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Periodic Table and Atomic Models

Context for this Lesson


Topic: Periodic Table and Atomic Models
Purpose: To review and extend understanding of the information on the periodic table and atomic structure.
Prior Knowledge: Basic understanding of the information on the periodic table and how it translates to atomic structure

  • Space
  • Index cards lettered with the chemical symbols and names on one side and corresponding atomic numbers on the other (starting with Hydrogen and up to the number of students in your class, e.g. 1-18)
  • Copies of the periodic table for students
  • Timer or watch

Why do we make models? What kind of information do models give us? Are we limited in the kinds of models we make? No... We have a special treat today to extend everything we’ve learned so far about the periodic table and atom models- we get to go outside and play some challenge games.
Here are the guidelines for a successful lesson: We are communicating without talking. You may use other ways to communicate. What would those be?
Our first two challenges are practice to get ready for arranging the Periodic Table.


Data Processing
Choose an area(s) where students have enough room to create a single file line(s). Explain that you have “a challenge for the group.” Explain that they must see how quickly the entire class can line up from shortest to tallest without making a single sound. Let them know that if there is a sound that we will stop and try it again. When students have completed the task, see how quickly they can line up by birthday (month and day only) from earliest to latest in the year. Discuss: “Was this easy? Hard? Why? How did you find ways to communicate with each other? Which line up was easier? Why?”
To apply the game to the Periodic Table of the Elements, follow these steps:

  • Hand out element cards, mentioning only the number on one side of them. Instruct students to make a number line from 1 to the highest number as quickly as possible.
  • Collect cards, shuffle, and hand out again. Instruct students to make a straight line in the order of the elements on the Periodic Table. (This is the same line they just made by number; give them the hint if they are struggling after a few minutes to make the order of the table).
  • Collect cards and shuffle a third time. Give students a copy of the periodic table to review briefly. Hand out the cards again, but this time ask students to stand in the shape of the periodic table, with the elements in the appropriate order. (This challenge may be best facilitated by pre-taping out the general shape of the table on the floor, or using some kind of marking to represent the different squares on the table.)

Activity Processing:

  • What did you have to do in this activity?
  • What was hard about it? Easy?
  • What did you notice about the periodic table?

Transition: Well done, everyone. Now we’re going to do an activity that will help us use our bodies to create the shapes of atoms represented on the Periodic Table. But first, we’ll do a few practice rounds to get ourselves working together.
Group Shapes: Live Model of an Atom Challenge.
Before facilitating this activity, you may want to review atomic structure with students. Work through an example from the Periodic Table, finding how many electrons, protons, neutrons, and energy levels are in an atom. Encourage students to really look at how the atom is structured or modeled.
Break the students into small groups of about 4-5 people. Explain that as a group, students will be challenged to make a shape using their bodies SILENTLY. Remind them of the ways they generated to communicate without using words.
Name a shape or object that each group has to create. Count down from any number to encourage speedy work, but make sure all groups are finished within that time. Explain that some shapes might be simpler, and some might require slight movement or more creative thinking. Shapes could include: circle, triangle, stop sign, dishwasher, toaster. Use this time to support students’ specific work in the art form. Encourage them to use their bodies in creative ways to show movement, shape, size, and relationship.
Tell students we’re now going to do something similar, but with atom models. Ask students, where are protons in the atom? Neutrons? Electrons? Without talking, show me with your body what a proton might look like. A neutron? An electron? Encourage them to think about how to use their bodies to show movement, shape, size, and relationship.
Tell students we are now going to play group shapes, but they have to use their bodies to make atom models. For the first atom model, students may talk. Hand out copies of the periodic table to the individual groups. Call out an atom and coach students to make the atomic model with their bodies. Invite students to combine groups as atoms get larger. Encourage them to work silently as understanding increases. Come together as a larger group and work on larger atoms.
Possible Side-Coaching:

  • Think about what an atom looks like. What are its parts?
  • How could your group work together to show the energy levels?
  • Really show us with your body what you are.

Describe: What did we do today?
Analyze: How did we use our bodies to designate or represent different parts of our atomic models? What parts of the atomic model were easy to translate to our bodies? What parts were more challenging to translate? Why?
Relate: Why do we need to know about the elements? About atoms? How might an activity like this help us to better understand and remember an atomic model?