Activity 4: Visible Traits

PDF versions on Activity 4: Visible Traits are available in English and Spanish.

Objectives: Kids will learn what genes are and that traits are inherited from both parents. They will look for evidence of genetic variability in themselves by examining a few basic, visible traits, such as free or attached earlobes.

Materials: photos of several visible traits (optional)


[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 does anyone know how we can see genes in our own physical appearance? [some might mention hair/skin color, etc.]

Yep, those differences in the way you look are all because we all have different genes, or instructions, that we inherit from our parents. But there are also some things you DO that are the result of your genes. We call them genetic because they come from genes that are passed on in your family.

Can anyone roll their tongue? [show them how to] Who can? [wait for them to raise hands] and who can’t? [wait for them to raise hands] That’s because there is a gene for being able to roll your tongue. If your parents have the gene and they gave it to you, then you can roll your tongue. And if they have the gene for not being able to roll your tongue, and they gave that to you, then you can’t roll your tongue. Go home and see if your parents can roll their tongue!

[Other traits to repeat this with:

  • hand clasp (have kids clasp hands together, interlocking fingers; some kids will have left thumb on top, and others will have right thumb on top – genetically determined)
  • right- and left-handedness
  • ear lobes – free or attached
  • hairline – peaked or straight]

Post-activity discussion questions:

  • How come you have the traits that you do? Like being right/left-handed, having free/attached earlobes, etc? How did you get those traits?
  • Do you think your parents and siblings have traits like yours?
  • Can you give some examples of shared traits in yourself and your family? Why do you think families share so many traits?