- University of Virginia
- Physics Department
Mapping Out the
A Physical Science Activity
2003 Virginia SOLs
- understand and explain the organization of the periodic table;
- compare and contrast the properties of elements from different parts of
the periodic table;
- use addresses, maps, and directions to describe the periodic table like
How can we describe the periodic table in a way that is familiar
to us? What sorts of things distinguish parts of the periodic table
from each other? What things make them similar? We can think of the
periodic table as a city and the elements as people who live in the
city. Each element (as each person in a city) is very distinct and
has its own set of properties. Students can make this analogy and
will hopefully have a better understanding of the periodic table and
the elements that make it up.
This activity is designed to help students understand the
organization of the periodic table and to see the relationships among
various elements from various parts of the periodic table. The
students will be introduced to the concepts of groups and periods on
the periodic table.
- Periodic tables
- Reference books for students to look up properties of various
- Plain paper
- Crayons/Colored Pencils/Markers
- Assign each student an element - use 5 elements from each of
the following groups: alkali metals, alkaline earth metals,
halogens, noble gases, and either the carbon, nitrogen, or oxygen
group. (You may adjust this any way you need to depending on the
size of your class. You may also want to include all three of the
carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen groups, so you may cut down the
number of elements from each group.)
- Have each student gather information about the element to
which they have been assigned. Students should use their
textbooks, the periodic table, and any resources you may have
gathered from the library. This information should include things
like atomic number, atomic mass, the group to which in belongs,
physical and chemical properties, and uses of the element. This
information should be displayed neatly with color and pictures on
a poster. Students should be able to complete these in
approximately 30-45 minutes.
- When each student is finished, tell them that they are going
to get together in groups with other people from their
"neighborhood" (the people they live with on the periodic table -
those elements in the same column that have similar properties).
Assign each group (or neighborhood) to a particular place in the
room. The students should then get together with other members of
their group. Assessment: Walk around and see if everyone is in the
correct group. If not, ask questions until they realize what group
they should be in.
- Each person in each group should give a general description of
his or her element, then the group should discuss the similarities
among them. These similarities should be written as a list of
properties for their particular neighborhood (or group).
- Each group should then pick a spokesperson to come to the
front of the room and share the list of properties. This
spokesperson should also show the rest of the class where the
neighborhood is on the periodic table so that the other groups can
see where they are in relation to that.
- Ask students if elements that are closer to each other have
more similar or less similar properties than those farther away
from each other. Guide students to see that elements are placed on
the periodic table based on similar properties.
- Discuss the fact that elements are lined up in rows because they have similar
properties within that row also. These rows are called "periods." Groups share
more similar properties than do periods, however.
- Break students up into pairs (two elements that are not in the
same group). Have them show each other where they are on the
periodic table. Each student should write directions for how to
get to the other person's house. Do they have to travel left or
right and/or up or down to get there? Which family do they follow?
What neighborhoods do they have to go through in order to get
- Have students write a story about their city from the point of
view of their element.
- Have students make a "neighborhood" portrait with pictures of
uses of the elements in that neighborhood.
- Have students come up with different analogies they could use
to describe and map the periodic table.
Students with Special Needs
All students should be able to participate in this activity.
Click here for further
information on laboratories with students with special needs.
- Give students properties of a group and have them identify the
- Have students write directions for how to get to an element on
the periodic table (which row it's in, which neighborhoods you
have to go through to get there, etc.). Have the students exchange
these and identify the element.
- Have students write a brief paragraph describing the major
changes in properties of elements as you move across the periodic
- Ask students how the properties of their element changes if
one atomic number is removed.