« Return to AACT homepage

AACT Member-Only Content

You have to be an AACT member to access this content, but good news: anyone can join!

Need Help?

Identify Your Elements Mark as Favorite (0 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Elements, Periodic Table. Last updated July 14, 2024.


In this lesson, students observe the teacher using a set of Russian Nesting Dolls to create analogies between structure and shape of the periodic table. Students are taught to navigate the periodic table, identify specific elements by atomic number, analyze several element samples, and determine the identity of a mystery material.

Grade Level

Elementary School and Middle School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to

  • Understand that elements that are placed in the same group on the periodic table have similar properties.
  • Distinguish between groups and periods on the periodic table.
  • Identify elements by their element symbol, and atomic number.
  • Describe common uses for select elements from the periodic table.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of

  • Periodic Table
  • Elements
  • Atomic Structure


Teacher Preparation: ~15-20 minutes

Lesson: 1 hour


  • Periodic table, enlarged 4 times from 8x11 print
  • 1 set of Russian Nesting Dolls
  • Copies of The Periodic Table of the Elements, in Pictures
  • Samples of the elements, labeled A through G:
    • Sample A: Iron (examples: nail or screw)
    • Sample B: Copper (examples: select copper portions of a melted penny, copper wire)
    • Sample C: Silicon (example: piece of a CD or DVD)
    • Sample D: Aluminum (examples: nail or foil)
    • Sample E: Zinc (example: select silvery metallic portions of a melted penny)
    • Sample F: Lead (example: shot; an alternative is a nickel (Ni) coin, which is 75% copper with 25% nickel in an outer layer)
    • Sample G: Carbon (examples: coal or charcoal)
  • Pennies (Mystery Sample)


  • When students complete the lab, instruct them how to clean up their materials.
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.

Teacher Notes

  • To learn more about implementing this lesson, read the article, Navigating the Periodic Table Guided by Nested Russian Dolls published in the November 2019 issue of Chemistry Solutions.
  • This lesson was designed for use in the 5th grade classroom, but could be used in lower or higher grade levels depending on student ability or teacher modification.
  • An Answer Key for the student section has been included for your reference.
  • The “Mystery Sample” is a penny. Students should work together and use their completed chart to try to determine which two elements are used in a penny.
  • We find it helpful to encourage your students to discuss this lesson at home. This is a good opportunity for them to investigate how these and other elements are used in everyday life.
  • Optional Extension Ideas:
    • The elements Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon, Nitrogen in the first two Periods provide the essential elements for the chemistry of life: water, proteins, carbohydrates and more. Teachers can discuss photosynthesis and the oxygen and carbon cycles. The Oxygen-Review website provides some good background information on these topics.
    • Over time, many alternative Periodic Tables have been devised, while retaining the periodicity. Students may have their own favorite or could invent a new version. Examples can be found here.
  • Note: “Identify Your Elements” lesson was originally used as a teaching strategy at the The Tech Interactive, in San Jose, California, where the lead writer has volunteered. Permission has been granted (by Kristen Martin Lai, Director of Facilitated Experiences, Museum Education) to include this lesson with the published article.

For the Student



Part 1:

Using the Periodic Table provided and the labeled samples of elements complete the chart below.

Sample Name of Element Symbol Atomic Number Uses
A Iron
B electric wires
C 14
D Al
E Zinc
F Pb
G diamond & pencil lead

Part 2:

You have been given a Mystery Sample. Your task is to identify the two elements that it is made of (they are among samples A to G). Record your thoughts to the questions below: