PCR Activities

Instructor: Tawnya Eash

Tawnya has a master's degree in early childhood education and teaches all subjects at an elementary school.

Check out this lesson on polymerase chain reactions to help your students have fun while learning about copying strands of DNA. You'll find various ideas that will work in your classroom to deepen your students' understanding and keep them actively involved.

What is a PCR?

A polymerase chain reaction, PCR, has many advantages in the scientific and medical fields. By making copies of a specific fragment of DNA, PCR's allow a deeper look into genetics. Using this lesson will help your students understand what PCR is, how it works, and its many uses. Students will explore the benefits of using PCR's in cloning, forensics, and medical diagnostics.

Feel free to adapt any of the ideas to better meet the needs of your students and/or your own teaching preferences. Now let's check out some activities.

PCR Activities

Are You Copying Me?

Give students a chance to make edible DNA fragments to help understand how a PCR works.

Suggested Grade Levels

  • Students in grades 6-10

Materials for each group

  • Twizzlers
  • Gummy Bears
  • Toothpicks
  • Drawing paper
  • Pencils
  • Reference on steps of a PCR (could use the posters created in the 'Explain This' activity)


  • Students will work in groups of 2-3.
  • Now ask students:
    • How would students like to construct then eat their own model of DNA? Explain that students get to use food to demonstrate what goes on in a PCR.
  • Each group will use Twizzlers, gummy bears, and toothpicks to create a model of a DNA strand that will have to be copied.
    • Compare DNA to a twisted ladder for students to get a visual representation. Maybe even create your own edible model for students to see.
    • Twizzlers are the backbone (phosphates and sugars) of the DNA.
    • Toothpicks are the hydrogen bonds that hold the bases together.
    • Gummy bears are the chemical bases. For example: red can be adenine, orange can be cytosine, yellow can be thymine, and green can be guanine.
  • Once the model has been created, students will work together to show how one strand is separated and then copied during a PCR.
  • Students will draw what's happening on their drawing paper to demonstrate each step of a PCR. Encourage students to repeat the steps for PCR at least three times and to refer to a reference when needed.
  • When each group is finished, allow students to share and compare their results with another group.

Explain This

Students get to break down the steps to a polymerase chain reaction with this activity.

Suggested Grade Levels

  • Grade 6-10 students


  • Construction paper or white drawing paper
  • String or yarn
  • Scissors
  • Hole punchers
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • Pencils
  • Tape
  • Reference on PCR's
  • Optional: Use of computers and a printer. A program such as Microsoft Word could be used to create a visual for each step.


  • Students will work individually.
  • Have students collaborate with a partner to review the steps in a PCR.
  • Then, each student will create a step-by-step visual representation of a PCR. Students will create one poster for each step and connect the posters with string. They may draw the posters by hand or use a computer program.
  • The poster for each step must include:
    • Name of each step
    • Description of the step and the temperature at which it is heated or cooled
    • Clear explanation of what is happening
    • Image of what is happening
  • Connect the posters by punching holes and attaching the string. The finished product should look somewhat like the image pictured.

Sample Explain This Activity
PCR steps

  • When students are finished, hang the step-by-step models in the classroom or hallway.

Why are PCR's Important?

Help students think of the positive impact PCR's can make on our world with this writing activity.

Suggested Grade Levels

  • Grade 9-12 students


  • Computers
    • Internet for research
    • Typing program
  • Printer
  • Notebooks
  • Pencils

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