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5 Ways to Make Body Planes and Sections a More Approachable Topic

Job Brisby Eloja
Teaching with Labster
October 18, 2022

Human and animal bodies are complex, having many different parts. To make each part easier to locate, biologists have devised body planes and sections. These sections allow scientists to make sense of the different parts of the body in relation to each other. 

There are a number of different body planes and sections, each describing specific areas of the body. The names and locations of these sections can get quite convoluted, though, making it hard for students to master this topic. Students taking biology and medical courses, in particular, find it hard to make sense of body planes and sections because of the many different words used.

But since this is a foundational topic, it’s imperative for students to master the different sections and planes of the body. Higher anatomy and physiology courses require that students have a good grasp of these concepts. 

Do you want to help your students gain a better understanding of this topic? These 5 tips will help make body planes and sections stick to their minds like superglue.

What makes Body Planes and Sections a Difficult Topic?

For the most part, body planes and sections have elaborate names that are tricky to remember. Aside from the complicated terms, each of them also denotes specific areas in the body. Students have to learn both the name and location of each body plane and section. This process tends to be frustrating for students, especially if it is their first time learning these concepts.

Memorization will be hard if the foundational concepts are not presented well. But there are ways to make this topic a lot more engaging for students.

Before we get into helping students learn this topic better,, here are the three top reasons that make studying body planes and sections hard.

1. It requires much imagination

Human and animal bodies are three-dimensional. With that, students have to carefully picture the specific locations of each body section in their minds. Those who are not quite skilled in spatial recognition will find it a huge challenge to achieve this.

For some students, distinguishing the different sections of the body is daunting, even with diagrams and images. Seeing the real thing would be a big help to them, but manipulating actual cadavers is not always possible.

2. It uses lots of complicated language

The words used to describe body planes and sections are needlessly complicated. These words include, among others:

  • Sagittal

  • Transverse

  • Coronal

  • Dorsal

  • Ventral

  • Superior

  • Inferior

  • Anterior

  • Posterior

  • Axial

  • Appendicular

  • Proximal

  • Distal

  • Caudal

  • Cranial

  • Medial

  • Lateral

By themselves, these words do not make sense to many students. If the locations denoted by each word is added to the equation, the topic becomes a lot more confusing.

3. There is a lot to remember

As you can see in the list above, there are so many body planes and sections for students to get acquainted with. Many of them may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material they have to learn all at once. Because of the many things they need to memorize, students may be repelled by the idea of studying body planes and sections.

lateral and anterior view

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

5 ways to make Body Planes and Sections a more approachable topic

1. Make students see it with their own bodies

Help students visualize body planes and sections through their own bodies. Make them locate their own coronal planes, transverse planes, sagittal planes, and other regions. With that, they can gain an appreciation not just of the topic but also of the patterns of their own bodies.

Dissection experiments that make use of animal models are also helpful. Frogs and mice are commonly used because of the similarities between the organs of these animals and humans. With that, the body planes and sections of frogs and mice are also nearly the same as those of humans.

Body planes diagram

Image source: Labster

2. Always use visual aids

Students will best learn body planes and sections if you provide them with a good amount of photos and video explainers. The more they can see where each section of the body is, the more they will understand this topic fully.

Full-color illustrations work best when teaching this topic. Students tend to engage better with colored materials than with grayscale or black-and-white ones. 

Videos also work well, especially in helping students visualize the 3D locations of the body sections. Animated videos will give them a more comprehensive understanding of where each section lies and what body parts they contain.

If possible, use interactive simulations. This way, the students can manipulate 3D anatomical models on their own. This facilitates better learning and recall of complex topics such as body planes and sections.

sagittal coronal transverse plane

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

3. Give them a glimpse of what’s inside the body

The purpose of studying body planes and sections is to have an easy way to locate different parts of the body. It helps to show students which parts of the body can be found in, say, the anterior portion or the ventral portion. 

Body imaging photographs are quite useful in this regard. When students can see various “slices” of the body showing the different body parts in various angles, they will begin to appreciate this topic a lot more. 

4. Break them down into different sections

To make learning body planes and sections easier, you may divide them into, well, sections. Introduce concepts by section and give students time to absorb and understand the material. 

For instance, this topic can be divided in the following way:

Body planes

  • Sagittal plane: divides the body into left and right sections

  • Coronal plane: divides the body into front and back sections

  • Transverse plane: divides the body into top and bottom sections

Body regions

  • Axial region: includes the head, neck, and trunk

  • Appendicular region: includes everything that is attached to the axial region, meaning the limbs

Axial sub-regions

  • Cephalic: the region including the head

  • Cervical: the region including the neck

  • Thoracic: the region from neck to diaphragm

  • Abdominal: the region from the diaphragm to pelvis

  • Pelvic: the region including the pelvis

  • Pubic: the lower part of the abdomen

Appendicular sub-regions

  • Upper extremities: the region including the arm

  • Lower extremities: the region including the legs

  • Manis: the region including hands

  • Pedal: the region including the feet

Directional terms

  • Anterior / Dorsal: towards the front

  • Posterior / Ventral: towards the back

  • Superior / Cranial: towards the head

  • Inferior / Caudal: away from the head

  • Medial: towards the midline

  • Lateral: away from the midline

  • Proximal: close to the site of attachment

  • Distal: away from the site of attachment

  • Superficial: close to the surface

  • Deep: away from the surface

5. Use virtual lab simulations

Virtual lab simulations are excellent tools for teaching Body Planes and Sections. Labster is determined to deliver fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that make use of gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems while exposing students to an immersive, realistic, 3D environment.

Check out this simulation of a Body Planes and Sections experiment at Labster. This activity will have students locate the sites of injury of a hurt chimpanzee. After learning all about it, your students can be more confident when they will do it on their own in a real lab! The image below is an example of what students can explore in the simulation.

Please take a look at the following image from Labster's Body Planes and Sections: Locate a Chimpanzee’s injuries Virtual Lab or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

Explore Body Planes and Sections: Locate a chimpanzee’s injuries Virtual Lab Simulation GIF

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