Unit Quick Facts

Time Required

approx. 120 mins

Grade Band


Prior Knowledge Needed


Targeted Standards

NSES: Life Science; Reproduction and Heredity AAAS Benchmarks: The Living Environment: Heredity

Introduction to Heredity


Introductory Video

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Unit Overview

Five easy-to-implement clasroom activities teach the basics of heritable traits. Three take-home activities help students share what they're learning with their families.

Learning Objectives

  • Traits are observable characteristics that are passed from parent to child.
  • An individual will have many traits in common with others and more so with siblings and parents.
  • An individual's overall combination of traits makes them unique.
  • Some traits are more common in a population than others.
  • An equal number of traits are passed from each parent.
  • DNA is a set of instructions that specifies the traits of an organism.
  • Variations in DNA lead to the inheritance of different traits.

Suggested Implementation

Below is a suggested sequence for implementing the activities contained in the unit. Please see each individual activity for implementation instructions, suggestions for adaptations and extensions, and applicable standards.

Day Activity Notes
Day 1
(40 mins.)
An Inventory of My Traits Students take an inventory of their own easily-observable genetic traits and compare those inventories with other students in groups.
Observable Traits slideshow
(Teacher Reference)
This click-through slideshow shows many of the traits included in An Inventory of My Traits.
A Tree of Genetic Traits Students find the most and least common combination of traits in the class by marking their traits for tongue rolling, earlobe attachment, and PTC tasting on paper leaf cut-outs. Students then organize the leaves on a large "tree of traits."
Family Traits Trivia (Homework) Students use game cards to inventory the traits in their family. (Note: individuals in families do not need to be related to participate in this activity.)
Day 2
(40 mins.)
Generations of Traits Students track and record the passage of colored "pom-pom traits" through three generations of ginger-bread people.
Traits Bingo In this review activity, students cross off or color bingo squares in response to questions about their traits.
Handy Family Tree (Homework) Students distinguish between inherited and learned traits by creating a "family tree of traits" using handprints. (Note: Individuals in families do not need to be related to participate in this activity.)
Day 3
(40 mins.)
A Recipe for Traits Students learn that differences in DNA lead to different traits by: 1) randomly choosing strips of paper that represent DNA, then 2) decoding the DNA strips to complete a drawing of a dog.
Family Traits and Traditions (Homework) Students and their families play a matching game with cards to identify traits that are inherited and traits that are learned or passed on through tradition.