Biology is the study of life, and in Biology the main system we study is the human body. Body Systems is a great topic to teach in Biology at the beginning of the year. My students are so curious about their bodies and their health. They have so many questions and they spark interesting conversations and discussions every year.
Body systems and systems are disciplinary core ideas in Biology. They are recurring themes that I can spiral back to throughout the year. We review and build on our knowledge of systems when we study cells and ecosystems. Teaching body systems helps me reinforce the concepts of structure and function. Structure and function are disciplinary core ideas in Biology as well. The structure of cells and organ systems enables their function, and therefore life. Body Systems also make a great segue into the Immune System, which students find really interesting and is one of my favorite units to teach.
Also check out:
- My blog post How She Teaches What is a System? to read more about how I introduce Vocab Logs and teach system, structure, function, and component. That lesson is a great confluence into body systems!
- My Body Systems Google Drive folder
- My Rubric: Body Systems Poster for the Body Systems Poster Project
The Body Systems
Our bodies are biological systems that are intricately pieced together. Many systems work together within the body to make it work as a whole:
- Male reproductive
- Female reproductive
Body Systems Poster Project
This is my favorite way to teach body systems. Groups of 3 research a body system and present the knowledge they learned to the class. Each group needs a large piece of butcher paper for the poster. Students spend a block period or two on the posters. They usually turn out really well and they make excellent classroom decorations for the rest of the year!
- Write the name of the system
- Explain the function of the system
- Draw a detailed visual aide that is human size, labeled, and includes at least 5 components
- Explain how the structure of the organ system enables its function
- Write 3 facts that are either interesting or fun
- Create 1 question that your group finds interesting, or that the class might find interesting
First, students research their assigned body system. When doing research, I like for students to just Google their topic for 10-15 minutes. They don’t write anything down! Just READ! Read and learn more about the topic first, and find some good sources.
Students gather information and record it in a Graphic Organizer. Even though they are working together, everyone needs to have a completed graphic organizer for their notebook. Then, groups plan a rough draft of their poster on the back of their paper.
Next, groups create their posters. They include the information from the Graphic Organizer, and a detailed visual aide. The diagram should be labeled and human-sized (to scale). The diagram shows the structure and the components of the system.
Body Systems Poster Presentations & Notes
Each group presents their research to the class. The presentation is pretty simple, talk about the information from the poster. Explain the function of your system, the organs in your system, share your question, and at least 3 of your facts. Students listen and take notes on the presentations. They can fill out a Graphic Organizer or follow an outline. It can take a block period or two to finish all of the presentations.
Body Systems Flipbook
I like the Body Systems Flipbook by Kesler Science. My first year teaching Biology, I showed it to my colleagues and they loved it! They wanted to do it in their classes too. I like doing fun and hands on stuff like this. Many students enjoy the creative side of this assignment. Especially those with artistic skills. The body systems flipbook is an excellent resource to have in their science notebooks. Plus it looks great! You can purchase a digital download of the flipbook in Teachers Pay Teachers at Body Systems Interactive Notebook Pages – Paper INB.
The Movie, Osmosis Jones
This is a fun movie. Osmosis Jones is a white blood cell and a cop. His police work takes him all throughout a human body. Chris Rock plays the voice of Osmosis Jones. Bill Murray plays Frank, the human. Frank has really bad hygiene and he’s just gross.
Osmosis Jones relates to a lot of the topics we study in the first semester like Being Alive, Body Systems, and the Immune System. We study them before we watch the movie so students understand the significance of the cells types, infectious diseases, medicine, and the human body.
When I watched this with my students there was one cringey scene. It involves some pathogens speaking with an accent, and some kind of “border patrol” white blood cell. I will say that this is a comedy movie, and at times it is more mature humor. It is the kind of kids movie that adults can enjoy too. But yea, that one scene is the only thing that stands out as not standing the test of time.
My favorite movie viewing guide is this Osmosis Jones Movie Worksheet and Answer Key on Teachers Pay Teachers. My students usually don’t figure out the back side while they are watching the movie. We don’t cover each of the body systems in great detail, and they just don’t catch it. We just go over it together. I never tried it, but it would be a fun exercise to get the Body Systems Poster groups back together. The different group experts might be able to work together to figure out the answers!
Inside Nature’s Giants
This is a series of awesome educational documentary videos by PBS. Basically they are filmed dissections of different large animals like Sperm Whale, Giant Squid, Camel*, Monster Python, Great White Shark, Big Cats… I even watched one of a T Rex. Many videos can be streamed for free at https://www.pbssocal.org/shows/inside-natures-giants. They change which ones are available for viewing at any given time. My students really enjoy these videos. They are really interesting to watch. Students take notes and we pause every 10 minutes to write and discuss.
I first learned of these videos from a colleague who taught 7th grade science with me. 7th grade was OK, but I feel most comfortable showing these videos to my high school Biology students. The videos are all a little intense because there’s nothing they won’t show. I was quite surprised when I was watching with my 7th grade class and they whipped out the enormous 4 foot penis of a sperm whale! I’ve never seen anything else like it! While it was shocking to see, it was a valuable and memorable learning experience. It tied in really well with body systems and frog dissections.
*I can’t stress enough to preview videos before watching them in class. As a remote assignment during the pandemic, I let students choose which video to watch and take How She Teaches Fill the Page Notes. Apparently, they drive around and shoot the camel in the head in the first few minutes of the episode. A giant penis is one thing, but this is too much! I had to make phone calls home and apologize. Woops! Definitely one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in teaching.
I do the pig dissection at the end of the year as part of their final exam grade. It is a good review of systems and body systems from the very beginning of the year. With a review of the body systems, the lab procedure, and writing a lab report, this takes a full 2 weeks. So I definitely need to write a whole blog post on it!
I do this lab for several reasons. First, it is so memorable for my students. They get to be doctors and nurses for the week. I vividly remember the pig dissection I did in my college freshman Biology lab. Second, they practice real science skills like utilize dissection kits and medical tools, measurement, Lab Safety (How She Teaches), record data, draw diagrams, and communicate information. Third, students work together and practice collaboration skills and group roles. Bonus Points to any group who can remove the brain intact! Finally, if every teacher in my grade level is doing the pig dissection, I don’t want to deprive my students of that same experience. The learning standards have changed, and we don’t need to teach body systems anymore. But teachers still have their favorite lessons and learning experiences, and you can’t change a whole curriculum overnight.
I have ethical issues with using fetal pig specimen in this lab. I am a vegetarian and I am also an INFJ, so I care so much about animals. You can read more about INFJs and how they make great teachers in my blog post, Why INFJs Make Great Teachers! (How She Teaches) Now there are more and more virtual simulations and synthetic hands-on dissection kits coming out (but good luck finding a frog dissection simulation for free online). There are more options becoming available which would make this an even better learning experience because it doesn’t harm animals.
Body Systems has been an interesting unit for me to teach in Biology. They actually aren’t included in the Next Generation Science Standards for high school Biology in California anymore. I don’t need to teach each system in detail, but I still like to cover them for all of the important, fun, and interesting reasons in this blog post!
I hope this blog post on my favorite lesson ideas to teach Body Systems gave you some good ideas. It would make my day if I saved you a little time! What are your favorite lessons to teach Body Systems? Let me know by leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you! To read more about me and my classroom, check out my blog posts below!
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