Protists: Helpful or Harmful? (AIG IRP)

Protists: Helpful or Harmful? (AIG IRP)

Lesson Overview

Brief Description of Lesson/Task/Activity: Within the life science strand of 7th grade science, students focus on the processes, structures, and functions of living organisms that enable them to survive, reproduce, and carry out the basic functions of life.  Often, other living organisms’ need to perform life functions interacts positively/ interferes negatively with humans’ life functions.  In this task, students will research protists’ interactions with humans for an online news website.  Students will compose non-fiction essays that relate the positive aspects of protists. The real-world and interdisciplinary aspects of this lesson allow students to build meaningful connections and promote the development of 21st Century Skills.

Time Frame: 2 class periods (120 minutes)

Type of Differentiation for AIGs:

  • Enrichment

Adaptations for AIGs:

  • Content
  • Process
  • Product

Explanation of How Resource is Appropriate for AIGs: AIG students in the middle grades need to develop evaluative skills when exposed to informational text. Students also need to develop a balanced approach to science topics that are not easily placed in “this or that” categories. Finally, written arguments based on evidence are a necessary skill in advanced courses (AP sciences, etc.), so this opportunity will benefit AIG students.

Needed Resources/Materials:

  • Article on Brain-Eating Amoebas or other protist-caused disease
  • Computer with internet and printer access
  • Rubric to evaluate final position paper

Sources: “Brain Eating Amoebas Blames in Three Deaths” at

Teacher Notes: Choose the article you present for the engagement activity carefully.  Several internet articles are written from a parent/family’s point of view and could be too emotional for students. 

If students do not have experience with citing information sources, consider spending some time demonstrating where different pieces of this information can be found on various websites.  Also, consider allowing all students to use a reference generator like “Son of Citation Maker” at to improve student compliance with citing sources.

Stage 1: Engage

Share the “Brain-Eating Amoebas” or other protist-caused disease article with students. State that after this article appeared, the online news site’s comments section indicated that many people believed that all protists are dangerous to humans and should be eliminated. Explain to students that they will be completing a RAFT activity:  As one of the science consultants for the online news organization, each student has been asked to counter this perception by writing an article that demonstrates the positive effects or uses of protists in medicine, industry, and the environment.  

R(ole): science consultant for an online news organization
A(udience): readers of the online news site who have negative perceptions of protists
F(ormat): online nonfiction news article
T(opic):  the positive effects or uses of protists in medicine, industry, and the environment

Stage 2: Elaborate

Students should begin their research on the positive effects or uses of protists in medicine, industry, and the environment.  The teacher should be prepared to guide students with key search terms like “protists in food chain,” “protists used in human food,” “protists in industry,” protists in medicine,” “protists and oil spills,” etc.  The teacher will also need to remind students to bookmark their sites for future citation or to build their citation page as they work. Previous exposure to protist structures may also be built on through this activity by promoting student research into form and function to explain why they are used in this positive manner—i.e. hydrophilic alginic acid in the cell walls of algae prevents the ice ice cream emulsion from separating.

Students will write their online news articles using yesterday’s research.

Stage 3: Evaluate

Student articles should be assessed using the following rubric elements:

  1. Article format is appropriate to an online news article
  2. Article maintains topic consistency—the positive effects/uses of protists
  3. Article is well-organized with clear main ideas
  4. Article contains supporting details for the main ideas presented 
  5. Grammar and spelling is appropriate for the grade level
  6. A minimum of three sources are cited correctly

Teacher Notes: An alternative engagement activity involves collaboration with students’ Health teacher. Often students write a short essay or create a PSA about a disease, its causes, effects, treatments, and possible prevention.  Giardiasis, trichinosis, malaria, and many other diseases are caused by protists and demonstrate the “negative” effects of these organisms and could be Health topic choices.  The science teacher can then counter this negative portrayal of protists using the RAFT elaboration activity.