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Education: Higher Education

Genetic Traits in Harry Potter

  • Grade level: 5–8
  • Subject: science and technology

Time Needed

two to four 40-minute class periods

Four 40-minute class periods for younger students with little knowledge of genetics (two periods for Pre-lesson Activity and Class 1, and the other two periods for Class 2)

Two 40-minute class periods for older students with strong knowledge of genetics (one period for Pre-lesson Activity and Class 1 and the second period for Class 2)


The purpose of this lesson is to give students an introductory understanding of genetic inheritance. Students review and become familiar with basic genetic concepts and terms, such as DNA, chromosome, gene, allele, homozygous, heterozygous, recessive and dominant genes, genotype, phenotype, complex traits, Mendelian inheritance, and Punnett square. Students apply these to identify and examine several examples of simple and complex genetic traits in several characters in Harry Potter. Students also examine inheritance patterns of magical ability in Harry Potter, and use the concepts they have learned to identify possible genotypes of the magical abilities demonstrated by several characters in the series.

Note: The models of genetic inheritance presented in this lesson plan have been simplified so that students learn basic terms and concepts about genes and genetically inherited physical characteristics among people. In reality, many of the traits used as examples—and most traits, in general—tell a far more complicated story about inheritance than discussed in this lesson plan. For furthering students’ learning and exploration of the complex genetic studies, please see Extension Activity 2 below.

  • learning outcomes

    Students will be able to:
    • Define the basic genetic terms and concepts—DNA, chromosome, gene, allele, homozygous, heterozygous, recessive and dominant genes, genotype, phenotype, and Mendelian inheritance.
    • Describe Mendelian inheritance as a simple, single-gene trait, and understand that many genetic traits in people involve multiple genes.
    • Use the Punnett square to predict possible genotypes of children, given the genotypes of their parents, and vice versa.
    • Apply genetic terms and concepts in identifying and predicting possible inheritance patterns.
    • (Optional) If using the Internet for the Basic Genetic Terms handout in the Pre-lesson Activity, use technology and different types of references to gather and verify information.
  • Background Information

    J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series offers richly described characters whose appearance can serve as examples of how parents pass their genes with specific genetic traits to their children. Harry has the same bright green eyes that his mother, Lily, is described with. The Weasley family is known for their red hair and freckles. Draco Malfoy seems to have inherited the almost white blond hair and gray eyes of his father, Lucius. Hagrid is the son of a human and a giantess, and his size is somewhere between a normal wizard and a giant. These Harry Potter characters provide a way for students to explore and apply basic concepts in genetics to the fictional characters that the students may already know much about by having read the series or watched the movies.

    The following are online resources that may be useful for gathering additional data or visual materials for classroom activities:

  • Vocabulary

    The following terms may be introduced or incorporated during class activities:

    • DNA, chromosome, gene, allele, homozygous, heterozygous, recessive and dominant genes, genotype, phenotype, Mendelian inheritance, and Punnett square
  • Materials

    Print All Materials
    Instructional slides:
    • Pre-lesson Activity (PPT, PDF)
      Pre-lesson Notes (PDF)
    • Lesson 1 Activity (PPT, PDF)
      Lesson 1 Notes (PDF)
    • Lesson 2 Activity (PPT, PDF)
      Lesson 2 Notes (PDF)
    • Word Match Activity (PDF, MSWord)
      Teacher’s Word Match Activity (PDF)
    • Basic Genetic Terms (PDF, MSWord)
      Teacher’s Basic Genetic Terms (PDF)
    • Harry Potter Character Guide (PDF, MSWord)
    • Potters’ Hair Colors (PDF, MSWord)
      Teacher’s Potters’ Hair Colors (PDF )
    • Human Mendelian Traits (PDF, MSWord)
      Teacher’s Human Mendelian Traits (PDF)
    • Complex Traits (PDF, MSWord)
      Teacher’s Complex Traits (PDF)
    • Magic Runs in Families (PDF, MSWord)
      Teacher’s Magic Runs in Families (PDF)
    • Monster Genetics Lab (PDF, MSWord)
      Teacher’s Monster Genetics Lab (PDF)
    Other materials and set-ups:
    • A display set-up for class—e.g. interactive whiteboard, computer connected projector, blackboard, or whiteboard
    • (Optional) Pre-lesson Activity, step 4: Computers with an internet connection
  • pre-lesson activity

    [Note: The activity is designed to take a class period for students with little knowledge or prior classes in human genetics. For students with solid knowledge of these basic genetic concepts and terms, parts of the Pre-lesson Activity may be incorporated into Lesson 1 as a quick review, if necessary.]

