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Organs for Christmas

By Frances Coleman

Type of activity:
  • Hands-on activity
  • Authentic assessment
  • Group/cooperative learning
  • Review/reinforcement
Target audience:
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
Others which apply:
  • Life science
  • Biology
  • Advanced/AP Biology
  • Special needs
  • Special education

What question does this lab/activity/unit help students answer?

  • This activity helps students to review what they have learned about the organs of body.

Background information

Notes for the teacher:

My students made their "organ tree" after we had begun to cover the respiratory system. They used the organs from the skeletal system, the nervous system, the muscular system, the digestive system, and the respiratory system.

Required of the students:

The students are required to know or to research the organs of the systems used, to prepare models of the organs for the tree, and to prepare "Christmas cards" which give the functions of each organ.

Preparation time needed:

Preparation time would depend somewhat on the number of students in the class, on the number of trees made (each group could make a tree), and on how elaborate the models and cards are. I had about 10 students making one tree. They worked two days out of class preparing the models and cards.

Class time needed:

My students took one day of class time to plan their tree and assign tasks to each person in the group. They took a second day to assemble the tree and to hang up their cards for display.



When it was time for a test on all that we had studied since the beginning of the year my students asked me if they could do a project rather than take a written test. Their suggestion was that they would make an "organ tree" as a Christmas tree for the room. They would make models of all the organs that they had studied, tie the organs together with the framework of the skeleton and muscles, and use nerves and blood vessels as "tinsel". They would also make "Christmas cards" describing the physiology of each organ.

Materials needed:

My students used common materials such as paper, tape, balloons, etc. for their models. They chose to use a real tree and to build on it.

Procedure/Description of Activity/Lesson/Unit/Project:

I have students who are taking different courses in my classes at the same time. We work in groups and individually. I had anatomy and physiology students during each of three periods, so that in order for all the students to build a single "organ tree" they had to communicate with the other classes. In addition to making the tree, they made Christmas cards for each organ and system describing that organ or system and its function and role in maintaining homeostasis. The Christmas cards were taped along the window ledge by the tree so that they could be read by all.

Method of Evaluation:

My students worked together and planned all the work themselves. Each person had a role to play. Those who were not as strong academically were given more of a role in the construction. Those who were particularly artistic took a leading role in the design of the tree. At the end of the project, they made a list of who had done what. I graded each student on what he or she had done using criteria of creativity, completeness, and accuracy.


My students used somewhat realistic spatial orientation of organs within each system, but the efforts to be artistic caused some unusua l arrangements of systems with respect to each other. An extension of the activity would be to build a person by arranging the organs in a realistic orientation. This could involve starting from a relatively complete skeletal system.

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