Lesson Plan

Photosynthesis and Cell Respiration


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In this lesson, students compare the basic energy transfer in photosynthesis and cell respiration, with a focus on the role of ATP. Students will:

  • compare energy transfer during photosynthesis and cell respiration.
  • describe the roles of chloroplasts and mitochondria in energy transfer.
  • describe the role of ATP in photosynthesis and cell respiration.

Essential Questions

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  • Adenosine triphosphate (ATP): Chemical compound that living things use to store and release energy.
  • Aerobic: A process that requires oxygen.
  • Anaerobic: A process that does not require oxygen.
  • Cell Respiration: A process that releases energy in cells by breaking down glucose and other food molecules in the presence of oxygen. Aerobic, or oxidative, respiration requires oxygen; anaerobic respiration does not require oxygen.
  • Chlorophyll: Green pigment inside chloroplasts that captures light energy.
  • Chloroplast: Organelle in cells of plants, and some algae and some microorganisms that captures sunlight energy and converts it into chemical energy.
  • Glycolysis: A series of chemical reactions that takes place in the cell’s cytoplasm by which glucose is converted into pyruvate without oxygen.
  • Grana: Stacks of thylakoids inside chloroplasts.
  • Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+): Carrier molecule found in plants that transfers high-energy electrons.
  • Photosynthesis: The process of plants, some algae, and some microorganisms that uses light energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and high-energy carbohydrates such as sugars, starches, proteins, and lipids.
  • Pyruvate: The compound glucose is broken down into during the process of glycolysis.
  • Stomata: Openings in the underside of leaves that allow carbon dioxide and oxygen to enter and leave the leaves.
  • Stroma: The area in the chloroplast outside the thylakoid membranes.
  • Thylakoid: Membrane-bound structure inside chloroplasts where photosynthesis takes place.


120–160 minutes/3–4 class periods

Prerequisite Skills


  • house plant, such as Coleus or Elodea
  • fish from aquarium or picture of a fish
  • aluminum foil
  • scissors
  • tape
  • microscope with projector (optional)
  • prepared slide of leaf cells with visible chloroplasts (optional)
  • Internal Structure of a Chloroplast (S-B-7-2_Internal Structure.doc); use with a document camera or make an overhead transparency
  • Reactions of Photosynthesis (S-B-7-2_Reactions of Photosynthesis.doc); use a document camera or make an overhead transparency
  • Photosynthesis (The Light and Calvin Reactions) (S-B-7-2_Light and Calvin Reactions and KEY.doc)
  • optional demonstration

o   sprig of Elodea plant (can be obtained at aquarium stores)

o   beaker or large clear plastic cup

o   sodium bicarbonate solution

o   large test tube

o   goggles

o   containers with lids (test tubes or sealable plastic bags will work)

o   Bromothymol blue solution, 4%

o   pond or aquarium water

o   Elodea or other aquarium plant (can be ordered through a biological supply company or obtained at local aquarium store)

o   small aquatic snails, guppies, or daphnia (can be ordered through a biological supply company or obtained at local aquarium store)

Related Unit and Lesson Plans

Related Materials & Resources

The possible inclusion of commercial websites below is not an implied endorsement of their products, which are not free, and are not required for this lesson plan.

  • Introduction to Cell Respiration and Photosynthesis for Students


  • NOVA Online: Illuminating Photosynthesis (Flash animation)


  • Science Clarified: Respiration


  • Respiration versus Photosynthesis


  • Physiology: Plant Growth and Development


  • Rate of Photosynthesis Lab


  • Virtual Cell Animation Collection


  • Carolina Biological Supply: Elodea


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