Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Nature vs. Nurture

Melinda Dukes
Washington County Schools


Is nature or nurture more important? Students begin the exploration of this concept in this first lesson of the unit, Twin Traits.


The student knows how dominant and recessive traits are inherited.

The student knows that variations within a species are the result of genetic information being passed from a parent to offspring and that interactions between the genes may occur in the process (for example, blending, crossing-over).


Day 1
-Diagnostic Assessment (see Extensions)

Day 2
-Student Journals
-My Human Traits Chart (see Associated File)
-Access to a computer lab or enough classroom computers for students to use for research
-Journal Entries handout (Optional-See Extensions)
-Exit Slips (Optional-See Extensions)

Day 3
-White board or another surface for writing vocabulary and suitable marker/chalk/ etc.
-Small hand mirrors for each student
-Student journals
-Encyclopedias or nonfiction reference books or access to the Internet
-Journal Entries handout (Optional-See Extensions)
-Exit Slips (Optional-See Extensions)

Day 4
-Student journals
-Blank white paper for each student to create charts
-Overhead picture of a DNA molecule
-Gumdrops (six per student)(Alternative: use mini-marshmallows or gummy bears)
-Toothpicks (six per student)
-Pins and index cards (enough for each student)
-DNA Model Checklist (one per student)
-Journal Entries handout (Optional-See Extensions)
-Exit Slips (Optional-See Extensions)


This is lesson one of three for the unit, Twin Traits.

Day 1
1. Consider giving the Diagnostic on a Friday so there will be time to review the assessment. Results should guide instruction.
2. Download and print copies (one per student) of the Diagnostic Assessment. (See Extensions)
3. Review Diagnostic directions. (See Extensions)
4. Have students prepare something to use as a student journal. Journals should be something students can use to store handouts and entries from the unit. Journals should be stored in the classroom as middle school students are often disorganized.
5. Consider integrating this unit with the language arts unit, Jacob Have I Loved, and the social studies unit, Announcing World War II. If so, then do the following:
A. Obtain a copy of the novel, [Jacob Have I Loved] by Katherine Paterson. As you read the novel, begin listing questions that would pique student interest as to whether or not the characters have been formed by nature or by nurture.
B. Use the Daily Integration Suggestions and the Unit's End Integration Suggestions (See Extensions).
C. Note that adding the Integration Suggestions may add 1-2 days to this unit.

Day 2
1. Preview the Just Read Now site, familiarizing yourself with the Think-Pair-Share concept. (See Weblinks)
2. Download and make copies (one per student) of the handout, My Human Traits.
3. Decide if a transparency of the handout, My Human Traits, will be necessary for your students.
4. If integrating this unit, continue using the integration suggestions.
5. Since students will be doing research on the Web, it may be a good idea to have access to a computer lab or enough classroom computers for pairs/small groups of students to do research.
6. Consider using exit slips as another opportunity to formatively assess students. Exit Slips available from the unit's attached files. (See Extensions.)
7. Download and determine how (or if) you will use the Journal Entries handout.

Day 3
1. Preview the vocabulary and definitions in Day 3’s procedural steps.
2. Familiarize yourself with books, magazines, Websites etc. that your library has to offer on the subject of genetics and dominant and recessive traits. It may be helpful to have the media specialist pull applicable information and place in a common area in the media center OR bring materials to your classroom.
Note: For ESE students, it may be useful to have a selection of Websites bookmarked. Too much information may make the task to difficult for ESE students. Providing bookmarked sites may help.
3. Have chart paper and markers on hand for students’ charts.
4. Use the information in Extensions and in Weblinks to familiarize yourself with different review techniques. Going beyond question and answer activities will provide students with fun and exciting ways to review material.
5. If integrating this unit, continue using the integration suggestions.
6. Download and print enough copies of the T-Chart for each student.

