Talking about inherited traits and learned behaviors is the perfect way to get your students’ attention. “Why?” you ask. Because kids LOVE to talk about themselves! There’s something about this topic that gets kids talking…and talking… and talking… sometimes to the point of exhaustion. But seriously, traits and behaviors are valuable concepts that will connect your students’ learning to their real lives. And making learning relevant is what helps things really sink in. So, let’s do this!
Inherited Traits and Learned Behaviors Teacher-led Discussion
To review, write the terms inherited traits vs learned behaviors on the board. Ask students to discuss in their groups what they think the difference is between the two terms. Give the groups 2-3 minutes to come up with their answers and choose 2-3 students to share what their group came up with.
Inherited Traits Discussion
- Ask the question: What makes something inherited? Explain that if an organism has it at birth, it’s inherited.
- Pick one student to come to the front of the classroom. Pose this question to the class and have them discuss it in groups or partners: What inherited traits does (name of student) have? Make a list of the traits they come up with on the board.
- Choose another student and ask the same question. Purposefully choose someone that has some different characteristics than the first student.
- After you have the second list of inherited traits, ask the class this question: Why do (name of first student) and (name of second student) have different inherited traits? Because each student is the offspring of two different parents. Each child inherits certain characteristics, or traits, from one or both of their parents.
- Then ask the class: Why do (name of first student) and (name of second student) have some of the same inherited traits? Because their parents must have some traits in common. For example, if both kids have brown hair, this is because both of them have at least one parent with dark hair. Also, some traits are shared by all humans, such as the number and location of eyes.
Learned Behaviors Discussion
- Ask students: Why is it important that organisms learn certain behaviors? To survive in their environment or to improve at certain tasks. How do offspring learn behaviors? By experience or being taught.
- Generate a class list of the learned behaviors of your students. List them on the board. Remind them to think back to the very first things they learned.
- Choose one of the learned behaviors that were listed that you know not many kids can do. Ask them: Why can’t everyone (insert learned behavior)? Because not everyone was taught how.
- Once you feel that your students can differentiate between inherited traits and learned behaviors, move on to the following activity.
Inherited Traits and Learned Behavior Activity – Who Am I?
- Large pieces of white construction paper (1 per pair)
- Markers (1 per pair)
- Inherited Traits and Learned Behaviors Worksheet Assessment (grab it for FREE HERE)
Step-by-Step Teacher Instructions:
- Pair students up. (See “Teacher Directions” in the freebie for a fun idea on how to do this).
- Explain that each pair needs to choose one animal.
- Pass out the large construction paper (1 per pair).
- Students will brainstorm 2-3 inherited traits and learned behaviors (each) that describe their animal.
- Students will write their inherited traits and learned behaviors in clue format on the white construction paper. Be sure to remind them NOT to reveal what their animal is.
- Encourage students to use facts that are unique to their animal. For instance, if they choose cheetah, DO NOT use vague facts such as “has four legs” or “has fur” because that is typical of many animals. Instead, use things like:
- I have sharp teeth to tear apart my prey. (Inherited)
- I have strong hind legs that enable me to run fast. (Inherited)
- I have brown and tan spotted fur so I can blend in while I hunt for my prey. (Inherited)
- I stay perfectly still and silent so that my prey doesn’t know I’m there. (Learned)
- I look for the weakest animal in the pack to target when I hunt. (Learned)
- I mostly hunt in the early morning or evenings. (Learned)
- Then, each pair will take turns presenting their clues to the rest of the class. They will display their clue poster and read their clues one at a time.
- The class guesses which animal is being described.
- Continue this process until each pair has had a turn to read their clues.
Inherited Traits and Learned Behaviors Wrap Up
Follow the activity with a short discussion to extend your students’ understanding by relating inherited traits and learned behaviors to plants. Ask the following:
- Do plants have inherited traits? Yes. How do you know? The new plants look like their parent plants. For example, a red rose will produce seeds. Those seeds will only produce more red roses. Color, leaf shape, and stem length are all inherited from the parent plant.
- Do plants learn behaviors? Plants do not have brains, so they cannot learn. However, they can respond to their environment. Tilting toward sunlight or a Venus fly trap closing when its trigger is touched are examples of plants responding to their environment.
Finally, pass out the inherited traits and learned behaviors worksheet to each student. Give them time to label the list of characteristics as either inherited traits or learned behaviors. Use this worksheet as a practice or for a quick formative assessment.
Once this activity is wrapped up, your students will have a much deeper understanding of inherited traits and learned behaviors. In addition, they will have made relevant connections from science to themselves and their lives. This kind of connection is what makes concepts stick!