Activity 2: Family Portraits

PDF versions of Activity 2: Family Portraits are available in English and Spanish.

Objectives: Kids will learn what genes are and that traits are inherited from both parents. They will apply the theme of inheritance to human family genetics by comparing the physical appearances of family members. This should provide a tangible example of genetics, but it should also be made clear that inheritance does not only apply to humans.

Materials: family portrait photos


[Greet kids and have them sit in circle around station]

Well, today we’re going to learn about a certain type of science called genetics. Genetics is science that involves genes.

What do you all know about genes or inheritance? Does anyone know what those words mean? [allow them to respond – hopefully they’ve learned at one of the other stations what these mean and can try to explain; if not, explain what each means]

[If they don’t know what genes or inheritance mean] Does anyone know what genes are? [Allow kids to respond, then steer them to a definition]

Genes are actually like tiny instruction manuals inside all the cells in your body. Cells are tiny little things that your body is made out of. For example, your heart is made out of millions of cells all put together. And so is your skin and every other part of your body. So, each one of the millions of cells that make up your body has a copy of your genes, the instructions that make you the way you are! Take, for example, your hair. What color is it? Why is it that color instead of any other color? Because of your genes!

And inheritance just means genes being passed down from parents to children for many generations.

So what does all this have to do with you? Well, let me ask you this: do you look like your parents? Do you look like your brothers and sisters? [wait for responses]

Exactly! Now, can you tell me about any specific characteristics that you inherited from your parents? Like the color of your hair or skin? [wait for responses]

Those are all perfect examples of inheritance. Now since your parents can’t all be with us today, we’re going to look at some pictures of other families and try to find some of those same examples of inheritance.

[show portrait 1]

Do these people look alike? Do you think they’re related? How do you know? [wait for thoughts, questions, and responses]

Yes, it’s because they share lots of similar characteristics, just like you and your parents. And that’s all because your parents passed their genes on to you with that thing called inheritance.

[Allow kids to study portrait 1 and pick out more similarities in appearance. Point out things that they don’t find, like hair color, eye color, skin color, or any other distinct physical properties like nose shape, etc.]

[Repeat for all portraits]

Post-activity discussion questions:

  • What are genes and what do they do?
  • How come these family members look so much alike?
  • Can you find me some examples of genetic inheritance in your family? What about in these families [point to portraits]? (be ready to explain that traits are shared among siblings, and be sure to make clear that siblings get the same genes from their parents, rather than one sibling passing their genes to the other)