Day 4
1. Familiarize yourself with the game of RIVETS using the information in procedures or by using the link supplied in Weblinks. In order to go beyond recognition of the word, then another review stratey like Academic Baseball might be better. Academic Baseball is explained in the Weblinks.
2. Review the vocabulary and definitions for Day 4.
3. Obtain a picture of a DNA molecule and make a transparency.
4. Preview the Website DNA: the Instruction Manual for All Life. If it is not available to all of your students via lab situation or through classroom computers, decide how best to deliver the same information to your students via another medium.
5. Obtain enough toothpicks and gumdrops so that each student has 6 of each. Instead of gumdrops, consider using mini-marshmallows or gummy bears. (FYI- for 130 students to make 6 rungs on the DNA chain, six 2 pound bags will be needed.)
6. Gather enough pins and index cards so each student can post the appropriate information to the model.
7. If integrating this unit, continue using the integration suggestions.
8. Download and print enough copies of the DNA Model Checklist for each student.


This is the first lesson for the unit, Twin Traits.

Day 1

1. Explain to students that you will be doing a mini-unit on how human personality develops. Explain that before beginning the mini-unit they will take a pre-test so you can get an idea of what they know and for them to get a preview of what they will be learning.

2. Give each student a copy of the diagnostic assessment. Additional directions for the diagnostic are available in the unit's attached file. (See Extensions).

3. Before students begin the test, stress to them that this is a pre-test with the purpose of finding out what they know.

4. Allow students time to take the assessment.

5. Following the assessment, assess the diagnostic using the supplied answer key. Note student problem areas and use to guide student learning.

Day 2 (Essential Question and Background)

**A note about reading strategies.
The science vocabulary and content contained within this unit are probably being presented to students for the first time. Reading selections, such as magazines and text books, are probably written at a higher reading level than 8th grade. In order to assist students, reading strategies are being taught in conjunction with the science content.

1. Go over the diagnostic assessment with the class.

2. Pose the essential question to the class, “Which is a more important factor in how your personality develops – nature or nurture?” Before giving students any additional information, have them participate in a Think-Pair-Share (see Weblinks).

3. If using Think-Pair-Share with your students for the first time, consider establishing some rules for students to work by. Examples: use inside voices, accept answers from another student, no name calling, etc.

4. Begin the “Think” by having students write their thoughts about the essential question in their journals. Then, they will share their thoughts with a partner and add to their journals if they would like. Then the class will have a group discussion to share the thoughts of each pair.

**Allowing students time to reflect on what they think they know about nature or nurture before giving them the definitions, gives them the opportunity to remember what they know or think they know about the content. (Additional Think-Pair-Share information available in Weblinks)

5. After students have had time to explore their own definitions and explanations, explain that nature means hereditary genetic make-up and nurture means the things that happen to a person after birth, including treatment by parents, peers, community, and society.

6. Inform students that another name for the nature versus nurture controversy is heredity versus environment.

7. Encourage students to express their views on the issue and give reasons for their views. Have the students participate in another Think-Pair-Share on this re-evaluation. Begin the “Think” by having students write any new thoughts about the essential question in their journals based on any new information they have heard from their classmates. Then they will again share their thoughts with a partner and add more to their journals if they would like. Then the class will have a brief group discussion to share the new thoughts of each pair.

**Allowing for another Think-Pair-Share before the group discussion gives students an opportunity to gather their own thoughts and see what other people think about the topic before they have to take a chance and share before a large group.

8. Explain to students, “You and your classmates are alike in many ways. You are also different in many ways such as size, shape, talents, and interests. Which of these similarities and differences are entirely genetic? Which ones can you control in some way?” Allow for discussion. (Students can either Think-Pair-Share or do a large group discussion.)

9. Students complete the chart, My Human Traits (see associated file). For each trait given, students record a measurement taken now or a description of themselves. Have them try to decide how much of each trait is determined by genetics and how much by interaction with their environment. They can complete the traits supplied and add three more traits on their own.

10. As students are completing the My Human Traits conduct a formative assessment by observing and monitoring for understanding of traits and the nature or nurture qualifications. If students are not able to add additional traits, they may lack a clear understanding of the definition of a trait. If they are not able to correctly identify a trait as genetic or environmental and/or provide evidence that it can or cannot change they will need to be retaught the differences between nature and nurture and provided with more concrete examples.

