Human Cloning: Is it biological plagiarism?

This page was compiled by Susan Musante, AIBS, based upon an original activity written by Sandra M. Latourelle, Science Facilitator, Champlain Valley Educational Services, Plattsburgh, NY.
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This lesson guides students to learn the science behind cloning, explore the benefits and consequences of human cloning, and communicate their knowledge and points of view. Students begin by reading an article titled Primer on Ethics and Cloning by Dr. Glenn McGee, available for free on the AIBS's website. The lesson provides questions for the instructor to guide a class discussion about the article. Instructors can then choose from different activities to engage students further in this issue. One activity has students role play advisory teams providing information to a committee on the ethical issues of human cloning. The teams conduct research online, keep a journal recording their research paths, and answer questions in presentation format. Another activity has students researching and presenting information on human cloning. Through their research students can learn about cloning technology and related laws, as well as the perspectives of groups or individual scientist's viewpoints. Included are web site evaluation worksheets that are useful for student internet searches on any topic.

Learning Goals

Students will:

  • develop an understanding of the science of cloning using data, theories, principles, and models
  • communicate and apply scientific concepts in genetics
  • examine prominent positions on the issue of human cloning
  • apply scientific principles to personal and social views on the subject of human cloning

Context for Use

These activities are for upper level high school students or first year undergraduate biology students. Students should have an understanding of basic genetics (or the issue can be used as a jumping off point to teach students about genetics). The activities can be modified to accommodate different class sizes and can be done primarily in-class or as take-home work, and there is a wide variety of possible time frames in which the assignments can be completed. Student research will take outside class time unless the instructor is prepared to make use of class time. Presentations or debates will take at least 20 minutes per group.

Description and Teaching Materials

The lesson by Latourelle provides the teaching materials needed for this example. It includes notes to the instructor, instructions for students, and student handouts.

Here is an additional strategy to use as you guide your students as they explore this real-world issue:

1. Introduce the issue of human cloning as a contemporary relevant concern faced by the scientific discipline through the article titled Primer on Ethics and Cloning by Dr. Glenn McGee, available for free on the AIBS's website. 
2. Then pose a question to the class (e.g., Will human cloning be detrimental or beneficial for society?) and ask the students to think of an initial answer based upon the article they read. Have the students write down their opinion.
3. Ask the students what else they might need to know to be able to substantiate their opinion. Guide them to understand they will need scientific facts to comprehend the issue. Provide them with information or make information available to them to answer their questions about the issue. Students can also be assigned to complete their research out of class and bring results to the following class.
4. Ask the class to use what they learned to discuss the issue in small groups and come up with a view or resolution of the issue. 
5. Present the set of guiding rules (in the How to section of this module) for discussing the issue as a hand-out or projected on a screen.
6. Give students ample time in class to resolve the issue. Periodically ask the students about their progress and whether a resolution is near. 
7. Guide a discussion with all students, allowing them to reflect on the issue. 

If you wish to extend the activity, students can be assigned to write a short paper, outlining their point of view and providing scientific information to support their position.

Teaching Notes and Tips

There is no universal formula for using real-world issues in the classroom. The "Preparation" section of the lesson by Latourelle provides different options for engaging students in the issues surrounding ethics and cloning. Regardless of which activity is used, the issue must be pertinent to the topic covered in that particular session and time in class should be made available for the students to reflect upon their resolutions to the issue. During this time, it is recommended that the instructor explain the relationship between the issue and the concepts covered in class. Feedback for the take-home assignment can be presented to the whole class based on a synopsis of the student reports. Any student arguments or disagreements should be directed back to the facts related to the issue. Instructors can share their viewpoints as long as they explain how they use to facts to come up with their view or resolution.


Assessing student learning for the activities in this example depends upon the goals instructors have for using the lesson. Regardless of the goals, you will want to let students know ahead of time what you will be using to grade their work. Create a rubric for each graded assignment based upon your learning goals, provide it to them ahead of time, and then use it to score their work. It can include assessment of their understanding of content/concepts or of the controversial issue. The SERC page Developing Scoring Rubrics provides general information about creating rubrics and examples that you can use.

To assess specific content/concept knowledge connected to your course goals, develop questions that help you uncover your students' understanding of cloning, the mechanisms of genetics

In this lesson, students can be assessed on their journals, oral presentations, visual presentations, and debates.
  • Journals: Make a list of the things you would like to see included in the students' journals. Should they have a list of all of the additional references they read? Should the journal be legible to you (not just to them)? Should all of the website evaluation checklists be complete? Should there be a minimum number of references included? Do you want them to turn in their journals on a regular basis? Create a rubric by assigning a point value to each item and determine whether there are variations which would receive fewer points. Share this rubric with your students before they begin their journals. You may want to share tips about setting up a journal and the Swarthmore College's Biology website has advice on keeping a laboratory notebook, which may be more detailed than needed for this assignment, however it can help students learn about the importance of keep record of their observations for future science research.
  • Oral Presentations: The SERC website has information and rubrics for Assessment by Oral Presentation
  • Debates: has many resources on facilitating student debates and grading them:
You can also assess their written papers or participation in discussions:
  • If you assign a paper, you will want to let students know ahead of time what you will be looking for in their papers. Create a rubric based upon your learning goals for them, provide it to them ahead of time, and then use it to score their papers. For more guidance, see the SERC page, Assessing Written Reports.
  • If you facilitate a class or small group discussion, you can assess their participation in the discussion. The College of Education at Purdue University has a Classroom Participation Rubric ( online available for free.
For more information on assessment:
  • Getting Results: A Professional Development Course for Community College Educators, Module 6: Assessing Student Learning.
  • SERC's On The Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geosciences Faculty has a terrific suite of resources on assessment. Go to Observing and Assessing Student Learning to learn about the different types of assessment and techniques for finding out what your students are learning as you use new teaching approaches.

References and Resources

"Primer on Ethics and Human Cloning" by Glenn McGee, published on and available for free at