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Building A BabyBuilding-A-Baby

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Though it may look simple on the outside, the process of fetal development is extremely complex.
2. A human fetus develops in different ways during each segment of the 40-week gestation period.
3. A mother's body, too, changes in different ways at different periods of the gestation period.


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials
Computer with Internet access
Art materials


1. Divide your students into small groups, explaining that each group will be responsible for researching and presenting its findings on one particular segment of the 40-week gestation period it takes for a human fetus to fully develop.
2. To determine the number of weeks for each segment, divide the 40 weeks of gestation by the number of groups your class has formed. Give the segments consecutive numbers (Segment 1, Segment 2, and so on), and assign each group one segment.
3. Ask each group to use the research materials you have provided plus source materials from the library and the Internet to research the changes that both mother and fetus undergo during the gestation period the group has been assigned. (For example, students will find that by the end of the 12th week of gestation, the fetus has developed all of its organs and major body structures. They will find that during the final three months of pregnancy, a woman's growing uterus takes up a huge space; her spine curves with the extra weight; her abdominal organs and lungs are pushed out of place; and her heart works harder and grows larger.)
4. When each group's research is complete, have students create a verbal description and a visual presentation showing the group's findings and detailing the changes that occur in both fetus and mother during the group's gestation period. Encourage students to include sonogram images if they are available.
5. When students' work is complete, compile the presentations into an illustrated time line of fetal development, and have each group present its findings to the class.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
In addition, older students might make a chart comparing gestation periods and fetal development of other mammals, such as chimpanzees, elephants, cats, and mice.

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Discussion Questions

1. Men produce approximately 500 million sperm per ejaculation, but women produce only one ovum per month. Speculate about the evolutionary reasons that this uneven balance developed.
2. Describe the various tests that doctors can use to examine a fetus while it is still inside its mother's womb. What can these tests determine? What risks are associated with performing them?
3. Cloning is the process by which a new individual is "created" from the genetic material of a single person, rather than getting half of its genetic material from one parent and half from the other. This creates an exact genetic copy of the gene donor. Though scientists do not think that cloning will be possible for humans for a very long time, some day it may become a reproductive option. Should cloning be viewed as just another tool that can allow infertile couples to have children? Under what circumstances might human cloning be acceptable?
4. Tests have shown that by mid-pregnancy a fetus has developed all five senses. By the time a baby is born its brain has developed enough to process some of the information it receives through those five senses. Despite these facts, however, adult humans find it impossible to remember their first few months alive outside the womb, let alone the nine months they spent inside it. Speculate about the reasons for this huge memory gap.
5. A mother delivers nutrients and oxygen to the fetus through the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord may also deliver such substances as medication, toxins, drugs, and alcohol, however. Debate whether expectant mothers should be subject to laws that protect the health of the fetus. Should pregnant women be barred from holding potentially dangerous jobs?
6. Human babies are born completely helpless. They must be fed and cared for by their parents for years before they could possibly survive on their own. Many other animals are born helpless, but remain so for a much shorter period of time. Still others can live nearly independently from the moment they are born. Speculate about the reasons behind these differences. What evolutionary advantages and disadvantages does a longer childhood offer the human species?

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You can evaluate groups on their performances using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: research complete; verbal descriptions clear and well written; visual presentations carefully prepared; oral presentations well organized
  • Two points: research sufficient; verbal descriptions adequately written; visual presentations included; oral presentations fairly well organized
  • One point: research insufficient; verbal descriptions unclear or poorly written; either visual or verbal description omitted; oral presentations poorly organized
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for well-prepared verbal and visual presentations.

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Reproductive Technology Debate
Recent advancements in modern medical technology have enabled many infertile couples to conceive and bear children. One side effect of some of these medical advancements, however, is multiple births, or two or more children born at a time, when the couple wanted only one baby. The world recently witnessed the birth of two sets of surviving sextuplets, for example, as well as one set of octuplets in which one of the eight babies died. Because a human woman is not anatomically equipped to carry so many fetuses at once, several dangerous complications can accompany these pregnancies: the children may face a lifetime of medical and learning difficulties, the medical care for the mother and the babies can cost millions of dollars, and the financial and emotional costs of raising so many children can devastate some families. Still, there's no denying the benefits—countless couples that could never have had children in the past are now able to do so. Divide your class into three groups for a debate on the present and future use of these reproductive technologies. One group should argue for the unlimited use of reproductive technologies, another for the complete abolishment of such technologies, and the third for a limited use of such technologies (a limit that the group can define on its own). Each group should prepare by researching the science, history, and future of reproductive technology. At the end of the debate, poll the class to see where most students stand on this issue. Did anyone's opinion change in the course of this activity?

