How to make a model of an animal cell with styrofoam

Updated February 21, 2017

Many students are asked to create a model of an animal cell for school. One way to approach the project involves a ball of styrofoam, a material easy to work with. Other readily available materials can be used to assemble a graphic representation of a cell.

Use the picture of an animal cell to determine the layout of the project. Judge the scale of each of the parts required so there is enough room for everything without overlapping pieces. Measure everything before final assembly.

Cut the styrofoam ball in two. The ball should be about 8 inches across to allow space for all the pieces, which must be large enough to be seen easily.

Create a stand for the cell. Using a block of balsa wood about as wide as the ball, unbend and straighten two metal paper clips and push one end of each into the wood about an inch deep and 2 inches from the edge of the block. Push the other ends of the paper clips an inch deep into the styrofoam ball so the flat part of the ball is tilted back about 45 degrees. Be sure that the block is balanced enough to support the ball without falling over. The stand is used for displaying the finished cell, as well as aiding in the attaching of the parts.

Use a knife to cut the flat balsa wood into the shapes of the organelles within the cell. The inner parts include the centrosome, rough endoplasmic reticulum, smooth endoplasmic reticulum, ribosome, Golgi body, mitochondria, vacuoles, nucleolus, nucleus and lysosome. More than one copy of the ribosome, mitochondria, vacuoles and lysosome need to be made. Judge how many to make so they fit onto the ball without overlapping; three or four of each is probably enough.

Colour the wood shapes differently to distinguish each part. Most of the cell parts are smooth and should be one solid colour. However, a few colours will be required for each of several parts needing more detail, such as the rough endoplasmic reticulum, ribosome, Golgi body and the mitochondria.

Attach the wooden shapes onto the styrofoam ball with glue. Use a styrofoam adhesive or all-purpose tacky glue, for a lower priced alternative. Spread the pieces out as they are in the picture of the animal cell. There is some leeway with parts that are in multiples, once the major parts are in place. Allow to fully dry.

Label the parts of the cell. Cut paper into strips 2 inches long and half an inch wide. Clearly label each piece of paper with the name of each of the cell parts and slide each one onto a toothpick. Push each toothpick into the styrofoam ball next to the correct parts.


Be careful when using the utility knife, as it is quite sharp. Be careful of the glue used because some glues containing solvents can react dangerously with styrofoam.

Things You'll Need

  • Picture of animal cell
  • Large styrofoam ball
  • Utility knife
  • Balsa wood (flat pieces and a block)
  • Paper clips
  • Markers in various colours
  • Glue
  • Toothpicks
  • Paper
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About the Author

John Gugie has been a freelance writer for a decade. His work is diverse, from editorials and research papers to entertainment, humor and more. He holds a degree in finance from Moravian College of Pennsylvania. He writes for several sites including Associated Content, Helium and Examiner.