Lesson Plan

Prokaryotes: The Simplest Forms of Life


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In this lesson, students will learn that prokaryotes are the simplest cells, yet show all the characteristics found in living things. Students will observe prokaryotic cells under a microscope and hypothesize about their structures. Students will:

  • mount, stain, and observe bacteria cells under a microscope.

  • make a model of a typical prokaryotic cell and explain how each part functions within the cell.

  • relate the structure and function of prokaryotic cells to the common characteristics of living things.

Essential Questions

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  • Archaea: Unicellular prokaryotes that have cell walls that do not contain peptidoglycan.

  • Archaebacteria: Kingdom of unicellular prokaryotes whose cell walls do not contain peptidoglycan.

  • Bacteria: The most abundant and most studied group of prokaryotes.

  • Capsule: Including the slime-layer, made of polysaccharides (or proteins) that aid in attachment and protects the cell from dehydration and being engulfed or digested by enzymes. It also sometimes stores nutrients.

  • Cell Wall: Formed from peptidoglycan (polysaccharide and protein), protects the cell from osmotic lysis (taking in too much water and bursting) and gives the cell shape.

  • Cytoplasm: Mostly made of water, this is where all internal structures are found and where all chemical reactions take place.

  • Flagellum: (plural, flagella) A long whip-like attachment made of protein that is used for movement. It originates in the cytoplasm, just below the plasma membrane. Prokaryotes may have one, two, or many flagella.

  • Nucleoid: The central portion of the cytoplasm that contains the circular genetic material contained in the plasma membrane. It is not separated from the cytoplasm by a membrane.

  • Pilus: (plural, pili) A hollow protrusion made of protein. Pili are part of the plasma membrane and aid in attachment to other cells or surfaces, and in sensing the environment. The sex pilus allows the transfer of genetic material during conjugation. Also called fimbria.

  • Plasma Membrane: Phospholipid bilayer imbedded with many proteins that are used in the transport of ions, nutrients, and wastes across the membrane. Also called cell membrane.

  • Plasmid: Small circular double-stranded genetic material. They are transferred to another bacterium during conjugation. Some plasmids carry genes for antibiotic resistance or form toxins.

  • Prokaryote: Single-celled organism that does not contain a nucleus or membrane-bound organelles.

  • Ribosomes: Small inclusions that translate the genetic code into protein.

  • Unicellular: Organisms made up of a single cell.


2 ½ hours/3 class periods

Prerequisite Skills


  • beaker

  • distilled water

  • eye dropper

  • methylene blue

  • toothpick

  • light microscopes (one/group), or high-powered light microscopes (if available)

  • slide and slip cover (one/group)

  • prepared slides of prokaryotic cells (if available)

  • non-latex gloves

  • goggles

  • empty water/soda bottles (one/group)

  • resealable plastic bags, sandwich bags, or large non-latex balloons (one/group)

  • yarn, ribbon, and string

  • beads, seeds, and beans

  • straws or coffee stirrers

  • toothpicks

  • glue or hot glue

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