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A Genetics Role-playing Activity

by: Sharon Nelson


This activity allows students to utilize "the 3 P's" of science: Problem posing, problem solving, and peer persuasion. It does require a great deal of time, but I feel it is one of the best activities I have my students do. The results are lasting, and students feel a definite sense of accomplishment at the conclusion of the activity.


Students will:
  • use research/study skills to investigate a particular human genetic disorder;
  • assume role(s) of doctor, genetic counselor, parents, sibling(s), affected individual (as the case requires);
  • work cooperatively with other students;
  • make informed decision(s) based on consideration of the bioethical issues involved;
  • generate a written report summarizing the information gathered;
  • give an oral presentation to the class, explaining their particular circumstance, the bioethical issues involved, and the decisions that were made by their group. They will defend their decisions and will answer questions posed to them by their peers (peer persuasion).


Students will be assigned to work in groups of 2-5, at the instructor's discretion. Students will then choose a scenario for role playing. Their job is to research any and all information pertinent to their situation. Students may divide the roles in any way they see fit (one may choose to assume the role of parent, another the role of doctor, etc.) Once they have the necessary information, they must make some decisions regarding their situation, based on the bioethical issues involved. In addition to a 5-10 minute oral presentation, students must, with their group members, turn in one written report.


Prior to this activity, my students have learned basic Mendelian genetics and a little human genetics. The anomalies in the scenarios have very possibly never been discussed in class. A genetic counselor has also been in to speak with the students (if one is not available, I share the information with the students.) An evaluation sheet is included. I present it to my students at the beginning of the activity so they know exactly how their projects are critiqued.


  • Your 16-yr-old daughter is 6' tall. After some discussion about her health and some probing by the family physician into your family's history, you are referred to a genetic counselor. The physician suspects the possibility of Marfan's Syndrome. Your daughter is currently on the varsity basketball team, and the season has just gotten underway.
    Your income: $55,000 Insurance: HMO, 80% coverage.

  • You and your wife have just lost a child to Tay-Sachs disease. You were referred to a genetic counselor before deciding to have more children.
    Your income: $75,000 Insurance: none

  • You and your husband are in your early forties and have decided you would like to have another child. Your physician refers you to a genetic counselor to discuss concerns regarding Down's Syndrome.
    Your income: $150,000 Insurance: 80% coverage

  • You and your partner are both African American. You have two children: the second child, a girl, is an albino; the first child, also a girl, is visually impaired. You would like another child and seek the advice of a genetic counselor.
    Your income: $90,000 Insurance: full coverage.

  • You have one child, age 3, that has cystic fibrosis. You are three months pregnant with your second child; you and your husband separated a month ago. You have been referred to a genetic counselor.
    Your income: $35,000 Insurance: coverage through spouse's employer.

  • You have just married. You and your spouse are healthy but your husband's brother has two children with sickle cell anemia and your sister has the same disease. You are thinking of having children and have sought the advice of a genetic counselor.
    Your income: $51,000 Insurance: none

  • Your oldest child has PKU that was diagnosed at birth. You are unexpectedly pregnant with a second child and have been referred to a genetic counselor.
    Your income: $72,000 Insurance: through your employer jointly; your husband has just been laid off from his job.

  • You have hemophilia; you and your spouse would like to have children. You are referred to a genetic counselor.
    Income: You just lost your job due to missing so many days of work for hospital stays. Wife's income as teacher's aide: $18,000.
    Insurance: none

  • You and your wife both have achondroplasia. You have just built a house to suit your needs. You would like to have a family and have been referred to a genetic counselor.
    Income: $150,000. Insurance: HMO, 90% coverage

  • Gloria, 19, is married to Robert, 21, and they wish to start a family. Both of Gloria's parents are healthy (Sonia, 39, and Todd, 40). However, Gloria's grandfather died at the age of 43 after being diagnosed with Huntington's Disease. Gloria and Robert have many questions and seek out a genetic counselor for information.
    Income: $52,000. Insurance: both, through employers

  • Jim,32, and Tammy, 28, have had two healthy children: Twila, age 3 and Terry, age 5. They have, however, recently discovered some background news about Tammy's family that concerns them. They have just found out that a brother of Tammy's, who was confined to a wheelchair by age 10, has Muscular Dystrophy. They would love to have a family of four children. Genetic counseling is available.
    Income: $80,000 Insurance: 50% coverage

  • As a result of information learned in his high school biology class, Jim thinks he may have Klinefelter's Syndrome. His parents have never heard of this disorder and they seek out a genetic counselor.
    Family income: $92,000 Insurance: full major medical coverage.

  • You and your wife have two children. The first is healthy. The second has spina bifida, and is paralyzed from the waist down. You desire more children and seek the advice of a genetic counselor.
    Income: $200,000 Insurance: full coverage

  • Cindy, 38, is expecting her third child. She has two healthy children. Due to her age, her doctor suggests that amniocentesis be done at sixteen weeks post-conception. The karyotype reveals that the child has Turner's Syndrome. Cindy and her husband Stan are referred to a genetic counselor with this information in hand.
    Income: $75,000 Insurance: self-insured


Group members:_________________________________________________________

Oral Presentation (50 points):

  1. Manner of presentation
    heard and understood by all 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
    equal participation by all members 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
    creative approach 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10

  2. Material presented
    content covered (whole story?) 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10
    accuracy 0-1-2-3-4-5
    presented at appropriate level 0-1-2-3-4-5

Written report (100 points):
  1. Mechanics of report
    grammar 0-1-2-3-4-5
    spelling 0-1-2-3-4-5
    neatness 0-1-2-3-4-5

  2. Material presented
    Doctor's report: symptoms,
    cause, treatment, cure
    Genetic Counselor's report:
    why did this happen? will it
    happen again? what can be done?
    Parents' report: effects
    financially, emotionally, socially
    Community resources available
    for educational needs,
    for medical progress
    Conclusion(s) 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8
    Resources utilized:
    quality of resources
    quantity of resources

    Extra Credit: interviews with doctors,
    nurses, etc. (Please site those professionals
    with whom you had contact, including their
    name, time and date of interview, etc.)

    TOTAL POINTS/150 = _________


Reference: First shared with me at Wisconsin's Science World Program by Dorrie Tonnis, La Crosse; revised at Teacher Enhancement Program, Human Genetics Module, 1989 and since!

Shared by: Sharon Nelson, Waunakee High School, 100 School Drive, Waunakee, WI 53597

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