    1. Use the Pre-lesson Activity slides, for a review/introduction of several genetic terms and concepts that students will use and apply in classes 1 and 2.
    2. Display slide 2 and conduct a discussion to assess students’ prior knowledge and assumptions about genetics.
    3. Use slides 3-6, along with the handout, Word Match Activity (see slide 4 for answers) to help students understand the basic structures of human genetics at a cellular level.
    4. Display slide 7 and distribute the Basic Genetic Terms handout to students. Provide reference resources in the library or in the classroom, and instruct students to work in pairs to complete the table on the handout.
      (Optional: To familiarize students with different types of reference materials, teachers may work with the school librarian or media specialist to make the web sites from the Background Information section —Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms and DNA from the Beginning’s Classical Genetics—available to student pairs during this activity.)
    5. Have student pairs volunteer their definitions and examples in order to help students become familiar with the terms. See Teacher’s Basic Genetic Terms for the answers.
    6. Collect students’ completed handouts, which you will use to evaluate their understanding of the terms and concepts covered in the activity.
    7. Using slides 8-9, review Mendelian inheritance, driving home the concept of alleles determining genetic traits by going over the example.
  • class 1 procedures

    1. Use the Lesson 1 Activity slides for the following procedures.
    2. Display Teacher’s Basic Genetic Terms or the handout completed as a class during the Pre-lesson Activity, and ask students to refer to this list as needed during the lesson.
    3. Using slides 1-5, conduct a brief discussion, during which students apply their understanding of inherited genetic traits to different characters in the Harry Potter series. If needed, provide students copies of the Harry Potter Character Guide, as reference for various characters in the Harry Potter series.
    4. Conduct a question-and-answer session with slides 6-10 while you review and model how to apply genetic terms—phenotype, genotype, dominant and recessive—in describing freckles and red hair, physical genetic traits shown in various Harry Potter characters. (Slides 8 and 10 are answers to the questions on slides 7 and 9, respectively.)
    5. Use slides 11-19 to introduce or review the use of the Punnett square to predict the possible genotypes and phenotypes of the children of parents with given genotypes and phenotypes. (Slides 12 and 16 present two case studies that apply the use of the Punnett square in predicting children’s genotypes. The remaining slides provide a step-by-step solution for each case study.)
    6. Display slide 20 and guide students through using the Punnett square to determine the possible genotypes and phenotypes of two traits, freckles and red hair, in Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Compare students’ findings with the answers on slide 21.
    7. Display slide 22 and distribute the Potters’ Hair Colors handout. Review the two questions on the slide and ask students to work in pairs to answer the questions on the handout.
    8. Have student pairs volunteer their answers, and guide their reasoning using slides 23-25 for Question 1, and slides 27-28 for Question 2. Students should demonstrate the correct use and understanding of genetic terms and concepts. Teachers can also model the correct application of the terms and concepts by explaining the slides with answers.
    9. Display slide 29 and distribute the Human Mendelian Traits handout to students. Review the genetic traits on the table on slide 29 and have students work in pairs to identify and use their own traits to complete pages 1-2 of the handout.
    10. If time allows, have a student pair compare their answers with another student pair, allowing students to examine other students’ work using their own knowledge and understanding.
    11. Class 1 Evaluation: Collect the students’ completed handouts and evaluate their understanding of the concepts covered in the Lesson 1. Use the data to modify Lesson 2 to include a correction or clarification activity as necessary.
  • class 2 procedures

