Codon Bingo


Show students a fun way to decipher the genetic code! Students will transcribe DNA to mRNA and translate it to protein to complete their Bingo card and win the game!


  • Codons

  • Transcription
  • Translation


Codon Bingo is a stimulating game that involves deciphering the genetic code. It is a game designed to give students practice in the transcription and translation of codons while at the same time generating full class participation and enthusiasm. As students play the game, they develop increased proficiency at unraveling the genetic code found in the base pairs. After playing Codon Bingo, the task of transcribing the DNA base pair messages into mRNA codons and then translating the mRNA codons into amino acids becomes much easier.

Complete instructions are included on the next page; the following is a brief summary. The students are given a bingo card with blank spaces. They randomly choose where to place all twenty amino acids and write the amino acid names on the bingo card. As the names of DNA triplets are called, they transcribe the DNA into an mRNA codon and then into its respective amino acid. If the codon for an amino acid they have on their card is called, they place a marker on the appropriate spot. Once the students have five markers placed across, down or diagonally, they win! The students read back their amino acids, which have become a polypeptide of four or five amino acids, while the teacher checks for accuracy. The students get immediate feedback on their ability to decode DNA.

Playing Codon Bingo will encourage repeated practice decoding the genetic message in a fun-filled, dynamic way with their peers. They gain a facility with the mechanism of gene translation that makes further investigations much easier. The code in the DNA molecule becomes tangible and comprehensive.


(for each student)
Bingo markers, pennies, etc.
Codon Bingo Card
Decoding Amino Acid Chart

Prelab Preparation

  1. Use the enclosed master to make one (or more) blank bingo playing cards for each student or team.
  2. Cut the codon game-piece cards along the dotted lines and place in a bingo basket for drawing.
  3. Use the enclosed master to make a copy of the Decoding Amino Acid Chart for each student team.


  1. Direct the team or individual to write the name of all 20 amino acids on their cards. They may choose where they position them. They will have four amino acids on their cards twice as there are 24 empty spaces to fill.
  2. Once the bingo cards are ready, draw 1 “Codon Bingo game piece” from the basket and read the DNA triplet code to the class. (Note: on the “Codon Bingo game pieces” the small ‘D’ is the DNA triplet (sense strand) and the small ‘R’ is the mRNA codon.) They must then transcribe the DNA base pair triplet into the mRNA transcript. Then using the codon chart, they translate the mRNA codon into an amino acid. If they have that amino acid on their card somewhere, they may place a marker on that space.
  3. Discard the used “Codon Bingo game piece” by laying it to one side. You will need it for the checking process. Give the students enough time before drawing the next game piece—especially in the beginning of the game.
  4. Continue drawing and reading Codons until someone yells “Bingo!” At this point check his or her decoding by having the student read the four or five marked amino acids. Point out that this is now a polypeptide. While the student reads out the amino acids, check for accuracy in the discard pile. If a student has made a mistake and marked an inappropriate amino acid, he or she is out of the game for this round.
  5. Reward the winner(s) in some way to enhance motivation. Play the next round.

Teacher Tips

  • This game is designed for introductory high school biology students who have had an introduction to DNA structure, amino acids, transcription and translation.

  • This game may be played individually or in teams. All materials are reusable.
  • This game may be played in several variations:

    1. Instead of calling out the DNA triplet code on the “Codon Bingo game piece” call out the mRNA codon and have them only translate into an amino acid. This is an easier variation and might be a way you would want to begin the first few rounds of the game for beginners.
    2. The pace of the game can be slow or fast depending on the student population. After a few rounds of practice, picking up the pace can add a new challenge.
    3. When preparing the cards, allow the students to choose as many or as few of the amino acids as they like and position them on the bingo cards. (Note: It might be wise to restrict them from using fewer than two or three amino acids.)

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Asking questions and defining problems
Developing and using models
Analyzing and interpreting data
Obtaining, evaluation, and communicating information

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-LS3.A: Inheritance of Traits
MS-LS3.B: Variation of Traits
HS-LS1.A: Structure and Function

Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and effect
Systems and system models
Structure and function

Performance Expectations

MS-LS3-1. Develop and use a model to describe why structural changes to genes (mutations) located on chromosomes may affect proteins and may result in harmful, beneficial, or neutral effects to the structure and function of the organism.
HS-LS1-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins, which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.
HS-LS3-1. Ask questions to clarify relationships about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed from parents to offspring.


Special thanks to Cynthia Mannix for bringing this activity to our attention.

Next Generation Science Standards and NGSS are registered trademarks of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.