11. Have the students work in cooperative groups of 4-5 to discuss the activity. Ask them to share similarities and differences. Have each group choose a recorder and a reporter to write down the group's findings and report out to the class.

12. Allow students time to hear what others have to say about nature versus nurture.

Optional: For a final formative assessment, ask students to submit an 'exit slip' before they leave for the day. They can list one thing they learned and one thing they still have a question about. Or, the teacher can provide a question for students to respond to. See the unit's attached file for examples. (See Extensions for directions.)

Day 3

1. Briefly review the definition of traits and the concept of nature versus nurture from yesterday’s lesson (use the review ideas found in Extensions and Weblinks).

2. Ask students “Have you ever wondered why people resemble their parents?”

Note: Students are about to experience some difficult vocabulary. You know your students best! Before beginning this lesson, peruse the different sites listed in Weblinks and identify different pre- and during-reading strategies to use with students. Additionally, any vocabulary study that you do will help students understand the content.

3. As you explain the following, write the vocabulary words (written in caps throughout the following procedures) on the board. The explanation will help students understand the science behind dominant and recessive genes as well as how variations within a species is the result of genetic information being passed from parent to offspring, etc. Ask students to write the words in their journals with brief notes to help them make personal connections to the concepts being taught.

Note: In order to make sure students understand the complex ideas found in this section, it is suggested that after each numbered section, a review of the vocabulary and content take place. While this may be slightly time consuming, it will be a good idea in the long run.

4. Explain that the answer to the question about inheritance lies in a specialized branch of BIOLOGY called GENETICS. GENETICISTS found that most aspects of life have a HEREDITY basis and many TRAITS can appear in more than one form.

5. Give the example: Human beings have blond, red, brown, or black hair. They have one of several eye and skin colors. They have one of several different types of blood. Their earlobes may be attached or free.

6. Have students look in a mirror and make a list of their inherited traits in their journals.

7. Continue writing vocabulary on board as you explain: The modern science of genetics started with the work of GREGORY MENDEL. He found that there are certain factors in a plant CELL that determined the traits the plant would have. Of the traits Mendel studied, he called some DOMINANT TRAITS and some RECESSIVE TRAITS.

8. Students will work in pairs to research and make a T-chart (see associated file) in their journals of human traits that are considered dominant and human traits that are considered recessive by scientists. They may work in the library to look in encyclopedias or nonfiction reference books or on the Internet to conduct a search. If your students are unfamiliar with strategies to conduct an Internet search, you may need to review this concept. A really good Website to find this information is Human Genetics: A Worldwide Search for the Dominant Trait (see Weblinks).

9. Have students look at their list of personal traits they created in Step 5 by looking in the mirror. Ask them to create a T-chart of the characteristics that identify each trait as dominant or recessive. (Note- if students have listed a trait that research does not reveal as dominant or recessive, use it as an opportunity for further research or a classroom discussion. For example, students may list a bad case of acne as a dominant trait.)

10. Now discuss how dominant and recessive traits are inherited. The teacher can find more background information at the Genetics and Heredity Website (see Weblinks).

11. Have the students write a paragraph in their journals explaining how dominant and recessive traits are inherited.

12. Read the paragraphs to formatively assess students’ understanding of this standard. Look for the ability to define each type of trait and correctly explain that in a pair of alleles the dominant allele determines the trait if it is present and the recessive allele is masked if the dominant one is present. Make a note of misconceptions in order to address them the following day.

13. (Optional- use Exit Slip ideas located in the unit's attached files (see Extensions. These can be used as another formative assessment opporunity to gauge student understanding.)

Day 4

1. Begin by addressing any misconceptions that were found in the formatively assessed paragraphs done the previous day.

2. Review ALL the vocabulary and concepts that were taught yesterday by playing a game of RIVETS. This game is similar to hangman. Write a blank for each letter in the word. Give students a clue to the word by stating, “This word starts with the sound ___.” Then allow students to guess the word or continue giving clues until a student correctly states the word. Once the word is guessed, ask the students who can define the word and/or give an example. Note that this game is best played when the students cannot see the vocabulary words so if you still have them posted on the board you will want to cover them up for this game. (Further explanation for RIVETS provided in Weblinks.)

