Building and breaking the cell wall in four acts: A kinesthetic and tactile role-playing exercise for teaching beta-lactam antibiotic mechanism of action and resistance

John Popovich, Michelle Stephens, Holly Celaya, Serena Suwarno, Shizuka Barclay, Emily Yee, David A. Dean, Megan Farris, Shelley Haydel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


“Building and breaking the cell wall” is designed to review the bacterial cell envelope, previously learned in lower-division biology classes, while introducing new topics such as antibiotics and bacterial antibiotic resistance mechanisms. We developed a kinesthetic and tactile modeling activity where students act as cellular components and construct the cell wall. In the first two acts, students model a portion of the gram-positive bacterial cell envelope and then demonstrate in detail how the peptidoglycan is formed. Act III involves student demonstration of the addition of β-lactam antibiotics to the environment and how they inhibit the formation of peptidoglycan, thereby preventing bacterial replication. Using Staphylococcus aureus as a model for gram-positive bacteria, students finish the activity (Act IV) by acting out how S. aureus often becomes resistant to β-lactam antibiotics. A high level of student engagement was observed, and the activity received positive feedback. In an assessment administered prior to and two months after the activity, significant improvements in scores were observed (p < 0.0001), demonstrating increased understanding and retention. This activity allows students to (i) visualize, role play, and kinesthetically “build” the cell envelope and form the peptidoglycan layer, (ii) understand the mechanism of action for β-lactam antibiotics, as well as how gene acquisition and protein changes result in resistance, and (iii) work cooperatively and actively to promote long-term retention of the subject material.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1462
JournalJournal of Microbiology and Biology Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)

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