Cell specification requires that particular subsets of cells adopt unique expression patterns that ultimately define the fates of their descendants. In C. elegans, cell fate specification involves the combinatorial action of multiple signals that produce activation of a small number of “blastomere specification” factors. These initiate expression of gene regulatory networks that drive development forward, leading to activation of “tissue specification” factors. In this review, the C. elegans embryo is considered as a model system for studies of cell specification. The techniques used to study cell fate in this species, and the themes that have emerged, are described. Developmental Dynamics 239:1315–1329, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.