**Note: RIVETS is more effective when students are asked to guess the word THEN provide a defintion and example.

3. Pose the question “What is DNA and why is DNA replication essential to variation within a species?” Allow students a few moments to discuss. Remember a 2-minute Think-Pair-Share gives students an opportunity to discuss in a small group before they have to be a real risk-taker and speak in front of a larger group.

Note: In order to make sure students understand the complex ideas found in this section, it is suggested that after each numbered section or paragraph, a review of the vocabulary and content take place. While this may be slightly time consuming, it will be a good idea in the long run.

4. Continue adding to the vocabulary already on the board from yesterday. Ask students to continue writing the words in their journals with brief notes to help them make connections. Explain that in most ORGANISMS, including humans, DNA or DEOXYRIBONUCLEIC ACID TRANSMITS genetic information from parent to child cells from one GENERATION to the next. DNA makes up GENES that transmit hereditary traits.

The DNA MOLECULE looks like a long, twisted rope ladder. This is called a DOUBLE HELIX. The ladder is made up of two coiled strands with rungs between them. The rungs are composed of pairs of chemicals in different combinations. Each combination carries instructions or a code. A CODE is a system of symbols used to store information.

For example, the 26 letters in the English alphabet are symbols that when combined form an unlimited number of words that can be used to store written information. DNA is a type of code. Each gene in the body is a DNA section with a full set of instructions for guiding the information of just one particular PROTEIN. The different proteins made by the genes direct the body’s functions throughout a person’s life.

5. Show students a picture of a DNA molecule. Point out the similarities to a long, twisted rope ladder. Point out the pairs of chemicals in different combinations.

6. Explain that DNA is made of six parts: a SUGAR, a MINERAL (PHOSPHATE), and four special CHEMICALS called BASES. There are 4 nitrogen bases found in DNA. They are: Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine. These bases are represented as A, T, C, and G. Sugar and phosphate form chains or sides of the staircase. The A, G, C, and T bases form the steps. Each step is made of two pieces that are always paired the same way. The A base always pairs with the T base and the G base always pairs with the C base. (More information about A, T, G, and C can be found in Weblinks.)

7. Point out and label the DNA parts on a picture or overhead of a DNA molecule.

8. Explain that two new identical DNA’s are immediately formed. The A, G, C, and T bases on each chain attract loose bases floating around within the NUCLEUS. T’s attract A’s and C’s attract G’s. The two new DNA’s are just like the original DNA. The REPLICATION of DNA is key to heredity, the passing of traits from parent to offspring.

9. Have the students work through the Website DNA: the Instruction Manual for All Life (see Weblinks) to understand the connection DNA has to variations in genetic information.

**As students are discussing and working through the site, take multiple opportunities to formatively assess their understanding about DNA. If students require additional instruction, use your science textbook.

10. Now that students have a basic understanding of DNA, have students build a three-dimensional model of DNA with toothpicks and gumdrops. Before students begin building, present students with the DNA MOdel Checklist. Explain that they need to submit a sketch and brief explanation of the molecules, structure, and mechanism for replication. They can use the checklist to guide their work. This is an excellent time to formatively assess each student individually.

**ESE students may need a model to help them visualize the end product. Be sure to allow them time to visualize, but be wary of students who want to copy your design.

11. Then have them label the DNA molecule with pins and index card squares to explain the molecules, structure and mechanism for replication. Use the checklist available in associated files.

12. As the students complete their DNA models have them explain to you individually how the DNA replicates and causes variations of genetic information. This will serve as a formative assessment. (Students can also write the information and attach it to their DNA model if time does not allow for verbal feedback.)

**Students should be able to correctly label and identify each part of the DNA molecule and discuss how the A, G, C, and T bases on each chain attract loose bases floating around within the nucleus. T’s attract A’s and C’s attract G’s. The two new DNA’s are just like the original DNA.

**They should also be able to state that the replication of DNA is key to the passing of traits from parent to offspring. (See checklist in Associated File)

13. (Optional: Exit slips. See Extensions.)

