How Are Traits Inherited?

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12788

How did you get your mom's ears and your dad's nose? Did they pick them from some prenatal Mr. Potato Head? Learn how genes control what you inherit, how you are formed, and why you are not a potato!


Life Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see a little bit of your parents? What is your favorite physical trait?

When you look in a mirror, you may see features that are similar to your parents or siblings because you have some of the same genes!

Your physical features are determined by the traits you inherit from your parents through the process of heredity. Heredity is defined as the process of parents passing traits to offspring. Genetics is the study of heredity processes.


The building block for heredity and genetics is the gene. Genes are sequences of DNA arranged on chromosomes in an organism's nucleus.

genetics dna

Each inherited trait is controlled by one gene from Mom and one gene from Dad. These sets of genes that code for the same trait are called "alleles." Notice how each chromosome has a band coding for traits like eye color, blood type, hair color, and growth. These are allele pairs for inherited traits.

inherited traits

How did we learn about genetics and heredity? It all started with an Austrian Monk, Gregor Mendel.


pea plants

Mendel studied properties in pea plants. He looked at flower type, flower color, seed pod shape and color, and pea seed shape. His studies laid the foundation for modern genetic understanding.

genetic markers

By en:User:Cburnett (Own work in Inkscape) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Learn some important vocabulary words so you can better understand genetics. Make this table on a sheet of a paper, and use it to record important ideas presented in the video below:

Word Meaning Example


Watch this TEDEd video to find the meanings and answers: How Mendel's pea plants helped us understand genetics - Hortensia Jiménez Díaz:


Genetics is a really interesting topic, because it determine what traits are passed from parents to offspring.

  • What have you learned about the traits you inherited from your parents?

Just think of all the knowledge we have developed since Mendel was working with simple characteristics in pea plants!

Discuss what you have learned with a parent or teacher before moving to the Got It? section, where you will analyze your own genetics!

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