    1. Use the Lesson 2 Activity slides for the following procedures.
    2. Return students’ completed Human Mendelian Traits handouts and provide any clarifications based on the evaluation of their work (Class 1, step 11).
    3. Display slide 2 and discuss four examples of complex genetic traits that follow different patterns than simple Mendelian inheritance. Have students volunteer their guesses for what kind of inheritance pattern that each term may indicate.
    4. Guide students through slides 3-11, which offer examples for complex traits that follow inheritance patterns other than Mendel’s.
    5. Distribute the Complex Traits handout to students, and have students work in pairs to answer the four questions on the sheet.
    6. Have student pairs volunteer and explain their answers. Assess their understanding and provide clarifications as needed. (See Complex Traits for Teachers for answers and discussion suggestions.)
    7. Display slide 12 with two questions and have students work in pairs to come up with answers.
    8. Have student pairs share answers and reasoning behind them. Use slides 13-16 to model possible ways in which the questions are answered.
    9. Display slide 18 and read aloud the problem stated on the slide, and ask students to work in groups of 3 to provide their input as the class proceeds to solve the problem. If appropriate, provide the background of the characters using the Harry Potter Character Guide section where brief descriptions of the characters are available, in order to support those students with little knowledge of the Harry Potter series.
      (Optional: Display slide 17 and ask students to work in groups of 3 or 4 to solve the problem stated on the slide. After student groups work together, have groups volunteer how they solved the problem and what answers they have. Using slides 19-27, provide a possible way to solve and answer the program.)
    10. Solve the problem as a class using a question-and-answer format guided by slides 19-27. Assess students’ logic and application of the genetic concepts and terms, and clarify or correct as needed based on the ongoing assessment through the question-and-answer discussion.
    11. Display slides 25-26 (Genotypes & Summary) from step 9 and distribute the Magic Runs in Families handout. Read aloud the instructions and the questions on slide 28, and have students work in pairs to answer the questions.
    12. Have three student pairs volunteer their answers and explain their answers to one of the three questions. Use slides 29-31 to guide and clarify the answers to the three questions.
    13. Class 2 Evaluation: Collect the students’ completed handout for evaluation.
  • evaluations

    Students’ completed handouts and classroom discussions are designed to provide teachers a way to assess students’ understanding and application of the terms and concepts covered in the lessons. The culminating evaluations for Classes 1 and 2 are specified in step 11 and step 13, respectively.

  • extension activity 1

    1. Distribute the Monster Genetics Lab handout for students to work on individually or in small groups.
    2. Have students read the tasks on the handout and clarify any questions they may have, and remind students that they will have to attach additional papers with Punnett squares for the “Part 2 Procedure, #2” on page 2.
    3. Have student pairs/groups create displays using the answers from their completed Monster Genetics Lab, and help students discuss their finding with other students.
    4. Collect their work and evaluation.
  • extension activity 2

    1. As mentioned earlier in the lesson plan, real life genetic inheritance is quite complicated. This activity is meant to expand students’ understanding of genetic inheritance.
    2. Students will work individually, or in groups of 2-4. Assign each student a trait that was once incorrectly thought to be passed to offspring by simple Mendelian inheritance. Here is the list:
      • Tongue rolling
      • Freckles
      • Widow’s Peak
      • Free/attached earlobe
      • Cleft chin
      • Hair color
      • Eye color
      • Hitchhiker’s thumb
    3. Each student or student group will research the inheritance of their assigned trait, then either turn in an essay or give a presentation to the class, describing the inheritance of that trait. They’ll need to support their work with info from at least two reputable sources.
    4. For additional information resources, refer to the following links.
      1. OMIM is the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man catalog. It describes how a multitude of human traits are inherited.
      2. The Tech Museum of Innovation is a museum connected with Stanford University. Their website has a whole section on genetic inheritance, explaining complicated genetic concepts for a K-12 audience.
      3. Myths of Human Genetics is a resource prepared by a genetics professor at University of Delaware. He describes how traits we once erroneously thought were passed down by Mendelian inheritance are actually inherited.
  • common core standards

    Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects
    • Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).
    • Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
    Reading: Informational Text
    • Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.
    • Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.