14. Before beginning the next lesson, be sure to use any formative assessment information to guide future instruction. Additional review or instruction may be necessary if students are struggling with the concepts. Your textbook may be a good source to use.

(Consider displaying the models in the classroom or media center along with other products which will be created during this unit.)


Use the Diagnostic Assessment Answer Key to assess student work. Directions and appropriate handouts are available. See Extensions for more information.

Formative assessment is ongoing each day. Within each day’s procedural steps, formative assessment criteria is included. Please see procedures for more information.


1. This unit integrates with the Beacon Learning Center units, Jacob Have I Loved and Announcing World War II. Jacob Have I Loved is a language arts unit in which Sara Louise, a twin, struggles with the differences between she and her twin sister, Caroline. Is it nature or nurture that has made them the way they are? By researching the nature vs nurture controversy, students gain a deeper understanding of the science content and of the characters in the novel.

Additionally, another unit, Announcing World War II, was written to help students understand the time period of the novel. If they can understand the world around the characters, then they will gain further insight into the character's minds. Students hear radio broadcasts from the time period and create their own.

Integrated units provide multiple opportunities for students to gain insight into complex issues. Consider teaching this unit in conjunction with your history and language arts counterparts. You will see increased interest on behalf of your students as they make connections among all three subjects.

2. ESOL or ESE students may be paired with more adept students to aid in their understanding of complex concepts. Additionally, printing the procedural steps and providing students with a printed copy may help breach language and understanding barriers.

3. The Beacon Unit Plan associated with this lesson can be viewed by clicking on the link located at the top of this page. Once you select the unit’s link, scroll to the bottom of the unit plan page to find the section, Downloadable Files. This section contains links to the Unit Plan Overview, Diagnostic and Summative Assessments, and other associated files (if any).

4. A word wall may be beneficial in helping students remember complex vocabulary. Create vocabulary word posters by writing the vocabulary down on construction paper and posting on blank wall space. Posters will act as visual cues which may aid student understanding.

5. Since the vocabulary and reading is so complex in this unit, additional pre-, during-, and post- reading strategies will be useful. See Weblinks for more information.

6. Instead of the usual Q and A, try different review techniques. Play games like Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Use ideas like the ones listed in the Weblink section, or even create fun puzzles or worksheets using (See Weblinks) The worksheets could be used to pique student interest and also act as discussion starter for a good review.

7. Your textbook is probably an excellent supplemental source to use with this unit. It can be used for struggling students, as review material, etc.

8. If you or your students need additional work understanding reading strategies, consider the following resources:
--Kylene Beers. [When Kids Can't Read. What Teachers Can Do]. Heinemann Publishing. 2003.
--Online courses published by Beacon Learning Center. Pre-Reading Strategies, During-Reading Strategies, and Post-Reading Strategies. (See Weblinks for links)

9. It may be useful to incorporate instruction and assessment on Punnet Squares. While they were not included in this unit, they are a part of the standard selected. You may wish to use the lesson, Dare to be [Punnet] Square (See Weblinks)

Web Links

Use this link to obtain more information about Think-Pair-Share.

Students can use this website to research human traits that are considered dominant and human traits that are considered recessive by scientists.
Human Genetics: A Worldwide Search for the Dominant Trait

Students can use this link to research how dominant and recessive traits are inherited.
Genetics and Heredity

Use this link to obtain more information about the vocabulary game RIVET.

Use this link to explore other review activities beyond the usual Q and A.
Review Ideas

Use this link to obtain additional pre-, during-, and post-reading strategies.
Just Read Now

Use this link to obtain a 'spinning' DNA model.
Spinning DNA model

Use this link to allow students to build a DNA model online. It is not to replace the actual DNA activity, but may be a helpful review or alternative medium for learning.
Build a DNA model online

Use this link during Day 4.
DNA: The Instruction Manual For All Life

Use this link if you would like to incorporate Punnet Squares into your instruction.
Dare to be [Punnet] Square

Attached Files

My Human Traits chart     File Extension: pdf

T-Chart     File Extension: pdf

DNA Model Checklist     File Extension: pdf

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