Inherited and Acquired Traits


Inherited and Acquired Traits explores the difference between traits that we inherit and those that we acquire throughout life. Students will determine whether a characteristic is behavioral or physical. They will also be able to explain how some of their characteristics come from their parents while they learned other traits during their lifetime.

The lesson describes how this concept applies to animals. The activity specifically teaches students to analyze the traits of humans versus animals. You can be creative with how you present these ideas. The lesson provides a few extra ideas for you in the “Options for Lesson” section.

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What our Inherited and Acquired Traits lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Inherited and Acquired Traits teaches students the difference between the characteristics they had when they were born and those that they acquired in life. Students will learn that they inherited certain characteristics through birth and acquired others throughout their lives. The lesson also explains why certain traits appear in some humans but not others. This lesson is for students in 3rd grade and 4th grade.

Classroom Procedure

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

There are several suggestions in the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page that you may want to add to the lesson. A couple suggestions relate to the activity portion. You could have students work alone or in groups rather than with a partner for the activity. In addition, you could add more images for students to describe and use larger paper. Another option is to assign students an animal to research and figure out which traits the animal acquired and which ones it had at birth. Students could also list as many of their own acquired traits as possible and compare them to those of other students. One more idea is to invite a doctor to speak to the class about the topic and answer students’ questions.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page provides an extra paragraph of information or guidance for the lesson. It mentions that students should have some degree of knowledge about the subject matter before the beginning of this lesson. It also suggests teaching this lesson in conjunction with others that relate to heredity. Use the blank lines on this page to write down your thoughts as you prepare the lesson for your students.


Traits or Characteristics

The Inherited and Acquired Traits lesson plan contains three pages of content. Every single person in the world is a unique individual, and thousands of characteristics make every person who they are. Those characteristics could be eye color, height, weight, skin color, likes and dislikes, intelligence, muscles, skills, and many other things. Some characteristics are visible to other people, like hair color. But some are abstract and intangible, such as likes and dislikes.

There are many traits that we are born with and cannot change during our life. Those traits can include eye color, hair color, or whether we can roll our tongue or not. These unchangeable traits that we can’t usually change are called inherited traits because we inherited them from our parents. However, there are other traits that we did not have when we were born. They are called acquired traits because we acquired or obtained them after we were born.

In addition to humans, other animals have inherited and acquired traits. For example, a dog will inherit its hair color from a parent, but it will acquire tricks it has learned from its owner. If the dog has puppies, the puppies might have the same color as the parent, but the new puppies would not know how to do the tricks.

Traits in humans and animals (and plants) can be physical or behavioral. An example of a physical trait would be hair or eye color. On the other hand, a behavioral trait would be swimming for a fish. Both behavioral and physical traits can be inherited or acquired, but for humans, we acquire nearly all behavioral traits.

Inherited Traits

Students will learn that inherited means that something is passed on from parent to offspring. The person who has an inherited trait had no choice in receiving it. We did not choose our eye or hair color—these traits came from our parents. Nose shape, blood type, height, and a bird’s knowing how to fly south in the winter are all inherited traits.

Here are three properties of inherited traits:

  • They are a part of a person’s DNA, the material that carries all the information about how a living thing will look and function. DNA includes the “recipe” for a living thing and passes on from the biological parents to their offspring.
  • They are sometimes called instincts, a behavior or way of acting or thinking that was not learned.
  • They can pass on to the next generation.

The physical traits we inherit as humans (or that other animals inherit) determine the way something looks or how the internal structure will appear. Examples include fur color, ear shape, number of legs, placement of eyes, the shape of a beak, type of claws, brain structure, the shape of kidneys, or many others.

Behavioral traits can also be inherited, especially in animals. However, when a baby is hungry, he or she begins to cry. The crying is an inherited trait that is behavioral. Babies do not learn how to cry. In addition, sleeping, eating, and yawning are also inherited behavioral traits. We did not learn how to do any of them. Nearly all other behaviors that humans exhibit are acquired. However, some scientists believe behaviors like athletic ability, intelligence, and other traits may be inherited as well.

Animals have many behavioral traits that they inherited that we often call instincts. For example, baby turtles inherently know to move to the ocean after they hatch. Bats hang upside down to sleep. Bears hibernate and birds build nests without having to learn that it’s the thing to do.

Acquired Traits

Acquired traits are those that nearly anyone can have because they obtain them after they are born. These characteristics can be physical or behavioral. For example, a person can develop muscles (a physical trait) from routine exercise. They could also learn to play the piano (a behavioral trait). Neither of these were traits that automatically passed to them from their parents.

Here are some properties of acquired traits:

  • They develop during life. A living organism is not born with it, so it is not part of their DNA.
  • They cannot be passed on to the offspring of a living organism.
  • They include learning new skills or changing something physical in or on a living thing.

The acquired physical traits in humans or other animals can also describe the way a living thing looks. Examples include dying a person’s hair a new color, clipping a dog’s nails, developing calluses on the bottoms of feet, getting a scar, or wearing glasses. Acquired traits are not present when a person is born.

Acquired human behavioral traits include things like learning how to play a sport, getting good grades in school, or being a good speller. They also include jumping rope, cooking well, learning a new language, and many more. A person is not born knowing how to play a sport or jump rope; they must learn before these behaviors become traits.


The Inherited and Acquired Traits lesson plan includes three activities: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will help students solidify their comprehension of the material and demonstrate their knowledge. The guide on the classroom procedure page describes when to hand out each one to the class.


The activity provides students with an outline of a person. Students will create characteristics for the imaginary person. They can also draw the physical traits if they want to. Next, they will do the same thing with an animal. The second half of the activity shows an outline of a bear. The students will create traits for the imaginary bear. Again, they can draw the physical traits if they choose.


The practice worksheet lists out 30 statements. Students will mark each statement as an inherited (I) or acquired (A) trait. The statements will apply to both humans and animals. Next, there are 10 traits listed. The students will tell whether the trait is behavioral (B) or physical (P).


The homework is similar to the practice worksheet. First, students will mark statements as either inherited or acquired traits. Next, they will match definitions to the correct term. Finally, they will read 9 statements about traits. They will mark whether each statement is true (T) or false (F).

Worksheet Answer Keys

The final two pages of the lesson plan document are answer keys for the practice and homework worksheets. The correct answers are all in red to make it easy to compare them to students’ work. 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.

Additional information


3rd Grade, 4th Grade



State Educational Standards

LB.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3, LB.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.4, LB.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.9, CSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2, LB.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3, LB.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.4

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.