When it comes to understanding science concepts, the use of engaging activities can be an effective way to supplement and reinforce learning. For the study of genetics, a variety of classroom activities are available to help middle school students understand classic genetics topics, such as heredity and DNA, and explore how scientists use their knowledge of genetics to fight crime and disease.

Traits Unit

A series of printable, hands-on activities from Teach.Genetics introduces students to the basics of heritable traits. Students take inventory of their own easily observable traits, record their responses, and graph their results, giving them a sense of which traits are most and least common within a population. In other activities, students use gingerbread men and simulated dog DNA to learn how traits are passed from parents to offspring, and how variations in DNA lead to different inherited traits. The activities culminate in discussions of key points, including common misconceptions.

Build A Monster

At the Ask a Biologist website, students learn about the genetic code and how it serves as a blueprint for the construction of all living organisms. Students learn that the instructions in genetic code are composed of various combinations of four different molecules which can be expressed as letters or colors. In this activity, a monster’s heritable traits are shown in sets of three colors, such as green-blue-green. Using a key, students decode each color set to spell out words describing the monster’s traits, such as "furry legs" or "butterfly wings." As each trait is decoded, the monster is built onscreen. When fully revealed, students can name their monsters, and save and print them, with or without the accompanying "genome."

Punnett Square Predictions

A self-paced interactive activity, created by Education Development Center, shows how scientists use a tool called a “Punnett square” to predict the probability of a creature having a certain trait based on the traits of its parents. Students learn about dominant and recessive genes by virtual breeding projects using pairs of chickens and lemmings, and filling in Punnett squares. The activity corrects students along the way, prompting them to fix any mistakes they make.

DNA Extraction

At the Learn.Genetics website, students can perform a virtual cheek swab to extract DNA from human cells. The activity explains how scientists use DNA extraction to test for genetic disease, analyze forensic evidence, and develop cures for disease. Also included is a hands-on activity instructing students how to extract DNA from any living thing. Well, maybe not "any" living thing. DNA sources least likely to be objectionable, such as split peas or chicken livers, are strongly recommended over family pets.