What our DNA lesson plan includes
Lesson Objectives and Overview: DNA teaches students all about this essential molecule and its role in shaping every living thing. Students will define the term and be able to explain it thoroughly to others. By the end of the lesson, they will be able to describe how exactly this special molecule works to instruct an organism’s cells. This lesson is for students in 5th grade and 6th grade.
Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand.
Options for Lesson
The “Options for Lesson” section contains several ideas for either additional activities or alternate ways to go about parts of the lesson. One idea is to use the activity as a homework assignment for students to complete individually. You could then have all the students share their responses in class the next day. Along the same lines, you could have them work in small groups or alone on the activity during class. Another option is to invite a doctor who has done DNA research or who has used DNA testing for patients to speak to the class. They could answer questions that students have and explain more difficult concepts in more detail.
The paragraph on this page gives you a little more information on the lesson or extra guidance on what you might want to do. It suggests taking the time to clearly explain some of the more confusing concepts of the lesson. Use the blank lines to write down any other ideas you have as you prepare.
DNA LESSON PLAN CONTENT PAGES
What Is DNA?
The DNA lesson plan contains three pages of content. The first page provides an overview of what DNA is. Students have likely heard the word or heard of it at some point, whether on TV or elsewhere. They will discover that these molecules are the reason that they are who they are. DNA is like a recipe that instructs the body how to grow, develop, and function. Every single living organism in the world contains DNA and these instructions.
DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a molecule that is essential to human life (and all life). Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA, which contains the biological instructions that make every species unique. This is why humans give birth only to humans, giraffes to giraffes, dogs to dogs, and so on. It is basically the hereditary material that passes from adult to offspring during reproduction.
Students will learn that the information inside of DNA is stored as code that is made up of four chemical bases, or nucleotides. These four bases are adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 million bases. Over 99% of those bases are the same in all people. The order or sequence of the bases determine the information available to build and maintain an organism.
Genes and Nucleotides
The lesson explains this concept further by comparing these building blocks to letters of the alphabet that make up words and sentences. Some combinations of letters or words appear in nearly all writing, such as the words the, and, or a, and so on. Students can compare letters and words to nucleotides. DNA code sends instructions using the nucleotides (letters), and every three letters makes up a “word” or codon. A codon could be ATC, AAT, or CAG, and so on.
A “sentence” in this analogy would be a string of codons next to each other. This string of codons contains a set of instructions. These instructions are what we call genes. Genes instruct cells to perform certain functions. The cell uses proteins to perform such functions to help an organism grow, develop, and survive.
Genes come in different sizes and can range from 1,000 to 1 million bases in humans. Despite this, they only make up about one percent of the DNA sequence. DNA sequences outside this percent regulate when, how, and how much of a protein to make. Because DNA molecules are thousands of letters long, there are billions of possible combinations. This is why there can be such diversity in people despite the fact that all humans are 99% alike.
Students will next learn about the double helix structure. The double helix is the name of the shape of DNA. Nucleotides arrange in two long strands that form a spiral. The structure closely resembles a twisted ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs. Other molecules form the vertical side pieces of the ladder. The first people to discover this construction were two molecular biologists, Dr. James Watson and Francis Crick, in 1953.
Students will learn that DNA can replicate. This is an essential property to understand. Every strand of DNA in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. When cells divide, each cell must have an exact copy of the DNA from the old cell. The lesson provides an example to illustrate this point. When skin cells grow, they have to be exact copies of the current skin cells. We wouldn’t want bone cells or blood cells instead of skin cells.
Forensic scientists use DNA from blood, saliva, and other sources to match samples to a specific individual. This process is formally called DNA profiling but is also known as genetic fingerprinting. This is a very common and important practice in criminal and civil law.
Other uses for DNA include mapping a person’s family history, testing a dog’s genetic background, or testing a person for risk of certain diseases. The technology evolves and improves constantly. In addition, it is becoming less costly, making it more available to people.
Here is a list of the vocabulary words students will learn in this lesson plan:
- DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid): a molecule that contains the hereditary material that passes on from adult to offspring during reproduction
- Nucleotide: a chemical base (four total) that makes up the code that stores DNA information
- Codon: a three-letter sequence of nucleotides that makes up a unit of genetic code
- Gene: a set of instructions that determine the traits of an organism
- Double helix: the shape of a DNA molecule
- Replicate: the process by which DNA can make copies of itself
- DNA profiling (genetic fingerprinting): the process by which forensic scientists use DNA found in blood, skin, saliva, or hair to identify an individual by matching their DNA to the sample
DNA LESSON PLAN WORKSHEETS
The DNA lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. These worksheets help students demonstrate their comprehension or grasp of the concepts they learned about throughout the lesson. Use the guide on the classroom procedure page for reference on when to hand out the worksheets to the class.
TESTING ACTIVITY WORKSHEET
The activity requires students to research various uses of this special molecule. Students will study six uses, such as health care, criminology, and archaeology. The chart on the worksheet provides blank space to write down how DNA assists with these six areas. Then students will answer questions that relate to each specific use.
DNA PRACTICE WORKSHEET
There are two sections of the practice worksheet. First, students will match terms and definitions using a word bank. There are 15 total definitions and terms to match. The second section requires students to explain the meaning of five numbers as they relate to DNA.
FILL IN THE BLANK HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
For the homework assignment, students will fill in the blanks in a few paragraphs about DNA. There are 17 total blanks to fill in. There is no word bank. If you want students to use the content pages for reference, they can do so. Otherwise, they will need to rely on their memory to figure out the answers.
Worksheet Answer Keys
The last few pages of the lesson plan are answer keys for the worksheets. The activity answer key provides sample answers, and students’ responses here will likely vary. There are no answer for the third column because these questions primarily request students’ opinions. For both the practice and homework worksheets, these pages provide the correct answers in red. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.
RELATED LESSON PLANS
Take a look at these other lesson plans that relate to DNA and genetics:
- Heredity—Our Heredity lesson plan teaches students how traits pass down from one generation to the next. This could be a great lesson to teach in conjunction with DNA. The lesson is for students in 5th grade and 6th grade.
- Natural Selection—This lesson introduces students to the “survival of the fittest” concept that is an essential property of Darwin’s theory of evolution. It describes the necessity of adapting to changing environments in order to survive. This is a lesson for students in 5th grade and 6th grade.
- Inherited and Acquired Traits—While this lesson is for students in 3rd grade and 4th grade, it explains how certain traits people have are either inherited or acquired. It could provide extra information that relates to genetics and DNA as well as ideas for additional activities.