Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students will investigate the urinary system and learn about kidney function as they follow the story of Kate from the documentary film Dying to Live, who is suffering from kidney failure. Teachers will lead students through a range of visual and written resources, videos and role play to explicitly teach the anatomy and physiology of the kidneys and urinary system. Students will also apply their understandings to model impaired kidney function and dialysis, and investigate real-world issues related to kidney transplants.

Dying To Live is a documentary feature film that examines organ and tissue donation and transplantation in Australia through seven different stories that highlight the social, physical and emotional effects of being on the organ donor waiting list. The film also aims to dispel myths about organ and tissue donation while encouraging family conversations so that family members are aware of their loved ones’ donation intentions. Find out how to screen or view the film here.

Tip: This lesson could be run to coincide with a kidney dissection. You may find this lesson useful as a way to introduce kidney function before the dissection, or to debrief and consolidate learning after the dissection has taken place.

Learning intentions:

  • Students know and understand the anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system, and how it interacts with other body systems.
  • Students understand how gas exchange occurs at a cellular level.
  • Students use practical activities to model healthy and impaired lung function.
  • Students are aware of organ and tissue donation and understand the role they play in the process.

21st century skills: 

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions: 

Year 8 Science

  • Multi-cellular organisms contain systems of organs carrying out specialised functions that enable them to survive and reproduce (ACSSU150)

Year 9 Science

  • Multi-cellular organisms rely on coordinated and interdependent internal systems to respond to changes to their environment (ACSSU175)
  • Values and needs of contemporary society can influence the focus of scientific research (ACSHE228)

Syllabus outcomes: SC4-14LW, SC5-14LW,  SCLS-17LW, SCLS-18LW, SCLS-19LW, SCLS-20LW, SCLS-21LW

General capabilities: Literacy, Ethical Understanding, Personal and Social Capability

Relevant parts of Year 8 achievement standards: Students analyse the relationship between structure and function at cell, organ and body system levels.

Relevant parts of Year 9 achievement standards: Students analyse how biological systems function and respond to external changes with reference to interdependencies, energy transfers and flows of matter. They describe social and technological factors that have influenced scientific developments and predict how future applications of science and technology may affect people’s lives.

Topic: Social Issues, Learning Through Film

Unit of work: Dying to Live – Science – Year 9

Time required: 80 mins.

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium – lead students through explicit teaching, discussion and a role play activity.

Resources required: Student Worksheets – one copy per student (or device to access electronic copy). Teacher device to project images and present videos. Lesson Presentation: Kidneys (optional), Label Your Kidney Worksheet – one per student. Stages of Kidney and Nephron Functions Factsheet.  Venn Diagram Factsheet.

Optional:  Kidney Function Role Play Instructions. Role play props – Tokens (3–4 decks of cards or paddle pop sticks), Hula hoops or masking tape, 2 boxes or bags (printer box lids would be perfect).

Related Professional Development: Exploring General Capabilities: Ethical Understanding

Keywords: Organ and tissue donation, body systems, excretory system, urinary system, kidney, kidney disease, kidney transplant, organ transplant, dialysis, nephron, Dying to Live

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.

Cool Australia, Aquarius Productions and Intrinsic Story would like to acknowledge the generous contributions of GoodPitch² Australia, Shark Island Institute, and Documentary Australia Foundation in the development of these teaching resources.


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions:

Students will...

  • ...know and understand the anatomy and physiology of the urinary system, and how it is important for general health.
  • ...understand the responsibility of the kidneys to remove waste products from the blood and control other functions.
  • able to use practical activities to model healthy and impaired kidney function.
  • aware of organ and tissue donation and understand the role they play in the process.

Success criteria:

Students can…

  • ...recognise and label the human urinary system as well as the basic structure of the kidney and nephron.
  • ...recall the filtering process of the kidneys, using appropriate terminology.
  • ...apply their understanding of kidney function to explain how damage to the kidney can cause reduced function.
  • ...understand the general process of dialysis and kidney transplantation.
  • ...recognise and understand that organ donation is a life-saving procedure for critically ill Austra
- or - to view worksheets

Student Worksheet

Thought starter: What do I need my kidneys for anyway?

1. Using 'Kate's Story' from the Dying To Live documentary as a prompt, complete the following THINK PUZZLE EXPLORE table about the kidneys and kidney failure. 

What do you think you know about kidneys and kidney failure?
What questions do you have?
How can you explore this topic?










Once complete, share your table with a classmate and annotate your tables to highlight any similarities between your thoughts and responses.

2. Use the table below to take notes about the process of what the kidneys do. 

Step  Urinary System Process
















3. Look at the image below of Kate undergoing dialysis treatment. Use different parts of the image to explain how you think dialysis works.  


Reflecting on the following fact from the Dying To Live documentary,

- or - to view worksheets

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