Lesson Plan


Students become familiar with the periodic table of the elements
Denis K.
District 75 Special Education Science Instructional Coach
NYC Department Of Education
New York, NY
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My Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects Math, Science
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Students will be able to understand the following: 

1. When Mendeleyev arranged the 60 elements known at that time into the periodic table, there were gaps. Mendeleyev was able to predict the properties of the "missing," yet-to-be-discovered elements by analyzing the nearest known elements in the table.

2. Since Mendeleyev devised the periodic table, other elements have been discovered by scientists.

3. Many of the elements have been put to practical uses or affected society in important ways since their discoveries.

Grades 6 - 8
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Procedure

1. Review with students what they have learned about the periodic table of the elements. Ask such questions as: Who devised the periodic table? How did Mendeleyev know that there were gaps in the table? How was he able to predict the properties of the ?missing,' yet-to-be-discovered elements?
2. Ask students if they know how the gaps have been filled. They should recognize that scientists have discovered "new" elements since the time of Mendeleyev.
3. Assign each member of your class one of the elements in the periodic table, asking each student to research the element he or she has been assigned in order to answer the following questions: What was the date of the element's discovery? Which scientist or scientists discovered the element? Where was the element discovered? Under what circumstances was it discovered?
4. Have students write paragraphs answering the above questions. You can also encourage each student to write an additional paragraph about any uses or products that have developed from the discovery of his or her element or ways in which the element has affected society. (For example, the isolation of iron led to the manufacturing of weapons and tools during the Iron Age.)
5. As students present their findings to the class, have students work together to create an annotated time line that shows the date of each element's discovery.

2 Discussion Questions

Activity: Debating

1. Air was once thought of as a pure element—it didn't seem to our human senses to be "made up" of anything, so the idea made sense. With advances in laboratory equipment and techniques, however, Joseph Priestley was able to prove that air is actually a combination of elements. Discuss how scientific discoveries can change our sometimes-simple ways of perceiving the world.

2. Explain how the ancient Greeks reasoned that wood was made up of different amounts of the four basic elements (as they saw them): earth, air, fire, and water.
3. Discuss what characteristics make an inorganic element valuable to human society. Is it the element's rarity, usefulness, monetary worth, or another measure of value? Explain why different inorganic elements were more prized at different points in human history. Which inorganic elements do you think are the most valuable today? Why?
4. Discuss the idea of alchemists trying to transmute lead into gold. Does it seem foolish? If we could develop the technology to build atoms from their subatomic particles, how would this change our world? How would we measure wealth? What would make one country more powerful than any other?
5. The element hydrogen is a highly flammable gas, but when two atoms of hydrogen are combined with one atom of oxygen, the result is water, which certainly doesn't burn. Explain how such different compounds can exist and yet still contain the element hydrogen. How can you determine how certain chemical compounds will react?
6. Debate whether an element that is made by scientists in a linear accelerator by the collision of high-speed particles and that exists for only a fraction of a second should be considered an element.

3 Evaluation

Activity: Assessing

You can evaluate your students on their written work using the following three-point rubric:

Three points: all questions answered accurately; paragraph(s) well organized and error-free
Two points: most questions answered accurately; paragraph(s) adequately organized with few errors
One point: answers to several questions omitted; paragraph(s) poorly organized with numerous errors

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by reviewing the criteria for a well-organized paragraph.

4 Extensions

The Dramatic Element
Divide your students into research teams, and assign each team either the alkali, metal, or noble gas groups of the elements that make up the periodic table. Ask the teams to investigate the basic properties of the elements in the group they have been assigned. The teams should also include the element hydrogen in their study: Point out that hydrogen does not belong to any group but stands alone in the periodic table. When their research is complete, ask each team to express its new knowledge of the elemental group they have studied by writing and performing skits in which they personify each of the elements in their assigned group. The skit's dramatic action should be based on the interaction—or, in the case of the noble gasses, noninteraction—with the other elements of the group. Since hydrogen reacts with many other elements, they should also include a hydrogen "character" in their skits. One interesting extension to this activity is to have students perform short ad-libs between element characters from other groups. This will give students the chance to demonstrate their understanding of the ways in which different elements interact.

What If . . . ?
Ask your students to imagine that one day, out of nowhere, one of the elements in the periodic table suddenly starts to disappear from the face of Earth. Depending on the element, the results could be cataclysmic. Assign each student one of the elements from the table (or allow each to choose his or her own element); then ask them to write a fictionalized "firsthand" account of the day their element disappeared. (An example: the day Earth lost its iron—buildings crumble, bridges collapse, blood gradually becomes anemic, and so on.) In order to accomplish this end, students will need to research some of the basic uses of the elements they are working with. Where do they appear in nature, if at all? How are they used by scientists, engineers, artists, doctors, and so on? Where are their presences crucial? How would life be different without them? Would life even be able to survive? When students' stories are complete, ask for volunteers to stage dramatic readings of their work. You may also want to collect students' writing into a "periodic table of disasters" to share with another class or publish on your school's Web site.

5 Links

Activity: Other — Links

How Did the Elemental Composition of the Universe Evolve? 
Where did all the variety of atoms in the periodic chart come from, and where is it all going? This web site introduces us to the evolution of matter from its least complex to most complex form.

Cool Chemistry Laboratory 
Aloha! Here's your chance to take a trip to the University of Hawaii and surf through the best multimedia tutorial that introduces basic concepts in chemistry. A Shock Wave plug-in is required and may be downloaded from this web site.

Periodic Nexus 
At the Table Primer get primed up about how the whole periodic table works. Interesting chemical factoids jump out at you as you navigate this site.

Supernova Chemistry 
Students will observe visible spectra of known elements here on Earth and identify unknown elements or combination of elements by visible spectra emitted from distant stars.