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Solve the DNA Puzzle to Make RNA

Read your DNA and turn it into an mRNA MESSAGE that can leave the nucleus


DNA, which is in the nucleus, contains the instructions to make proteins, which are the machines that help the cell function.

DNA is unwound and read to make a matching RNA molecule.


Classroom Materials

  • Markers, in four colors
  • Scissors

Store Items

  • Foam core
  • Felt, in four colors
  • Velcro dots (need hook side only)

Color Printed Items

  • DNA –> RNA decoder (see downloadables), one per transcription station
  • Nucleus sign (see downloadables), one per transcription station

Prepare Supplies

  1. Prepare strips of foam core, one per transcription station (for sequence written out, referred to as the SEQUENCE BOARD) plus one per student (for velcro dots to hold the transcribed message, referred to as the MESSAGE BOARD)
  • long sequences fit on 30″ x 2.5″ strips
  • short sequences fit on 15″ x 2/5″ strips
  1. SEQUENCE & MESSAGE BOARDS: Mark foam core at 1″ intervals to space the letters or velcro dots.
  2. SEQUENCE BOARDS: Write out color-coded DNA sequences from the DNA code file in the downloadables. Make enough to have one or more sequences per transcription station, using a variety of sequences provided in order to make a variety of secreted protein products.
  3. Place the hook side of the velcro dots centered in each 1″ interval (you will not need the loop side of the velcro for this activity). To facilitate the recognition of 3-base codons in the Translation exercise, you can draw a vertical line every 3 inches/every three dots.
  4. Cut strips of felt in 2 1/4″ x 3/4″ strips (appx). Plan to have enough strips for 5x the number of short MESSAGE BOARDS or 10x the number of long MESSAGE BOARDS (or more) in each color. Repeat this for each of the four colors used to represent the four different RNA bases.

To set up a Transcription station, you may want the following:

  • Tape down a sign designating the space for the nucleus. Confining it to a table within the larger room (cell) can do the trick
  • Tape the SEQUENCE boards onto workspaces within the nucleus e.g. at specific seats at the table.
  • Provide copies of the DNA –> RNA decoder chart and cups of the four colors of felt for students to use at the station.

Check out the activity in action

You can see one cycle of the DNA – RNA base-pair matching where a black “T” in the DNA SEQUENCE BOARD is identified, decoded with a red RNA “A”, and marked with a red felt strip onto the aligned position on the MESSAGE BOARD.


  1. Hand each student a blank MESSAGE BOARD.
  2. Have students work at a nucleus station to perform the transcription exercise using a SEQUENCE BOARD and the DNA –> RNA decoder by placing an appropriately colored felt onto each velcro dot on their MESSAGE BOARD.
  3. Once their MESSAGE BOARD is complete, students leave the SEQUENCE BOARD in the nucleus transcription station and escort their MESSAGE BOARD into the cytoplasm

From here students can continue toward Escaping the Cell by doing the Translation exercise, or you can talk about transcription editing and damage repair, introduce students to the nuclear pore complex, or discuss other roles for RNA in the cell (RNAi, siRNA, etc.).

Some downloadables for reference
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