Making the Periodic Table of Elements FUN for Your Students

Just hearing the words, periodic table of elements, kinda makes me want to take a nap. Do you feel the same way? It took me a little bit of time but now when I hear these words, I think of how much fun you can have with the periodic table, who knew?If you are wondering how you can have the same feelings I do about the periodic table, read below to see how I teach this unit. 

I start most of my units in the same fashion. On the first day, we tackle the vocabulary. I feel this is important because most of these terms are completely foreign to my students. I also know that unlike other vocabulary terms, you really can’t use context clues to figure out what most of these words mean. When choosing vocabulary terms, I try to choose terms they will encounter over multiple occurrences throughout the unit and that are meaningful to their understanding. Terms that I think are important for this unit are:  
- element, 
- chemical symbol, 
- universal, 
- group, 
- period, and 
- periodic table of elements.

(If you sign up as a subscriber to my blog, you will be given a great vocabulary graphic organizer to use with these words for FREE).

In addition to introducing vocabulary on the first day, I also show a BrainPOP. There is usually some time left in the period after learning vocabulary and I feel that BrainPOP is engaging no matter the age. Their videos are simple to understand and fun to watch. I find their quizzes to be challenging and just right for my students.

The following days are spent learning about the concept. I do this through nonfiction reading passages. Students will learn all about these concepts through the informative text. The text always includes vocabulary and short, manageable paragraphs that are not overwhelming to understand. Each paragraph has a checkpoint question and then the entire packet has comprehension questions to summarize their learning. These packets can be done together in class, in small groups or independently. Sometimes they will be assigned for homework.

After the meat and potatoes of the unit comes the fun stuff! Now I have different activities that we use to demonstrate our knowledge of what we learned. This is always the fun part.

One of my favorite and most popular activities for this unit is the periodic table of elements scavenger hunt.

Here’s how it works, students use their copy of the periodic table. 

(For small classes, I have printed one in color and laminated it. I allow students to use this for the unit and then collect it at the end of the unit for the following year. **Put it in a safe place for you to find next year** Student also have one that is printed in their agendas.)

Using whatever table they have, they will work on the scavenger hunt. I like this activity because it eases students into navigating the periodic table. 

Students first find groups, then periods, then both. They will also have to search by the name of the element. Students will get used to finding the atomic number and locating metals and nonmetals. 

My students really liked this activity. They felt they better understood how to use it and why the elements were categorized in this way.

Other activities that helped students acclimate to the periodic table are the winter word search and coloring review sheets. Again, both provide opportunities for students to have to utilize the periodic table to complete.

Finally, students will complete this unit with a project by researching one of the elements from the periodic table. Students are given a guideline of what they need to include and then they will complete their own element tile. I like this activity because it allows students to practice their research skills. Even in the older grades, I will still get asked questions like, “How do I find this?” It allows me to review these skills with my students. 

Requirements include simple information that can be gathered from the periodic table such as the atomic number, mass, element name, and symbol. Research skills are needed to find out who, when and where the element was discovered, chemical and physical properties of the element, uses and fun facts. 

This activity can be done during your class time or at home. Normally, when I assign it, I will give students a limited amount of class time to work on it but then the rest needs to be completed at home. You can choose to allow students to pick their element or choose for them. If you have big classes, it could be cool to try to replicate the periodic table with your students. 

This unit typically takes about two weeks from start to finish. 

So those are some ways I try to add some flair to an otherwise dull unit. Do you like my ideas? Have any of your own? Let me know below in the comments. 

Start your unit off right by teaching your students about atomic number. Want it for free? 

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