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The genetic timeline lesson plan gives students an historical perspective of the discoveries that led to our present understanding of the human genome.


Students will learn about scientists from many different countries building a body of knowledge over a period of more than 100 years. Students will also begin to appreciate the contribution of some scientists whose work may not have been fully appreciated in their lifetimes, such as Darwin and Mendel. As the student puts the events in order, he or she should be able to see more clearly how biotechnology affects the progress of scientific discoveries.

Educational Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students should able to accomplish the following educational objectives:

  1. Describe how scientific "facts" change with new discoveries.
  2. Give examples of the small steps toward scientific understanding that can result from the contribution of many experiments.
  3. Explain the importance of accepting a change in scientific thinking with the collection of new knowledge.
  4. Describe the scientific process of using supporting evidence from one discovery to verify findings of another.
  5. Relate the development of technology to scientific progress.

Preparation and Activity

The genetic timeline activity may be most effectively done at the end of a genetics unit as a review or reinforcement lesson. It likely will take two periods.


  1. Print out two copies of the Genetic Timeline boxes of discoveries.
  2. Use one as the master copy or answer key.
  3. Use the second to cut up for the lesson.
  4. Cut around the edges of the boxes and glue them separately to 4" x 6" cards.
  5. Print out the major contributions and adhere them on colored paper using tape.
  6. Cut out the dates and glue them on 3" x 5" cards.
  7. Have ready a large roll of poster paper cut (about 6" wide) to receive the cards.
  8. Attach the roll of poster paper to the wall around the classroom.


  1. Divide the class into four groups.
  2. If the class is honors biology, shuffle the cards in any order.
  3. If the class is general biology, divide the cards by periods of 20 to 40 years. The most recent period will likely be the most difficult for students to sort because it includes molecular techniques for sequencing they may not have covered in textbooks.
  4. Have students sort out the 4" X 6" cards into the order that they think the events happened.
  5. Have each group tell their classmates why they sorted the events in the order that they chose.
  6. Ask the students to place the major concepts at the appropriate place in the history of events and record them in their notebooks.
  7. Assign students the task of looking at the timeline section of the "Exploring Our Molecular Selves" multimedia education kit on the NHGRI Web site.
  8. Ask students to verify their arrangements by dating them using the online timeline.
  9. During the second period, ask students to put colored paper with the dates next to the order of events, while discussing the accomplishments of the first part of the lesson.
  10. Allow the students to put the major concept cards in their proper places on the timeline.
  11. Ask your students how the development of technology affected the progress of the understanding of human genetics.
  12. Ask your students what ethical, legal or social factors may arise with the completion of the sequencing of the human genome.

Last updated: March 13, 2015