University of Virginia
Physics Department

Metals, Non-Metals, Metalloids

A Physical Science Activity

2003 Virginia SOLs



Students will


Motivation for Learning

Driving Question

Why do we organize things? What are some different ways that we organize information? How do scientists organize the elements? The periodic table is organized so that elements with common properties are placed near each other or in similar fashion. In this way, we can use the periodic table to predict behaviors of elements with which we are not already familiar.


Background Information

This activity is designed as an introduction to the periodic table. Most students will not be familiar with the table and will need to understand how it's organized in order to be able to use it successfully. This activity centers around metals, non-metals, and metalloids (or semi-metals). Metals are defined to be any of a class of elements that generally are solid at room temperature, have a grayish color and shiny surface, are good conductors of heat and electricity, and can be pounded into various shapes. Non-metals are basically the opposite of metals. They are elements that lack luster, that generally do not conduct electricity or heat, and that are not ductile (able to be drawn into thin wire) or malleable (able to flattened into a sheet). Metalloids (or semi-metals) as their name indicates, have properties of both metals and non-metals. 

Student Activity

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(Teacher instructions are italicized.)

  1. Divide students into groups (3-4 students per group would be a good size).
  2. Provide each group of students with sample elements and index cards (you may have the students write the element name on the index card or you may do that yourself before you hand them out). It would be good if each group was provided with different elements from the same region, so that more elements could be compared.
      1. Observe the elements provided to you and, as a group, discuss some of the properties you see. You should include things like the state of matter, shape, size, texture, color (and any other additions your teacher gives you) in your observations. If you have already discussed heat and electricity in the class, you could also include conductivity tests in order for the students to come up with those properties.
      2. When all group members agree on a property, a group member should write this property on the index card under the element name.
      3. Continue with this process until you have written down all the properties they can come up with for all of the sample elements you have.
      4. When you have completed all of the elements, you should arrange the index cards so that the ones with similar properties are in a pile.
  3. Once all groups are finished, call the class back together as a large group for discussion. Have a representative from Group 1 place the elements from each of their piles together on the board. Hopefully there will be 3 different sections on the board.
  4. Each subsequent group should try to match their piles in the sections that are already on the board based on the properties they wrote down.
  5. As a class, discuss the similar properties found in each section on the board. Now you can name the sections of elements. The students may be able to name the one section as "metals" themselves. The other two sections may be named simply by understanding prefixes (NON-metal and SEMI-metal or metalloid)
  6. Provide each student with a periodic table (that can be colored) and crayons or colored pencils. Each student should choose a different color for each of the three different sections they just learned about and make a key on the table. They should then color each box for the elements on the board with the correct color. From this, they should be able to determine where the regions for these three types of elements are.
  7. Once the regions are discovered, ask the students to name some other metals, non-metals, and metalloids that weren't put on the board earlier. Show the students on a large periodic table where the boundaries for each region are, and have them finish coloring in their personal periodic table. Have them keep these tables for reference later.



Students pretend to have discovered an element which they name after themselves (or some other creative name of their choice). They write up a description of the element including properties and a picture. The students will pair up and trade their element descriptions with each other. The students will then have to place the description they receive in the correct region on a blank periodic table. The students could also make these descriptions into posters to put around the room or brochures to advertise their newly discovered element.


Students with Special Needs

Each student should be able to participate in this activity in some capacity. If they are not able to write or color well, some adaptations may need to be made for color-coding the periodic table.

Click here for further information on laboratories with students with special needs.



  1. A quick assessment during the class period could simply be to ask various students to name elements that are metals, non-metals, or metalloids based on their placement on the periodic table.
  2. Another quick assessment during the period could be to have students list various properties of elements based on their placement on the periodic table.
  3. An assessment at the end of the section could be a test that would have the students color-code a periodic table and then answer questions about specific elements using that periodic table. Example questions could include things like "Is carbon a metal, non-metal, or semi-metal?" "Is iron shiny?" "Does oxygen conduct heat well?"