How I Introduce Human Body Systems

How I Introduce Body Systems

Students love learning about the human body and I love teaching it. Whether you teach high school Anatomy & Physiology or a unit on the Human Body Systems in middle school, you will love starting out with this fun interactive activity that can also be used as a pre-assessment of what your students know. 

During my first week of my human body systems unit, I want to know what my students know. I often find that students have many misconceptions and this is great to build off right away and know where you might need to plan for students to address and learn about their misconceptions.

Activity 1: Mapping the Body

I introduce the human body systems by asking for a volunteer. In my class I generally get a lot of hands that go up. So the first hand I see gets it. I explain to the class that they are going to work with their team to create a model of what’s inside the human body.

Human Body Outline
Body Outline on Paper

I pull out a large piece of butcher paper or large blank white chart paper and lay it across the table. Then I ask the student to lean over the table and die on my butcher paper. Usually my student over dramatically will flop down in a strange position. (Note you want the student to get from the waist up on the paper–including arms). Then I take a black marker and draw an outline of the person on the butcher paper. Sometimes these are definitely some funny body outlines. 

Phase I: I post this on the board and tell students that they are going to have one person in their group do the same thing and after I am done with all my directions give the student team the body outline I used as an example. Each person on the team needs to grab a different color marker from their box (any color, but black) that they will use. They will take turns in Round Robin and share something that they know is inside the body aloud to their team, draw it on their body chart where they think it goes and what it looks like and label it. Then the next person goes. Students will continue to take turns “Share – Draw – Label.” This usually takes students about 20 minutes. When students are done they create a key in the upper right corner with their name in the color they used so I know whose thinking is on each part. 

Phase II: Usually in my units students ask a lot of questions, which is awesome. So I like to have a place to capture all those questions. In this phase students take turns writing questions they have about the human body, organs, etc on the outside outline of the body. This usually takes about 10 minutes. 

Then students post their teams drawings around the room and we do a gallery walk where they spend about 2 minutes per poster looking at the diagrams and reading questions. When they return to theirs they look to see if there are any similar questions they wrote and place a star next to them. Then if any new questions arise they get a chance to add them here. Then we do a class share out of our top 3 questions to place on a class Driving Question Board.

After I have had all my classes I post these above their table as a reference. Throughout the unit we visit them to see what we have learned. I also keep a Driving Question Board.

Activity 2: Classification Card Sort

At the beginning of this activity I take about 10-15 minutes to have a class discussion on the vocabulary: System, Organ, Function, Structure and Classification. Oftentimes I have found that students can name some organs within a system,like the stomach to the digestive system, but they don’t really know how to assess why. So we discuss. We spend a few minutes really talking about function using examples like a pen, pencil and marker all having the same function, “to write” as a basis of understanding. We discuss how verbs are used to describe actions which are functions. As they look for functions they should be exploring verbs (or actions). I also discuss that while all organs are structures, not all structures are organs.

Step 1: Body System Cards 
I have students make a 3 column chart. The first column is for the Body System name, 2nd column for functions, and 3rd I have them leave it blank for now. In teams of 4 students, I give each team a set of body system cards and place them in the center of their table with the side that has the diagram facing up (like a set of cards). Students take turns selecting a card off the top of the deck and read aloud to their team. As they read they identify the verbs and create a list of functions for each system and write them down.  (NOTE: I recently also made this digital for distance learning). 

3 Column Chart
Musculatory System Card Side 1
Musculatory System Card Side 2

Step 2: Structure/Organ Cards
After I check teams, if necessary I review, any commonly missed information or correct any misconceptions if they came up through discussion. Now I tell students they are going to identify which organs or structures belong to each system, by looking at their functions. Functions is what classifies organs into their systems.

Card Sort

I usually take the teeth card and model this one with the whole class. First, I just ask them what system should I put the teeth in. Most often, 80% of my students, say the skeletal system. Then I read the function  on the back of the card which describes chewing food to break it down. This is when they have the “lightbulb” moment that it actually is part of the digestive system.

Skeletal Muscle (Function card)

First students lay the Body System Cards out across the middle of their table, so each system is visible. Next, students pass out all the structure cards to their teammates evenly. Students take turns and select a card from their stack, say which system they believe it belongs to and reads the evidence from the function to support it. If everyone agrees then they lay the structure card below the system they chose. When they have completed all cards, they have me check them. If students have them correct, then I have them label the 3rd Column structures and have them list the organs and structures they identified for each system. If they do not get them all correct, I pull the cards and give them the stack to redo and will circulate back. 

Step 3: Assess/Review
While this was designed to be an introductory activity, the goal is for students to know the functions of each of the major systems, as they will learn more specifically about the how they work in the unit. Therefore, I use a quick assessment the following day to see what they can recall about each system and any major organs or structures. You could use this as a homework assignment as well if you chose to. 

Body System Assess

Throughout my unit I continue to assess body system functions to maintain that my students are accurate 80% of time and within each system as they learn them in depth. At the end of the unit, I often have them do this activity again, much quicker to see how well they do. We take our Human Body Layouts down and their teams make  a new diagram with what they learned in the unit and they answer any they place the answers to questions they had on the outside this time. If we have remaining questions, we share these. Often these are strange and unusual questions or facts. I dedicate a class period to these questions and allow the team to search for the answer to the question and place them on a “shared” slide show so all students in their class can assess. Each slide has the question and what the answer was that they found. 

Want This?
If you like this activity and want the Classification Sort Activity you can go to my TPT store and get it, ready to print or in digital format all ready to use. It is also included for FREE in my Human Body Systems Lab and Activities Bundle. My students love this activity and at the end of the unit when they get to go back and see what they learned they are so shocked at their first drawing. See what other teachers had to say about this activity below.

What are teachers saying?

  • Love, love, love this resource! It was also easy to customize since I had to add two of the lesser used systems in my curriculum.
  • Used this the first day of class.  Great way to intro the year in Anatomy
  • Good exercises to give students practice.

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