Memorable Ways to Cover the Periodic Table

An exploration of the periodic table can lead to a discussion of the scientific process and the ways that our knowledge of this topic evolves and grows.

By Cathy Neushul


periodic table

Are you scared of teaching the periodic table? How do you face down those fears? Do you know of some clever, memorable ways to teach the periodic table to your class? As teachers, we all know that this particular topic will resurface throughout every student's academic career, and it really isn't exactly the most exciting concept to cover. While it may seem difficult to come up with new ways to cover this subject, I've experimented with a few creative ways to make the discussion of the periodic table an interesting, motivating and hopefully, memorable experience.

Explore the Periodic Table 

Instead of having your class begin a discussion of the periodic table by reading about its creator, Dmitri Mendeleev, and the other scientists who set the groundwork for its creation, ask your budding chemists to take a good look at the table itself and list what they notice. Once they've analyzed the table, it's time to share. Keep track of their comments, as you'll use them later for a discussion. Eventually, you should have a list that identifies the characteristics of the various elements on the periodic table.

The next step is to research how the elements were classified before Mendeleev. This research can be done in class, or assign it for individual or small group independent study. However you choose to have the research done, once it is complete, your class can do a comparison of the different methods of classification. Can they explain why Mendeleev’s periodic table became the table of choice? Next, have your class watch this TED-Ed talk, called Solving the Puzzle of the Periodic Table.  After listening to the high-level exploration and explanation, your students are bound to want to express their own thoughts and opinions.

Become an Expert

Learning about the elements is a lot easier when it becomes more than simply rote memorization. One way to make things more interesting is by having pupils become experts on a particular group of elements. For example, students pick a group, such as the lithium group, and learn all about their characteristics. In addition, they can find photos or other creative means to depict each of the elements in their group. After compiling the information, each group will make a poster or another form of a visual representation, and teach the class about their particular group of elements.

Make it a Game

There are a variety of ways to make learning about the periodic table an enjoyable game. Make bingo cardsplaying cards, or use a Jeopardy-like game. A Jeopardy or bingo game could be a whole-class activity. Rewards, such as a homework pass, could be given for each question that is answered correctly. Just because your kids are in high school, don't disregard the prize idea. Students of all ages love the idea of a free pass!

There are also online games that enable pupils to practice what they have learned about the periodic table. Here is an interactive game about the carbon cycle. Online games are a great way to have your class review before a test.

Link Science and Art

Just because you are studying science, doesn’t mean that you can’t have your class produce artwork at the same time. Ask individuals to pick a particular element and depict it in an artistic form. Recently I did this with a class. Some of my students chose to make posters using duct tape to depict their element. After your class has created their artwork, ask them to share/teach their classmates about their element and place it in its correct position on a large class periodic table. This works well as a fun and memorable review session.

A study of the periodic table can also be a means to discuss the scientific process and the ways theories are developed. In this way, your class can come to see science as something that evolves, and requires ingenuity and creativity.

Periodic Table Lessons:

Periodic Table of Elements: Noble Gases

Everyone loves neon lights. Have your class take a look at the noble gases and find out how they are used in practical applications. They will also find out how neon signs are made.

Valence Electrons

Learn about valence electrons using a Khan Academy video. This particular video is part of a series of presentations about the periodic table. It would be a great way to review the information your class has learned about the periodic table at the end of a unit.

Periodic Behavior of Oxides

Here, your class gets to explore how oxides behave in water. They compare solubility and then classify oxides as an acid, base, or amphoteric. After watching a video, pupils can perform their own experiment.

It’s The Law Periodically

Using melting points, young scientists identify the characteristics for both groups and periods of elements. They graph their results. This is a great way to provide your class with a visual means to remember the information they have learned about the periodic table.

Have you tried any of these methods for teaching the periodic table? What has worked well for you? Share with the Lesson Planet community!

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Cathy Neushul