non-Edible Materials: Clay, styrofoam, beads, yarn, twine, dry noodles, dry beans, pipe cleaners, buttons, rubber bands, toothpicks, construction paper, cardboard
Hint: The best materials are ones that already look like the organelles you're trying to create. For example, the nucleus in any cell is always round, so a jawbreaker, bouncy ball, or orange would each make a great nucleus in your cell model.
Plant Cell Model Inspiration
Step 5: Build Your Model
As you begin building, make sure to start with the base of your 3D cell model. Why? Because you need to know how big to make everything, of course!
Once you've baked your cake, bought your styrofoam block, or sculpted your clay foundation, you can build those beautiful organelles. This is where your creativity can really shine—so have fun and don't forget to keep a diagram of the organelles nearby! Having a diagram on hand will ensure that your cell model is not only super cool to look at but also scientifically accurate.
Once all of your organelles are securely attached to the base of your model, label the organelles. Toothpicks and stickers make great labels, and they let everyone know what's what on your cell model.
How to Make an Animal Cell Model
Test Your Knowledge With a Quiz
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- The specialized structures that serve specific purposes within a cell are called __?
- Which of these organelles acts as the "packaging center" of the cell, using vesicles to transport enzymes in and out?
- Golgi Apparatus
- Endoplasmic Reticulum
- Cell Membrane
- Cell Wall
- The mitochondria perform which of the following duties within a cell?
- separating the chemical reactions occurring inside the cell from the chemicals found in the extracellular fluid
- interpreting DNA's genetic code and creating amino acids
- providing stability and structure
- creating energy through cellular respiration
- Which pair of organelles is found only in plant cells?
- Cell Wall & Cell Membrane
- Cell Membrane & Chloroplasts
- Chloroplasts & Vacuoles
- Lysosomes & Chloroplasts
- Cell Wall & Chloroplasts
- Which of these organelles removes waste from the cell?
- Golgi Apparatus
- creating energy through cellular respiration
- Cell Wall & Chloroplasts
A Deeper Understanding
Building a cell model should deepen your understanding of the cell and all of its distinct parts. It's also important to understand the functions of each part and how they work together. Let's take a closer look:
Organelle: Any specialized structure inside the cell.
Cell Membrane: Composed of a double lipid bilayer, the cell membrane separates and protects the cell from its environment, regulates the movement of molecules in and out of the cell, and provides structure to the cell.
Cytoplasm: The semifluid substance that fills the cell. All of the cell's organelles are suspended inside the cytoplasm.
Nucleus: Where the cell's genetic information, or DNA, is stored. The nucleus is like the "brain" of the cell; it issues instructions about what the cell should do next.
Nucelar Membrane: Also called the nuclear envelope, this is the membrane that encloses the nucleus. Like the cell membrane, the nuclear membrane is composed of a double lipid bilayer.
Golgi Apparatus: Responsible for taking proteins and lipids within the cell and modifying, packaging, and transporting them via vesicles to other places within the cell. Also called the Golgi body or Golgi complex.
Mitochondria: Responsible for energy production within the cell. The mitochondria generate a special energy molecule called ATP, which stands for adenosine triphosphate.
Endoplasmic Reticulum: Similar to the Golgi apparatus, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) serves as a center for the synthesis, modification, and transport of proteins. There are two types: the rough ER and smooth ER, which are characterized by certain physical and functional differences.
Ribosomes: Floating freely in the cytoplasm, ribosomes are molecules that are responsible for synthesizing proteins.
Vacuoles: Storage facilities for the cell. Vacuoles play a role in storing food and water, and they also facilitate detoxification (sequestering harmful materials) and the removal of waste products.
Central Vacuole: Found only in plant cells, this is a large vacuole that stores water and helps maintain optimal turgor pressure within the cell.
Lysosomes: As the cell's digestive system, lysosomes contain enzymes to digest (break down) macromolecules, old cell parts, and microorganisms. Lysosomes are found only in animal cells.
Cell Wall: Found only in plant cells, the cell wall surrounds the cell membrane. The cell wall is stiff and rigid, and it provides additional protection and support to the cell.
Chloroplasts: Found only in plant cells, chloroplasts produce food (energy) for the cell by converting sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into sugars. This process is called photosynthesis. The sunlight-absorbing molecules inside the chloroplast are called chlorophyll.
Parts of a Cell Song
Are You Satisfied With Your School Project?
Now that you've completed your project, the time has come to admire the sheer brilliance that is your finished 3D cell model. If you chose to make an edible cell model, it might also be time to break out the forks and spoons (after your teacher has had time to grade it, of course). Yum!
One More Song (This One's a Rap!)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Franchesca W
Lily on June 09, 2020:
CCC on May 04, 2020:
I can’t wait
Alexis on April 03, 2020:
You should show how to make a digital one
Bendy in the game on March 05, 2020:
nice & thank you
Freshta on March 02, 2020:
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304 on October 19, 2019:
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your favorite on October 18, 2019:
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Meh on October 13, 2019:
police on October 12, 2019:
where is rough endoplasmic reticulum and smooth endoplasmic reticulum and what jobs do they do?
fortnite on October 07, 2019:
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hairlineGEl on September 20, 2019:
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cell researcher.... on September 15, 2019:
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Franchesca W (author) from Atlanta, GA on September 15, 2019:
Thank you so much!
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Kaye on July 02, 2019:
I need to make idible plant cells
Me on June 26, 2019:
I need to make an edible animal cell cake
Vinod Kumar on June 17, 2019:
Can you give me a easy model of human and animal cell but please as soon as possible and please l want a video that I can make by clay
Hello on May 28, 2019:
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That's girl on January 15, 2019:
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Tim on January 02, 2019:
Lysosomes are found in both plants and animal cells
Ada on December 12, 2018:
This was great last minute help thanks x
Hell.sk on December 11, 2018:
how to do it
Alejandra Hernnadez on December 05, 2018:
I love doing these 3D models
hi on December 05, 2018:
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ben10 univers on December 05, 2018:
i hate this because i dont want to do it again we did it three years ago
:) on December 04, 2018:
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ugh on December 02, 2018:
I have to do this for a school project and I’m sad yet excited. But I also have an essay and have to present both without looking at my essay... :/
lolololol on November 28, 2018:
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Me on November 26, 2018:
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megan abad on November 13, 2018:
need help to make a 3d plant cell and animal cell model project. thanks.
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Your Mom on October 23, 2018:
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Someone on October 16, 2018:
This wasn't very helpful because it doesn't have a how-to or a supply list. Maybe add them next time
smar nigga on October 08, 2018:
the Quiz easy
a friend with a partner. on October 05, 2018:
this totally helped us with our idea for possible designs. not with a supply list, which is what i was looking for. perhaps add a supply list or a rough idea? that would help us much more than an idea for a design.
Zabby on October 02, 2018:
Know your Options on September 26, 2018:
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Fortnite KIng on September 23, 2018:
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Project lover on September 19, 2018:
You can use a round styrofoam ball cut 1/4 out paint it the colors above. And label it with the check list above use strips of paper glued to toothpicks to lable.
Tahni McNeil on September 18, 2018:
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chloe on August 28, 2018:
thus is helpfull since i have a project due tommorrow but idk what tge labels are