How to Draw a Cell from an Animal
Teaching about cells was one of my favorite units. Especially in lower grades when students need to only know the basics, there are many fun activities to do. Drawing cells is typically not a skill assessed on tests or required by standards but it can certainly help students develop a lasting knowledge of the cell. I would never do this in isolation but rather alongside learning about the structure and function of parts of an animal cell. Here is a tutorial with pictures demonstrating how to draw an animal cell. I am not an artist so if I can do it, anyone can.
The plasma membrane is a flexible membrane that covers all cells. It allows certain materials in and out of the cell which makes it semi-permeable. In animal cells, this is the only covering between the inside and outside of the cell so it gives it a round or fluid shape.
The first thing you want to clearly illustrate in your drawing is the outside structure of the animal cell. Although the cell is three dimensional and your drawing will be two dimensional, there are techniques to show dimension in your drawing. Simply add an additional line around two sides of the outside of the animal cell. Then, label this the plasma membrane.
Summary of Cell Organelle Functions
Occur in pairs and important for cell division
A highly folded membrane that is that site for protein and lipid synthesis
A flattened stack of membranes that modifies proteins and packages them in the cell
A vesicle that contains digestive materials to break down cellular wastes
A membrane- bound organelle that makes energy available to the rest of the cell
Control center of the cell that contains directiosn for the production of proteins and cell division
A flexible boundary that controls the movement of substances int oand out of the cell
A membrane bound vesicle that stores food and water
Nucleus and membrane
The nucleus is the control center of the cell and accordingly a large structure in the cell. It manages the activities of the rest of the cell. It contains DNA which contains the information needed to make proteins necessary for growth and reproduction. The nucleus has its own membrane that has pores allowing things to exit the nucleus.
Inside the nucleus is another structure called the nucleolus where ribosomes are produced. As you draw the nucleus, create same illusion of a membrane as the one created for the plasma membrane surrounding the cell. Also include lines for DNA and a round structure for the nucleolus.
Next, we have the endoplasmic reticulum (en duh PLAZ mihk - rih TIHK yum lum) or ER for short. Understanding the structure and location of the endoplasmic reticulum will help you understand its function. The ER is a system of highly folded membrane sacs and interconnected channels where protein and lipid synthesis occur. It is attached to the nucleus because ribonucleic acid (RNA) transcribed in the nucleus travels out of nuclear pores and onto the ER to translate proteins. The many folds of the ER provide more surface area for ribosomes to produce proteins. The part of the ER that contains ribosomes is called the Rough ER.
Smooth and Rough ER
The part of the endoplasmic reticulum that does not contain ribosomes is called the Smooth ER. It extends from the rough ER and continues the folds of the rough ER. The Smooth ER is where lipids and complex carbohydrates important for cellular function are made. Phospholipids which make up the cell membrane are synthesized in the Smooth ER. Also, Smooth ER is found in the liver where it detoxifies harmful substances.
Ribosomes are small structures surrounded by a membrane that produce proteins. They can be found floating freely around the cell or attached to the Rough ER. They are composed of protein and RNA and can be drawn as small circles in your diagram of an animal cell.
The Golgi Apparatus is a flattened stack of membranes that modifies, sorts and packages proteins into sacs called vesicles. After proteins are made in the ribosomes on the Rough ER, some are shipped to the Golgi Apparatus for further processing. Similar vesicles pinch off the Golgi carrying proteins to the plasma membrane where the vesicles fuse to release proteins into the environment surrounding the cell. My students use to confuse the ER with the Golgi when I showed them the structures independently. However, when I started teaching about the cell as a whole and allowing students to draw the entire cell, they could see the Golgi was freestanding and surrounded by vesicles.
The Golgi Apparatus
Vacuoles are vesicles surrounded by membranes that store food and waste products. Animal cells don’t usually contain vacuoles but when they do they are small, round structures throughout the cell.
I always connect Lysol to lysosomes to help my students remember the function. Lysosomes are small vesicles that contain substances for breaking down wastes. Lysosomes can digest bacteria and viruses that have entered the cell. Draw your lysosomes like vesicles except include small dots inside them to represent the enzymes that break things down.
Centrioles are structures made of microtubules (like skeleton) that function in cell division. They are usually near the nucleus because they help divide the genetic material when the cell splits and reproduces. Centrioles are unique to animal cells and look like a bunch of sticks tied together.
Mitochondria are the energy generators of a cell. They convert sugar into energy the cell can use in the form of ATP. The mitochondria have an outer membrane and a highly folded inner membrane. Just like the ER had folds to increase the surface area available this is similar in the mitochondria. The large surface area is used for the breaking of bonds in sugars which releases energy for the cell to use. Diagram your mitochondria like beans with a cross section showing the folds of the inner membrane.
Those are the main parts of a cell in an animal that you will have to draw. depending on your grade level you may add or remove some structures. Pay attention to showing membranes and relative sizes of the different parts. Of course, learning or reviewing the function while drawing the structure helps one to better understand the cell. Feel free to add colors to bring out the beauty of your drawing and your own creativity. Happy Drawing!