Lesson 19

Simulating Protein Synthesis (Day 2 of 2)

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SWBAT trace there phases of protein synthesis (transcription, mRNA processing, and translation) through this engaging movement activity.

Big Idea

Get your kids moving and make a complicated process come alive as students take on roles in the three phases of protein synthesis!

Notes for the Teacher

This is a two day lesson series where students becoming components involved in protein synthesis in order to better understand the three steps of the process (transcription, RNA processing, translation).  

During Day 1, students work through the simulation taking on specific roles within the three steps of the process.

Standards:  SL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1cRST.9-10.3RST.9-10.4HS-LS1-1HS-LS3-1SP1SP2SP8XC-P-HS-1XC-CE-HS-2XC-SF-HS-2XC-SC-HS-1

During Day 2, we come together as a large group to discuss our experiences and findings and to utilize our previously made protein synthesis drawings for additional revisions and expansions.  

Standards: SL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1c, RST.9-10.4HS-LS1-1HS-LS3-1SP1SP2SP8XC-P-HS-1XC-CE-HS-2XC-SF-HS-2XC-SC-HS-1

I have tried a number of different protein synthesis simulations but this lab activity is for me the best because of the essential team approach to the activity and discussion and to the directions which are really well suited to the standard 50 class period that we use in our district.  I have expanded this lab to span over two days so that we could more thoroughly discuss and explore as a large group and so that we could incorporate our previous introductory lesson drawings for even more comparison and discussion.  As a teacher, I also appreciated that the materials prep aspect of the lab was minimal and easily stored for absent student needing to make up the lab later on in the week.

I will look forward to hearing about any tweaks and revisions you incorporated to make this lab even more useful to students!

The Classroom Flow: Finishing Up the Simulation

15 minutes

1.  Ask students to take out their protein synthesis simulation lab document

2.  Announce that they will have 15 minutes of class time to complete their simulation team work. If individual groups finished yesterday or finish early today, remind them that they should be working with their lab team to discuss and respond to the questions on their lab document.

3.  Review again with students the location of materials for the lab (nucleus with DNA and snurps) and cytoplasm containing amino acids) as indicated on the board.  

3.  As students work, observe and offer individualized support as needed.  As you can see from our small photo gallery, students will be engaged in whatever aspect of the lab they need to work on.

Students working 1

Students working 2

Students working 3


  • Note: I find that students are highly engaged in this activity and require very little guidance from me to maintain their focus. Because the time frame here is short, they are motivated to stay on task.  At the same time, I work with individual student groups that don't look like they will be done within the time frame to determine a good time that they can meet together in the room to finish the work.  As you can see from this representative student work sample, students are leaving this activity with a stronger understanding about the steps of protein synthesis.

The Classroom Flow: Activity Debrief

15 minutes

1.  Ask students to discuss the following prompts within their lab group:

What new understanding about protein synthesis did you come to through this activity?

What questions do you still have?

What was this simulation process like for you? What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

2. Using the spokesperson protocol, have student groups share out their responses and respond to student questions about protein synthesis.  Students will say that having to move around to get materials and transcribe DNA into RNA helped solidify what they knew.  They will also report out to you that having to play each of the roles was especially helpful in putting everything together in a way they could remember later on.

Note: The questions I typically encounter include:

  • what happens to the RNA in the introns?
  • how do the sNURPs know where to cut? Is it the same for every mRNA transcript?
  • where do the amino acids come from?
  • does each kind of tRNA get the same amino acid every time?
  • where do the tRNAs go once they leave the ribosome at the E site?
  • Does every amino acid chain begin with methionine?

The Classroom Flow: Connecting to the Big Idea in Writing and Pictures

20 minutes

1.  Ask students to take out their protein synthesis diagram with narrative that they created during our introductory lesson at the start of this unit on protein synthesis.  

  • Note: If you recall our student work sample from that introductory lesson, the student pair did not have a lot of scientific terminology in their sketch and the sequence of events in translation were pretty much absent.  Today is the day for them and all students to look again at their work and see what they can add or feel they should change to show their expanded understanding of the process of protein synthesis.  These will vary in detail from pair to pair, but in general these two areas (scientific vocabulary, translation) are ones that almost every student group could improve upon at this point in the lesson series within this unit.

2.  In pairs, ask students to consider and discuss the following two prompts:

Looking at your initial diagram and narrative, what stands out to you as needing revision or additional information?

In what ways did this activity help you to understand the steps of protein synthesis?  Compare/contrast your understanding of protein synthesis then vs. now.

3.  As student pairs analyze their initial drawings and discuss their learning/understanding, circulate and respond/affirm individual student insights.  If student groups are struggling to stay focused or are still at a basic level of understanding about protein synthesis, provide support by asking questions about their diagram in comparison to their lab document responses.  This will also give them the opportunity to ask clarifying questions.  

4.  Pass out the conclusion and reflection statement to groups as they finish their conversations.  Tell them that they will each turn in a typed conclusion statement demonstrating their improved understanding of protein synthesis.  Allow students to work on a rough draft of their conclusion and reflection statement in the remaining class period timeframe.