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Using Models to Understand Photosynthesis

chloroplast modelIn this analysis and discussion activity, students develop their understanding of photosynthesis by answering questions about three different models of photosynthesis.

These models are a chemical equation, a flowchart that shows changes in energy and matter, and a diagram that shows the basic processes in a chloroplast. Students use a drawing of a plant to create another model of photosynthesis.

Finally, students evaluate the advantages of each type of model for understanding photosynthesis; this helps them to appreciate the role of scientific models.

The Student Handout is available in the first two attached files and as a Google doc designed for use in distance learning and online instruction. (For additional information, see, especially item 7.) The Teacher Notes, available in the last two attached files, provide instructional suggestions and background information and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

photosynthesismodelSHO.docx1.17 MB
photosynthesismodelSHO.pdf334.77 KB
photosynthesismodelTN.docx2.76 MB
photosynthesismodelTN.pdf814.86 KB


iwaldron's picture

2023 revision

The Teacher Notes have been enhanced with additional information about the biology of photosynthesis, and the Student Handout has been revised for clarity.


Serendip Visitor's picture


If the is an advanced version of cellular respiration, I think it would be a good idea to have an advanced version of photosynthesis, too. Is this available somewhere?

iwaldron's picture

Advanced version of photosynthesis activity?

Please write to to let me know what you would like to see included in an advanced version of the photosynthesis model activity. The advanced version of the cellular respiration model activity provides a nice example of "form matches function". Is there a similar general principle that you would like to see included in a advanced version of the photosynthesis model activity?

Thank you,


Maureen McDiarmid's picture

Great JOB!

Enjoying your resources and combining with others for my photosynthesis lesson and cellular respiration NGSS model based learning experiences.

iwaldron's picture

September 2017 revision

The Student Handout has been revised to better facilitate student understanding of photosynthesis through increased probing of student understanding and improved logical flow and clarity. 


iwaldron's picture

2017 revision

This revision has improved the focus on basic understanding of photosynthesis and two NGSS Crosscutting Concepts.

iwaldron's picture

2016 revision

The revisions for this activity improve the clarity of questions and accuracy of descriptions of chemical energy and energy metabolism. To keep this activity focused on photosynthesis, I have moved the final section of the previous version of this activity to “Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration – Understanding the Basics of Bioenergetics and Biosynthesis” (/exchange/bioactivities/photocellrespir).

iwaldron's picture

November 2014 revision

This revision of the Student Handout has some additions and reorganization to enhance student understanding of photosynthesis. The expanded Teacher Notes provide additional scientific background and instructional suggestions.

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