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Teaching protein translation

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We’re teaching how DNA gets turned into mRNA, and then hooks up to tRNA with amino acids, and then forms proteins. Very important yet it’s not easy for everyone. It can be challenging for ELL and SPED students. Solution? Make it tactile: Use a large table as a cell, and pieces on the table to represent organelles and molecules.

It took time to find right graphics – but this was critical. It’s good to reinforce that cells contain many organelles, even if we’re only using a few of them in any particular lesson.

I printed them out on heavy stock paper. (I need to laminate it next time, but this was a trial run.) Cut out all the pieces.

The trick is to have many nucleotides, so they can get practice with multiple combinations. Here we have 27 bases, for 9 codons, making an 8 amino acid peptide (plus one STOP codon.)

Here is the PDF file with the graphics (DNA to mRNA to ribosome to tRNA) This is what it looks like on a table top, when students use them.

DNA protein translation manipulative

DNA protein translation manipulative 2

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-LS1-1. Construct a model of transcription and translation to explain the roles of DNA and RNA that code for proteins that regulate and carry out essential functions of life.


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