• Carolyn Balch

Mitosis and Meiosis

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

Use a series of ropes to serve as chromosomes that kids can hold as they walk through the steps of mitosis and meiosis. The blogpost outlines how to do it with your sixth, seventh, or eighth grade students. Great for teaching genetics in a middle school science classroom. This is one lesson in a series of hands-on explorations in a unit on genetics and heredity. This lab activity works well for 6th, 7th, or 8th grade science students.

Do you study mitosis in your middle school science classroom? Are you looking for a way to make it a little less confusing for kids? I developed these cell division dance activities to help kids visualize the process.

Before you start, you’ll need to make the rope chromosomes. (And yes, this takes a bit of time!)

You’ll need to cut a rope into different lengths. Cut four pieces of a given length, starting at around 8cm long. (Each next length should be longer by about 2 cm.) Each student needs two ropes. Determine how many you’ll need by the size of your largest class. The ropes below would be enough for 6 students.

If your rope is synthetic, you may want to singe the ends so they don’t fray or unravel.

Next, draw a line around each using a permanent marker. I used red and blue but your colors may differ. For a set of four, draw this line at the same position, using one of two colors. Refer to the photo above for details.

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Combine a pair of ropes by connecting them at their marked rings using a rubber band. It should stay snug, but be easily untied. Now you’re ready to dance!

Give each student a pair of ropes connected with a rubber band. If there is an odd number of students, either join them as the teacher or have someone sit out. To show mitosis, have everyone walk around in no particular pattern. When told, they should line up across the classroom.

Now they should untie their chromosomes and separate the ropes (daughter chromatids). They should place one rope on either side of their line. This will make two identical piles of ropes. Have students count and compare the number and sizes of ropes in the two piles. When connected the ropes are daughter chromatids but as soon as they separate, they're chromosomes.

Discuss what the rubber band and colored ring stand for (centromeres). Discuss how to count chromosomes (by their centromeres). Talk about how the cell has doubled its DNA before the dance begins and how that’s shown by the X-shaped chromosomes. When the X splits into two, it forms two chromosomes since each now has a centromere. It will stay single until it’s time for this new cell to divide at which time it will double in size.

I find these role-plays crucial for a few students' understanding and helpful for most. I try to do this one a few times before moving onto meiosis.

To show meiosis, the dance begins as usual. Each student has a double-rope chromosome connected by a rubber band. Before lining up, students must find their matching pair.

Once lined up in pairs, they separate, with one of the pair going to each side of the line, forming into two groups. Each group of students now makes its own line at different sides of the classroom. Next students untie their chromosome and separate the ropes. They'll place one of the ropes on one side of the line and the second on the other.

You should have four similar (but not identical) groups of chromosomes. Each has half the number of chromosomes we started with. Each chromosome in the group is a different length (there are no pairs). This is how gametes are made such as sperm or egg cells. Fertilization joins two of these cells, restoring the correct chromosome number for the species.

If you're interested in a class activity based on this idea, check out this one here.

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