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Cheek cells

Look at cheek cells stained with methylene blue, or iodine, under the transmission microscope.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Sensing, Organ Systems (4, 5, 6)
  • non-pointy toothpick for each student
  • glass slide and cover slip for each student
  • methylene blue, 1% (0.5% in some fish medicines works great). If not available use tincture of iodine, from the drug store
  • microscope, ideally with a 40X lens

Students add a drop of methylene blue (or iodine to a slide).
Students scrape cheek cells from the inside of their cheeks with a toothpick, then wriggle them off in the drop on the glass slide.
Drop on a cover slip.
Look at the cheek cells under low power to start to find the cells.
Then increase the power, keeping a good-looking cell in the centre when moving up to the highest power.
Look for the nucleus in the centre of the cell.
With methylene blue, other cell organelles are also visible, and sometimes bacteria (dark blue spots outside the cheek cells).


Primary students, and many intermediates, need a strong teacher presence around the microscope.

Grades taught: 
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Gr 6
Gr 7
Alane Lublow
Heather Wallace
Nina Hooker
Romy Cooper
Scott Malin
Sharon Ghuman
Taz Ismail
Teaching site: 
General Gordon Elementary
General Gordon Elementary Science Club
Tyee Elementary
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

Gordon Elementary School