Labs in Life Sciences

I am a preservice biology teacher and was hoping to get some insight on labs. What are some of your favorite labs that you have done with your class and what made them a success? How do you typically assess labs?

—D., Virginia

I believe biology becomes much more intriguing for students by incorporating as many hands-on activities as possible.

Not all labs require formal lab reports or quantitative analysis. I feel it is good to vary your assessments to suit the activity. Quick observation labs can be assessed with worksheets. Long-term projects are well-suited to journaling. Paragraph answers foster higher-order thinking skills, promote literacy, and challenge students to reach conclusions and connect topics. Presentations are good assessments.

My favorite hands-on biology activities are:

DNA extraction: Isolate DNA from crushed strawberries or other fruit. Students are amazed at how much DNA can be extracted.

Pop bottle ecosystems: Students are motivated to observe the terraria they created themselves. Peruse my collection in the Learning Center at

Observing living organisms: Start seeds to explore life-cycles, requirements for growth, tropisms, and more. Insects, worms, and pond aquariums are fun. (I discussed this in more detail previously. You can read the blog post at

Dissections can be fascinating and useful for discussing the ethical, scientific use of animals. Molluscs, fish, and crabs can be purchased from grocery stores. Fetal pigs can be particularly impactful. Don’t forget to include plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables. (Check with your department head or administration and be aware of cultural issues.)

Ecological studies
Students can conduct field surveys of the school yard with small quadrats made from soda-straws. Run transects, identify species, estimate biomass, and write reports on what was discovered.

Hope this helps!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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