How to build a 3D cell model

Use clay or Play-Doh to construct a 3-D cell model. There are two basic types of cells, animal and plant. Within those categories are types of cells with different functions. All the cells in each category have the same basic shape and characteristics. Make the model as large or small as you want. Three-dimensional models allow students and scientists to study the cells. Actual cells are microscopic, making it impossible to see them with the naked eye. When making the cell, it's important to remember that animal and plant cells have some of the same parts.

Make the basic shape of the cell. Make the base and sides. If you are making a plant cell, form a hollow rectangle from the clay or Play-Doh. Plant cells have a rigid cell wall, which gives them a specific shape. Pinch the corners to a point. For an animal cell, make a hollow round base. Animal cells do not have a specific shape.

Fill the shape with another colour. Put enough clay or Play-Doh inside the shape to fill it at least 1/3 full. This is the cytoplasm, present in both types of cells.

Make a large circle and press it flat. This is the nucleus. Make a smaller ball out of another colour and place inside the nucleus to make the nucleolus. Make a snake out of another colour. Attach one end to the nucleus. Put each part on top of the clay representing cytoplasm. Arrange the rest of the snake in a zigzag pattern next to the nucleus. This makes the endoplasmic reticulum. On half of the snake, add tiny balls of clay. These are ribosomes. The ribosomes are on the rough endoplasmic reticulum. The smooth endoplasmic reticulum doesn't have ribosomes. Make several small strips to make the golgi apparatus. Using the same colour, make two or three small balls to act as the golgi vesicles. Place both parts anywhere in the cell. Create flattened ovals to make mitochondria.

For a plant cell, make a quarter-sized ball from clay. Press the ball flat with your thumb. Place inside the plant cell to make the large central vacuole. Make a dime-sized ball, press flat, and place in the plant cell to make the amyloplast. Place another flattened ball inside the vacuole to make the druse crystal. The vacuole also contains the raphide crystal. Make these by making small, thin spaghetti-like sticks from the clay. Make one more quarter-sized ball, flatten it and place it in the cell for a chloroplast.

For the animal cell, make a nickel-sized ball. Squish flat and place in the cytoplasm to act as the lysosome. Make a small indention in part of the cell edge to be the pinocytotic vesicle. Roll nine small snake shapes from the clay. Press them together in a circle and place in the cell to make microtubules.

Place a toothpick into one example of each part.

Use a pen to write the name of each part on a piece of paper. Write the terms small. Cut the names out and tape them to the toothpick corresponding to the part.


Look at the diagram at the Wayne's Word site in References for assistance. Membranes are very thin. Label the area where the membrane is located. (cell membrane on the outer edge of the animal cell or inside the cell wall of the plant cell, vacuole membrane on the outside of the vacuole)

Things You'll Need

  • Eight or more colours of Play-Doh or clay
  • Toothpicks
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Pen
  • Sellotape
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About the Author

Racheal Ambrose started writing professionally in 2007. She has worked for the minority publishing company Elite Media Group Inc., Ball Bearings online magazine, "Ball State Daily News" and "The Herald Bulletin." Her articles focus on minority and women's issues, children, crafts, housekeeping and green living. Ambrose holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ball State University.