Genetic Drift Activities & Games

Instructor: Nora Jarvis

Nora has a Master's degree in teaching, and has taught a variety of elementary grades.

Genetic drift is one of several forces that make up evolution. This lesson will provide activities and games for your class as you teach them about genetic drift.

What Is Genetic Drift?

Evolution is a long process, and there are many different factors that affect how organisms change over time. One aspect of evolution is called genetic drift, in which a population is altered by a chance event. This event results in a change in the genetic makeup of that population.

As your students learn about genetic drift, it will be important to give them opportunities to identify examples and learn about what this form of adaptation entails through hands-on and engaging activities and games.

Hypothetical Genetic Drift

After your students have a basic understanding of genetic drift, challenge them by having them make up one way that an organism could experience genetic drift.

  • Divide your students into pairs and have them decide on an organism to use for their project. They might do a plant or animal, but encourage them to choose one that they're already fairly familiar with.
  • Students then decide on an event that could cause genetic drift in their population. These ideas can be funny or unrealistic, but they should be able to explain how the alleles change as the generations reproduce.
  • Ask your students to create a genetic map that depicts how the alleles in their populations experience a genetic drift to alter the organism.

Simulating Genetic Drift

Use classroom materials to simulate a random event in a population and the genetic drift that could result.

  • Divide your students into groups of 5 to 6.
  • Give each group a bag of pom-poms of varying colors (choose 4-5 colors), and have each student pull out 10 pom-poms from the bag. They should divide their pom-poms into color groups and determine the percentage of each color. For instance, they might have 3 red pom-poms, which means the reds make up 30% of the population.
  • Students combine all the pom-poms that each member picks out, along with the rest of the bag of pom-poms, and complete the same percentage process for the whole population.
  • Then each student chooses 10 pom-poms at random, and re-calculates the percentage that the pom-poms make.
  • In their groups, students answer the following questions:
    • How are the percentages different from each individual pull versus the whole population?
    • How do the pom-poms represent the alleles in a population?

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