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The Language of DNA

Activity Description

Students use 3D models to transcribe a DNA sequence into an RNA sequence and translate RNA sequence into amino acid sequence (protein primary structure).

Estimated Time of Activity

Up to 1.5 hours

Activity Objectives

Students will be able do the following as a result of the activity:

  1. Describe the universal genetic code in general terms
  2. Explain in detail the base pairing rules for DNA and RNA
  3. List 3 differences between DNA and RNA
  4. Explain the basic concepts of transcription and translation

Activity Prerequisites

Students should have already made a DNA model and should have a firm grasp on base pairing rules.

Activity Instructions

  1. Use DNA model as a template to construct a RNA model
  2. Use RNA sequence as basis for making an amino acid chain


At the end of the exercise students should have a complete RNA model and a protein with the correct order of amino acids. 


  • Student handout
  • DNA 3D models from previous activity
  • Black licorice sticks: 1 per student
  • Colored marshmallows per student: 9 green, 9 pink, 9 yellow, and 9 orange
  • Toothpicks: 12 per student
  • Colored sticky notes or paper cutouts: 2 red, 2 pink, 2 dark yellow, 2 light yellow, 2 green, 2 blue, and 2 purple (or any other combination of available colors) per student
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors

Instructor’s Notes

See Instructors handout.