Looking at Variation

We are about the begin our genetics unit in Biology. I have been racking my brain for ideas on how to get students OUTSIDE to learn concepts related to genetics. After my recent post with my flower pictures, it came to me. I want students to get outside and notice the diversity of life. In particular, I want them to notice the diversity or variation within a specific genus or species of organisms. This is an introduction activity and will serve as a jumping off point as we begin to develop an understanding of genetics.

I created this lesson and hope you will find it useful, too. Let’s get kids outside, noticing, and thinking! 🙂

Here is my lesson:

Looking for variation

Go outside. 

Select three different species (or genuses) of organisms to observe. For each species (or genus), select three organisms with different appearances. For example, I chose irises to observe. 

Yellow Bearded Iris, Purple Iris, and Chocolate Iris (not their scientific names, sorry)

Next, Identify variations or differences between your selected organisms. For these irises, I see variety in color, height, and petal size. The chocolate iris also smells like chocolate, but the other two smell like typical irises (not pleasant). 

Make note of the similarities and differences between these organisms. 

Move onto your next set of organisms, maybe an animal or insect species. Repeat the process for this group. Remember, you are observing three organisms in the same species or genus (i.e. all dogs or all peonies; not flower, dog, and cat). All of your organisms and observations must be outside. 

As you make your observations, complete the table below. You may also write this on notebook paper if you want to make notes while outside. 

Type of organisms Selected member to observe Characteristics Similarities Differences


Yellow 3 petals, Yellow

Large petals, Medium height

Smells like iris

3 petals

Petal shape

Leaf shape




Purple 3 petals, Purple

Larger petals, Tall

Smells like iris

Chocolate 3 petals, Brown

Smaller petals, Short

Cocoa smell


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