Cellular Respiration Lesson Plan

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson plan is designed to help you introduce the concept of cellular respiration with a Study.com video and reinforce key concepts through discussion and an exciting activity. Find quiz questions and related lessons to round out the unit.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • discuss which components are necessary for the production of energy
  • identify the key energy molecule of the body
  • understand which type of cellular respiration produces more energy
  • build a model representation of ATP and ADP


30-60 minutes


  • Three different colors of Play-Doh, enough for each student to have a chunk of each
  • Blunt-edged toothpicks
  • ATP and ADP structural diagrams (papers that can be handed out to students)

Key Vocabulary:

  • Cellular respiration
  • Organic compounds
  • ATP (adenosine triphosphate)
  • ADP (adenosine diphosphate)
  • Aerobic cellular respiration
  • Anaerobic cellular respiration

Curriculum Standards

  • NGSS Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems Standard: HS-LS1-7

Use a model to illustrate that cellular respiration is a chemical process whereby the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and the bonds in new compounds are formed resulting in a net transfer of energy.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.2

Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text's explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.4

Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.


  • Start by showing the Study.com lesson Cellular Respiration: Energy Transfer in Cells. Pause the video at the following timestamps for important discussion questions about concepts that are about to be discussed in the video:
    • 0:50 - Besides oxygen, what one other major thing do we need to take into our body in order to feel energized? What kinds of nutrients do you think food contains that helps give our body energy?
    • 3:10 - Do you think you'll feel more energized and be able to run faster and longer with or without oxygen?


The purpose of this activity is to reinforce students' understanding that ATP is the higher-energy molecule (the charged battery) produced by cellular respiration, while ADP is a lower-energy molecule (the used battery).

  • Hand out copies of the printed ATP and ADP molecular structure diagrams to each of the students.
  • Assign a color of Play-Doh to each major component of ATP and ADP: adenine, ribose sugar, and phosphate molecules.
  • Assign a shape to each major component of ATP and ADP. For example, the phosphate molecules can be spheres, the ribose sugar molecule can be pentagrams, the adenine can be rectangles.
  • Using the toothpicks to stick each shape to one another, have students mold the Play-Doh and construct one of each (ATP and ADP) according to their structural diagrams. See 1:28 for information about the structure of ATP and 2:00 for information on the structure of ADP, which is the same molecule minus one phosphate group (minus one sphere at the very end).
  • Ask students, 'How can you turn ATP into ADP?' The answer should be: the removal of one phosphate group from the end of the three phosphate chain on the ATP molecule.
  • After students understand the differences between the molecules, move forward with the activity. If working with an individual student, work together as their partner. For the remainder of the activity tasks, you will hold the ATP molecule and the student will hold the ADP molecule. You can switch roles after the activity wraps up to reinforce the concept.
  • For a collaborative element, split your student group in half. One half will hold ATP molecules and the other half should hold ADP molecules. Have students partner up, one from each group in a pairing.
  • Review which molecule holds more potential energy for activities such as running.
  • Find a safe place in the learning space or outdoors where students can safely run from a starting spot to a finish line for the next part of this activity. If running isn't an option, then use brisk walking and slow walking instead.
  • Instruct students to hold their constructed molecule with two fingers at the starting line (this helps structures fall apart for a later part of the activity).
  • When you say 'Go,' those with ATP (the charged battery = more energy) can move towards the finish line quickly, while those with ADP (the used battery = less energy) should walk slowly to the finish line. If working with an individual student, you (holding ATP) will move quickly and your student (ADP) will walk slowly.
  • Once students holding ATP molecules have made it to the finish line, they can then help out their ADP partner by going back to them, taking a phosphate group off of their ATP molecule, and sticking it onto a phosphate group of another student's ADP molecule, to give them enough energy to run to the finish line as well. If working with an individual student, you will serve as their partner for this task by connecting your ATP molecule with their ADP molecule.
    • Note that if a student is holding ATP, they are allowed to run. Students who haven't truly mastered the concept might take off their ATP's phosphate group prior to (inappropriately) running back to their ADP partner. In this case, they have made their ATP (charged battery = more energy) into ADP (used battery = less energy), meaning they will have to walk! Watch for students who take the phosphate group off BEFORE returning to their partner and correct their running. If working with an individual student, explain or demonstrate this concept.
    • If working collaboratively, if someone loses a part of their ATP molecule (especially the phosphate group) as they're running, they need to slow to a walk as well. Any ADP student can pick up this spare phosphate group as they walk past it in order to give themselves an energy boost even without their ATP partner's help. If working with an individual student, explain or demonstrate this concept.

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