The image is of a blueprint with a ruler across it.

DNA – Blueprint for Life: Intro to Gene Expression

Using a comparison of DNA with architectural blueprints of a building helps students better understand the function of DNA and its location in the cell.

Students often have difficulty understanding that the entire DNA code for an organism is located in almost every cell of the organism, but only the genes necessary to build the particular cell are utilized in the cell.  The blueprint analogy has worked well to help clarify this concept. 

Related concepts include gene expression, transcription, and translation.  In fact, this simple explanation serves as a good introduction to the concept of gene expression.   




  1. Explain what a blueprint is and provide large print images or tactile graphics, if possible. Tell students that blueprints are made by architects who design buildings and that they are used by builders to construct the different rooms in a building.  As we recently moved into new buildings at TSBVI, I had a convenient real-life example to use.  
  2. Considering different types of rooms in a school (classroom, lab, kitchen, gym, etc.), ask the students if they think the plans for these rooms will be the same.  Students will understand that because the rooms are so different in both function and structure that the plans must be different.  
  3. Ask the students to imagine that the blueprint for each type of room in the school is stored in every room (and not just the blueprint for that room).  This is similar to what happens in the cells of living organisms.  Almost every cell stores all of the “blueprints” to make all of the different types of cells that an organism has.
  4. Ask:  “Where does a cell stores its DNA?”  the nucleus of the cell 
  5. Have the students think back to the blueprint analogy. Each specific room in the house has a plan designed just for it, but all of the plans are stored in each room.  Only the correct blueprint is used by the builders to make each room.
  6. Introduce the tactile/LP image from the APH Life Science Tactile Graphics about different cell shapes and sizes.  Ask the student to take a look at the human red blood cell, muscle cell, and nerve cell as they consider this question.  Do they look like the same pattern was used to make them?  Discuss.  
  7. Ask the students to consider whether they think that all of the information from ALL of these “blueprints” in the cell is used for each cell type.  No, this doesn’t make sense as their are so many cells in the human body with very different structure and function.
  8. Explain to the students that the manner by which the cell uses only the genes necessary for that particular kind of cell is called “Gene Expression”.  This activity provides a good intro to Gene Expression including transcription and translation.  Please see links to the following excellent APH kits utilized to teach Gene Expression:


If gene expression will be taught after this introduction, see links to the APH kits above.

NGSS Standards:

Middle School – Growth, Development and Reproduction of Organisms

LS3.A: Inheritance of Traits

High School : Structure and Function 

LS1.A: Structure and Function

High School – Inheritance and Variation of Traits

LS3.A: Inheritance of Traits 

By Laura Hospitál

collage of DNA Blueprint for life

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