Genetic Drift Lesson Plan

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Genetic drift often gets forgotten as one of the forces for evolution. This lesson plan allows students to explore the types of genetic drift through a video and a simple, yet fun and effective, lab activity.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the terms 'genetic drift,' 'bottleneck effect' and 'founder effect'
  • Give real examples of the bottleneck effect and the founder effect
  • Relate a lab activity to genetic drift and identify which type of genetic drift is taking place


  • 60 minutes


  • M&Ms in zipper baggies (25 M&Ms per baggie and one baggie per group)
  • Sticky notes (2 for each student)
  • A video projector to display the lesson Genetic Drift: Definition, Examples & Types
  • Copies of the associated quiz, one per student

Curriculum Standards


Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.


Analyze the structure of the relationships among concepts in a text, including relationships among key terms (e.g., force, friction, reaction force, energy).


Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.


  • Alleles
  • Endemic
  • Founder effect
  • Genetic drift
  • Population bottleneck



  • Pass out a sticky note to each student. On the board, draw two columns: 'Before' and 'After.'
  • Ask students to write what they know (or think they know) about genetic drift on the sticky note. If they're clueless, tell them to consider what 'genetic' and 'drift' mean. Have them place their sticky note on the 'Before' section on the board.
  • Take a moment to share a few sticky notes with the class (right and wrong responses).

Video: Part I

Lab Activity

  • Give each group a baggie of M&Ms. Tell the class that each M&M is either a specific allele or an organism (I usually stick with organisms). You can make up a name for the organism and say they come in a variety of colors.
  • Students need to record the percent of each color present and record it in a table.
    • % in Population = (# of that color/total number) x 100

Color Percent in Population
  • Now, tell students there's a disaster that randomly kills all but 5 M&Ms. Have students randomly pick 5 M&Ms from their group's baggie, and then create a second table calculating the percent of each color in the population.
  • Ask the following:
    • How does the new population compare to the original population?
    • What genetic material was lost?
    • How does each group's new population compare?
    • How does the number of M&Ms that survived the disaster compare to the amount of genetic material lost (i.e. what if 10 M&Ms survived? 20?)?

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