Codon Bingo

Cynthia Mannix
1994 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


Codon Bingo is a stimulating game that involves deciphering the genetic code. It is a game designed for students to practice transcription and translation of codons. It has the advantage that it is a game that students enjoy while they actively participate. All students become engaged in this activity as it generates a lot of enthusiasm. As they play the game, they develop increased proficiency at unraveling the genetic code found in the base pairs. After playing this game, the task of transcribing the DNA base pair messages into mRNA codons and then translating the mRNA codons into amino acids becomes much easier.

Complete instructions are included on the next page; the following is a brief summary. The students are given a bingo card with blank spaces. They choose where all twenty amino acids will be placed and write the amino acid names on the bingo card. As the names of DNA triplets are called, they transcribe the DNA into a mRNA codon and then into its respective amino acid. If the codon for an amino acid they have on their card is called, they place a marker on the appropriate spot. Once the students have five markers placed across, down or diagonally, they win! The students read back their amino acids, which has become a polypeptide of four or five amino acids, while the teacher checks for accuracy. The students get immediate feedback on their ability to decode DNA.

Thus while playing a lively game they get repeated practice decoding the genetic message in a fun, dynamic way with their peers. They gain a facility with the mechanism of gene translation that makes further investigations much easier. The code in the DNA molecule becomes tangible and comprehensible.

Target Age/Ability Group:

This game is designed for introductory high school biology students who have had an introduction to DNA structure, transcription, and translation.

Teacher Information

  • Copy 1 blank bingo card for each student or team (included). If they wish to make different cards and you are amenable to that you will need more than one card per student.
  • Copy a set of the "codon game cards" (included).
  • Cut these "codon game cards" into individual squares and place in a bingo basket for drawing .
  • Decide if students will play alone or in paired teams.

Instructions for Playing Codon Bingo

  1. Provide each student or team with the following:
    • 1 bingo card
    • several markers (pennies work well)
    • 1 codon chart with RNA codons and their respective amino acids (found in texts)
    • 1 list of the twenty amino acids (found in texts)
    • colored pencils

  2. Direct the team or individual to write the name of all 20 amino acids on their cards. They may choose where they wish to position them. They will have some amino acids on their cards twice as there are 24 empty spaces to fill.

  3. Once the bingo cards are ready, draw 1 "codon game card" from the basket and read the DNA triplet code to the class.{Please note: on the "codon game cards" the small 'D' is the DNA triplet (sense strand) and the small 'R' is the mRNA codon.} They must then transcribe the DNA base pair triplet into the RNA transcript. Then using a codon chart, they translate the mRNA codon into an amino acid. If they have that amino acid on their card somewhere they may place a marker on that space.

  4. Discard the used "codon game card" by laying it to one side. You will need it for the checking process. Give the students enough time before drawing the next card - especially in the beginning of the game.

  5. Continue drawing and reading cards until someone yells "Bingo!" At this point check his or her decoding by having the student read the four or five marked amino acids. Point out that this is now a polypeptide. While the student reads out the amino acids, check for accuracy in the discard pile. If a student has made a mistake and marked an inappropriate amino acid, he or she is out of the game for this round.

  6. Reward the winner(s) in some way to enhance motivation. Play the next round.

    Variation #1: When preparing the cards, allow the students to choose as many or as few of the amino acids as they like and position them on the bingo cards. {Note: It might be wise to restrict them from using fewer than two or three amino acids.}

    Variation #2: The pace of the game can be slow or fast depending on the student population. After a few rounds of practice, picking up the pace can add a new challenge.

    Variation #3: Instead of calling out the DNA triplet code on the "codon game card" call out the RNA codon and have them only translate into an amino acid. This is an easier variation and might be a way you would want to begin the first few rounds of the game for beginners.

    The teacher and students can create all sorts of variations and rules to add interest.



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