Haywire Hormones
Hormones are vitally important for the processes of sexual maturation, menstruation, fertilization, fetal implantation, pregnancy, and birth. Divide your students into groups that will each study the role of one of the following hormones in one of the just-mentioned processes: testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), oxytocin/prostaglandins, and prolactin (PRL). Where in the body is the hormone produced? At what stage in human development does the hormone appear? What other hormones or bodily events influence the production of the hormone? What bodily event (or events) does the hormone stimulate? What organ or group of organs does the hormone affect? What happens if the hormone is absent or overabundant? Can the hormone be regulated with pharmaceuticals? To present its material to the class, each group should create an illustrated handout that outlines the information it has gathered. You can conclude the activity with a discussion about the delicate balance of hormones in the human body. What advantages or disadvantages does such a complex chemical system offer the human race?

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Suggested Readings

Beginning Life: The Marvelous Journey from Conception to Birth
Geraldine Lux Flanagan. DK Publishing, 1996.
The story of the remarkable journey that all of us make from conception to birth, this graphic book unravels the mysteries of that inner world in which we are first formed as human beings. Complete with a stunning sequence of photographic images and clear and sensitive description, this is a truly compelling narrative, one that will sharpen your understanding and expand your sense of wonder.

Life Before Birth: Normal Fetal Development
Marjorie A. England. Year Book Medical Publishing Co., 1996.
This unique, profusely illustrated guide to the development of the normal fetus from conception to birth uses literally hundreds of color illustrations to graphically depict each stage of fetal development. It also incorporates imaging illustrations, including CT and MRI scans, to depict what modern science has revealed about the complex process of fetal development.

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The Multi-dimensional Human Embryo
Shows three-dimensional images and descriptions of a human embryo from 22 to 56 days old based on magnetic resonance imaging.

The Visible Embryo
Use the spiral to navigate through the 40 weeks of pregnancy and preview the unique changes in each stage of human development.

StorkNet's Week-by-Week Guide to Your Pregnancy
For each of the forty weeks of pregnancy, you'll find information about a baby's development and what types of changes occur within the mother's pregnant body.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs & Pregnancy and Parenthood
Descriptions of mental, physical, and psychological impairments and problems in infants and children caused by the use of alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drugs (ATOD) during pregnancy.

The Biology Project: Human Biology
Provides problem sets and tutorials on genetic topics such as blood types, color blindness, human genetics, and DNA forensics.

George Mason University's Online Resources to Prenatal Development and Birth
Provides many links to sites on prenatal development, pregnancy and birth, and problems with pregnancy.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    cervix
Definition: The narrow outer end of the uterus.
Context: The contractions painfully force open the neck of the woman's cervix.

speaker    contractions
Definition: The shortening and thickening of a functioning muscle or muscle fiber.
Context: With a heat-sensitive camera, you can see the waves of hot muscle action sweeping across a woman's stomach during a contraction.

speaker    fallopian tubes
Definition: The pair of tubes conducting the egg from the ovary to the uterus.
Context: The fallopian tubes reach up from the top of the uterus.

speaker    ovary
Definition: One of the typically paired essential female reproductive organs that produce eggs and female sex hormones.
Context: On each side of the top of the uterus, a fallopian tube reaches out toward an ovary.

speaker    placenta
Definition: The vascular organ in mammals that unites the fetus to the maternal uterus and mediates its metabolic exchanges.
Context: The broker of this remarkable peace is the placenta.

speaker    ultrasound
Definition: A technique involving the formation of a two-dimensional image used for the examination and measurement of internal body structures and the detection of bodily abnormalities.
Context: Many babies will be first glimpsed with ultrasound.

speaker    uterus
Definition: An organ of the female mammal for containing and nourishing the young during development previous to birth.
Context: Nestled deep in her pelvis lies the woman's uterus.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: science
Knows the general structure and functions of cells in organisms.
Knows that multicellular organisms have a variety of specialized cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems that perform specialized functions (e.g., digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control and coordination, protection from disease).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the genetic basis for the transfer of biological characteristics from one generation to the next.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that reproduction is a characteristic of all living things and is essential to the continuation of a species.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows features of human genetics (e.g., most of the cells in a human contain two copies of each of 22 chromosomes; in addition, one pair of chromosomes determines sex [XX or XY]; transmission of genetic information to offspring occurs through egg and sperm cells that contain only one representative from each chromosome pair; dominant and recessive traits explain how variations that are hidden in one generation can be expressed in the next).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: health
Understands the fundamental concepts of growth and development.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows the similarities and differences between male and female sexuality.

Benchmark 6-8:
Understands the processes of conception, prenatal development, and birth.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows sound health practices in the prenatal period that are important to the health of the fetus and young child (e.g., diet, refraining from cigarette smoking or use of alcohol or other drugs).

Benchmark 9-12:
Understands a variety of physical, mental, emotional, and social changes that occur throughout life and how these changes differ among individuals (e.g., young adulthood, pregnancy, middle age, old age).

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Kirsten Rooks, former biology and geography teacher and current freelance educator.

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