Creative Expressions--Protein Synthesis

Author: Helga Burns
Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


Teaching abstract concepts is a difficult task when the learners are concrete thinkers as is characteristic of high school students. For the best learning it has been found that hands on activities provide those kinds of experiences that facilitate the learning of concepts.

Protein synthesis is just the type of concept that is difficult for the student but made more clear by the development by the student of a three dimensional model which she/he can manipulate showing the series of processes involved.

Target Age/Ability Group:

9-12 Grades, all ability groups


Student choice; or provide some simple alternatives (paper, markers, scissors, overheads) for those who financially or otherwise cannot come up with an alternative.


  1. After the regular classroom presentation of the processes involved in protein synthesis have been covered. Use as a culminating activity.

  2. Give directions. See student handout.

  3. Give time in class to choose groups or assign them. Then give some time to begin their projects. It is helpful to ask students for the list of the group members at this point and the format that they plan to use. It gives the instructor a chance to comment on problems that might develop and encourages the students to begin working in a given format. Time to work together and plan works well in conjuction with other classroom activities such as computer laboratories or wrapping up wet labs.

  4. Establish due date and schedule of presentations. Usually one week after the assignment works well. But it depends on how much else is going on in the classroom.

Creative Expression Of The Concept Of Protein Synthesis Assignment:

You will make a three dimensional, moveable model of protein synthesis depicting all of the processes involved, from replication to the production of the protein.

  1. Choose groups. No more than three in a group; you may work alone.

  2. Choose your medium. Examples: Christmas tree lights, Styrofoam, paper, pipe cleaners, clay, copper wire, old bottles and cans, candy, cookies...the variety is limited only by your imagination. If you would prefer to do a written creative product, see me. Options in this medium include story and poem. Video or slide productions are also options.

  3. For what should be in your model and what will be expected, see the grading sheet. BE CONSISTENT!!!!

  4. Oral presentation as scheduled. Must be clear and show the movement of the mRNA, tRNA, etc. Must show understanding of the concept by your ability to answer questions.

Cover Sheet For Protein Synthesis Model

Must Turn In Just Prior To Oral Presentation

Lab Partners:


Describe role of each collaborator. What did each contribute to the project?

Rationale For Model

Process Or Part          Represented By     Rationale
  bases (all five, 
  different colors)
  amino acids

Grading Procedure

  1. Model:

    a. Clarity (25)
    b. Moveability (25)

  2. Written rationale clear and consistent (25)

  3. Oral presentation
    clarity (25)
    answering questions (10)

  4. Group participation (15)

Example Of Student Response

Story by Jackie Kerr

It has been a busy day for me. I'd been reproducing all day long. The System, and that's with a capital S, don't like to call it reproducing. They prefer to call it replication. Same difference to me. An enzyme comes along and "unzips" me and breaks the hydrogen bonds to my nitrogen bases. Then those free-floating nucleotides attach themselves to me. I know what you're thinking, that sounds pretty kinky, but I'm just a kinky kind of molecule. Some say I'm sleazy, others say I'm cheap, but I say that I AM DNA.

I'd been cruising around the nucleus observing the latest sewage that infested this once nice neighborhood. The gangs were taking over, RNA being the ring-leader. The RNA was good, very good. They know their business. They split up into three sub-units, MRNA, tRNA, and rRNA. This was so the work was easier and more spread out. Each had its own job and performed it well.

I know what you're wondering. What's a good DNA like me doing in this part of the nucleus? Well, I'll tell you. My connections informed me that there was going to be a big protein shipment going down and the RNA gangs were involved. That did not surprise me. RNA would be the only ones who could pull it off. They had just the right structure and passports across the nucleus to the Outside and that with a capital O. I know, the=ugh, that if RNA was involved then so was I.

I stopped off at one of the local clubs and lo and behold I found a lonely RNA. This one had pretty much drunk itself into a stupor. I decided to take advantage of the situation and try to get some information out of this sorry excuse for a nucleic acid. All things cost something, however, and this was not different. So me and this RNA snuck into the back room where we (double wink) transcribed.

My quanine met its cytosine and vice versa. Then my adenine met something new, something foreign to me, uracil, but oh what a thrill as another RNA floated off. Unfortunately, this particular RNA ended up being part of the messenger RNA gang so instead of me getting information, I had it taken from me. I departed the club dizzy and a little confused.

After recovering from that ordeal I realized right away I'd made a big mistake. That mRNA took the information straight to the ribosome. tRNA most likely brought the amino acids and the ribosomal RNA is always present.

They've probably begun translating right now. Protein is being synthesized even as we speak. My plan failed. I've just helped RNA produce its shipment of protein and I have nothing to show for it. There is a lesson to be learned out of this, however, so you little kiddies better listen up cause I'll only say it once. Never trust a polymer that there's more than one kind of and never, never, ever trust one that can travel beyond the nucleus.

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