The Ladder of Life

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In this activity, learners identify the DNA base bars guanine, cytosine, thymine and adenine. Learners create a DNA model using colored paper clips to resemble these base pairs. This activity is featured on pp.19-20 (part of a lesson that begins on p.18) of the "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Agricultural Biology" unit of study for grades 6-8.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Ladder of Life handouts (page 34)
  • 6 x 18-inch pieces of construction paper (color does not matter, as long as paper clips are visible.)
  • Jumbo metal paper clips (about 600)
  • Plastic-coated colored paper clips (red, blue, green and yellow) (about 500)
  • four small buckets or containers
  • scotch tape


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Technology
      • Agriculture and Biotechnology
  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
      • Cell Structure and Function
    • Heredity and Genetics
      • DNA Structure and Function
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemistry of Life

Informal Categories

  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, 2007

Funding Source:

  • Dow AgroSciences LLC