In this activity, students will become more familiar with select elements from the periodic table. They will use the periodic table to determine the symbol for given elements, and recall any prior knowledge about each element. Then students will be challenged to solve a puzzle by organizing a set of cards that contain jumbled information about these elements. After all of the cards have been correctly organized, a secret message can be found.
Elementary, Middle or High School
By the end of this activity, students should be able to:
- Recognize symbols for many elements.
- Identify many elements given their symbol.
- Describe common uses, and real-world collections for some elements.
- Understand that elements make up materials everywhere.
This activity supports students’ understanding of:
- Periodic Table
Teacher Preparation: 5-10 minutes
Lesson: 30 minutes
- One set of puzzle pieces (per student or partners)
- Student handout
- Periodic Table
- Colored pencils, markers, crayons, or pens
- Students should use caution if cutting the puzzle pieces.
- This activity was inspired by the AACT activity, Periodic Table Connect the Dots. It was developed as part of the AACT Strategic Plan and the work of the AACT Grade-Level Ambassadors.
- For this activity, it is suggested that students either work independently or with a partner.
- The teacher can choose to cut and prepare pieces for students in advance. This activity can also be completed online; puzzle pieces may be added to a virtual platform such as Jamboard that allows students to manipulate their positions.
- To begin, students should look up the symbol for each element on a periodic table. The teacher can explain that an element symbol provides a shorter, easier method to represent each element. These symbols will be used in the puzzle.
- To activate prior knowledge, students will list any facts they may know about each element. Students can be asked to first brainstorm individually, then share with a partner, adding facts that the other person may know.
- Students will then be asked to cut out the puzzle pieces (or teachers may wish to do this in advance), and should be encouraged to look at the symbols and information written on each piece. Explain that the words describe where elements may be found, ways that the elements are used, and compounds that contain the element. The teacher may need to explain that compounds are combinations of elements.
- To solve the puzzle, students must arrange the corners of the pieces to match elements with descriptions related to that element. An example is provided on the student handout to show how similar terms should be arranged together. Some squares will match in all four corners, while others will only match three corners. An Answer Key document has been provided for reference.
- Some of the information on the cards will be familiar to students. For example, animals breathe oxygen, and calcium strengthens bones. Other information may provide new information not known by students. The examples provided were selected to prompt additional discussion and understanding of elements. For example, the clue “no neutrons” which will match to Hydrogen and introduces the existence of subatomic particles. Another example is that gold will match with “electronics” and can lead to a discussion of metals, mining and environmental issues. Additionally, carbon matches with “diamonds”, aluminum will match with both “cans” and “planes”, again, encouraging a discussion to continue and improving student understanding.
- The vocabulary used in the puzzle pieces contains terms that may be unfamiliar to younger students. They may be simplified for younger students. For example, “combustion” could be changed to “burning”, “oxidation” could be changed to “rusting” and “disinfectant” could be changed to “cleaner”. Retaining terms such as “alloys” helps familiarize students with new vocabulary.
- After matching, students should carefully observe the unpaired letters around the perimeter. They spell a secret message in response to the question, “What is the reason that elements should not be trusted?”
- As an optional follow-up activity, students or student pairs can look up additional interesting or important facts about elements. They could find additional information about the elements used in this puzzle, or they could be assigned new elements or they may be allowed to select elements to research.
- As an optional follow-up activity, students/student pairs could create their own element puzzle. The teacher can assign additional elements to each student/student group or students can be allowed to select them. After listing twelve elements, students should research to identify three to four important characteristics or uses of each. After the puzzle is complete, students can exchange them with another student or pair of students.
For the Student
- Find each element listed below on the periodic table, then write the element symbol for each one in the table. A symbol is a shorter way to represent an element.
- In the space provided in the table, list any information you may already know about each element. Example: where it is found, compounds it can form, or ways that it is used.
Solving the Puzzle
- Cut out the puzzle pieces (this may already be done for you).
- Look at the symbols and information written on each piece. The words describe where elements may be found, compounds that contain the element or ways that the elements are used.
- To solve the puzzle, you must arrange the corners of the pieces to match elements with descriptions related to that element. Some squares will match in all four corners, while others will only match three corners. See the image below from a different puzzle below to see how the cards should be organized.
After matching all of the puzzle pieces, look carefully at the unpaired letters around the outside. They spell a secret message that answers the question: