Inheritance...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore inheritance with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching inheritance to your class!
To teach a tricky topic, such as inheritance, it is important that the children’s knowledge is built on secure foundations from their learning in related topics. We recommend you ensure there is clear progression in their learning and that pupils develop their conceptual understanding gradually.
1. Begin with grouping and classifying
Teaching about inheritance starts with younger children understanding how we group and classify living things by looking at observable features. Children sort animals and plants into broad groups and refine their sorting as they develop skills to observe more closely and compare and contrast features. At this stage, they are also learning that animals (including humans) have offspring which grow into adults.
If you can make this as hands-on as possible, all the better; much easier with plants, of course!
Odd One Out activities are really useful for this. Make sure children can develop their skills by looking at plants and animals that are not familiar to them, so they can apply their understanding in a variety of contexts. Try Winter scenes, Sleepy Heads, Spooky Animals (ages 5-7), Timewarp plants, Weird walkers, High-rise inhabitants (ages 7-9) and Sightseeing seeds, Light makers, Half and half (ages 9-11).
They can then build on this foundation by looking more closely at generations of families of humans, plants and animals, again using their skills of observation and comparison. An effective way of doing this is to bring in photos of different generations in your family or perhaps your pets. Photos are a simple way to identify inherited features and will help children begin to understand how offspring vary from their parents but inherit certain characteristics.
Exploring the Big Question activity How much variation is there in how we look? or engaging in a discussion about What if all humans looked the same? are a great way of really digging into the concept of our differences and similarities and who we get our features from.
2. Investigating lifecycles
For older children, investigating the lifecycles of plants and animals is another important step in teaching about inheritance. Children need to be able to identify the different stages of development in plants and animals so that they can begin to understand how offspring are produced and how some inherited characteristics become evident as a living organism develops to maturity.
If you are able to hatch some hens’ eggs, caterpillar eggs or have an outdoor area where you can have a pond for tadpoles or even fish, then the children will be able to observe some of these changes in person. Even if they can’t always observe the details of each stage, the reality of watching plants and animals grow and develop in front of them is extremely powerful.
What’s Going On and Zoom In Zoom Out activities are a good way of generating discussion around this concept. Watch Coming out to play to see how a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and Garden blades and Growing seed to consider the life cycle of plants.
4. Exploring adaptation
Once children have a secure understanding of what inheritance is, they can investigate how the characteristics living organisms inherit are important for their survival.
Perfect pinchers, Nothing lives here...or does it? Growing in hot and cold places and Tricky living are activities that will spark a discussion of how different living things thrive in different habitats. Taking this further, they can then explore how living things have adapted to changes in their habitats and how over a long period of time this can lead to evolution within a species. Amazing adaptations and How old is that chicken? are good places to start.
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Adriano.cz via Shutterstock SL