Lesson Plan Quick Facts

Time Required

40 minutes (Class time)
30 minutes (Prep)

Prior Knowledge Needed



Copies of student pages, colored pom-poms (four different colors), crayons, cups and tape.
For each student: A copy of student pages.
For each group (3 or 4 students): Six plastic cups, 24 pompoms (6 brown, 6 green, 6 yellow, 6 red), crayons (brown, green, yellow and red), tape and marker for labeling the cups.

Targeted Standards

U.S. National Science Education Standards
Grades 5-8:
Content Standard C: Life Science - Reproduction and Heredity
  • Every organism requires a set of instructions for specifying its traits. Heredity is the passage of these instructions from one generation to another.
  • The characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits.
AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy

Grades 3-5: The Living Environment: Heredity - Some likenesses between children and parents, such as eye color in human beings, or fruit or flower color in plants, are inherited. Other likenesses, such as people's table manners or carpentry skills, are learned.
For offspring to resemble their parents, there must be a reliable way to transfer information from one generation to the next.

Grades 6-8: The Living Environment: Heredity - In some kinds of organisms, all the genes come from a single parent, whereas in organisms that have sexes, typically half of the genes come from each parent.

Generations of Traits

In this hands-on activity students track and record the passage of colored "pompom traits" through three generations of ginger-bread people. In doing so, students learn that traits are passed from parents to offspring and that siblings may or may not receive the same traits from their parents.

Download each of these three files...

Learning Objectives

  • Traits are observable characteristics that are passed down from parent to child.
  • An individual will have many traits they share in common with others, and more so with siblings and parents.
  • An individual's overall combination of traits makes them unique.
  • An equal number of traits are passed on from each parent.

Classroom Implementation

1. Create enough sets of cups and pom poms for students to work in pairs or groups of four. Each set should contain:

  • 6 cups labeled as follows:
    "Grandfather A"
    "Grandmother A"
    "Grandfather B"
    "Grandmother B"
  • 6 brown pom poms
  • 6 red pom poms
  • 6 green pom poms
  • 6 yellow pom poms

2. Begin class by pointing out that every person in the class has a unique combination of "traits" or observable characteristics. Discuss some examples of traits (eye color, handedness, height, etc.).

3. Invite students to consider why children often resemble their siblings and parents. Explain that these resemblances occur because traits are passed down from parent to child.

4. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a set of materials. Instruct students to carry out the activity following the instructions on the student page (above).

5. Suggest that students close their eyes and mix the pom-poms with their hands each time before drawing them out. This will yield a more random and varied result.

Discussion Points

If the siblings in a group's family end up with the same combination of traits, remind students that human characteristics are determined by far more than six traits. It is possible to have six or more traits in common with another person, yet still maintain a unique appearance.

Because siblings inherit traits from the same parents they often look alike. However, a child randomly inherits half of his traits from each parent. As a result, siblings each inherit a different combination of traits.

Common Misconceptions

Students may think they inherit traits from aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings because family members point out the resemblance between students and their relatives. Emphasize that traits can only be inherited from parents (and by extension grandparents).