Joseph Priestley, Discoverer of Oxygen Mark as Favorite (8 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Physical Properties, Naming Compounds, Elements, History, Ionic Bonding, Identifying an Unknown, Chemical Properties, ACS National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program. Last updated August 31, 2022.


In this lesson, students will read an article to learn about the discovery and identification of gases, specifically oxygen by Joseph Priestley. There are a series of activities to help promote literacy in the science classroom related to the reading. This lesson could be easily used as plans for a substitute teacher, as most of the activities are self-guided.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

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

  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


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

  • Realize elements all have a discovery story.
  • Appreciate that so much information was learned about gases and they are invisible to the naked eye.
  • Realize that inquiry isn’t just a thing they do in the classroom, it’s how scientific discoveries have been made for more than 300 years.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Elements
  • Physical Properties
  • Chemical Properties
  • Ionic Bonding
  • Naming Compounds
  • Gases


Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes
Lesson: Approximate times for students to complete each activity in the lesson:

  • Anticipation Guide: 10 minutes
  • Reading: 20 minutes
  • History Exercise: 10-15 minutes
  • Exploring the Scientific Process: 25-30 minutes
  • Properties of Oxygen Gas: 15-20 minutes
  • Nomenclature Exercise: 10-15 minutes


  • Reading document and any lessons that accompany it that you want to include.


  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes


Lesson Overview:

The lesson includes multiple components as outlined individually below. The Reading is essential for all of the activities. Teachers can choose to do one or all of the included activities. Student handouts and corresponding answer keys are provided for each item described below:

  • Introduction: Take a few minutes to introduce the lesson with a few conversation starters. How has science evolved in the past 10, 50, 100, 250 years? What historical events were taking place between 1750 and 1800? Can you identify some scientists who have made important/significant discoveries?
  • Activity: Anticipation Guide
    • Before reading, students make some educated guesses about chemical discoveries made in the 1700s. Once they read, they adjust their answers and identify correct information for incorrect statements.
  • Reading: Joseph Priestley, Discoverer of Oxygen
  • Activity: History Exercise: Chronology of the Discovery of Gases
    • Students chronologically order events in Priestley’s life. They then answer some history questions to put in perspective what was happening in the world while he was making great discoveries, and where the discovery of oxygen fits in with the discovery of other gases.  
  • Activity: Exploring the Scientific Process
    • Students will analyze information from the reading and relate it to the scientific process.
  • Activity: Properties of Oxygen Gas
    • Students are tasked with categorizing properties of oxygen gas as chemical or physical.
    • Then they determine the importance of the properties of oxygen gas that helped identify it is an element.
  • Activity: Nomenclature Exercise
    • Students use inductive reasoning to discover a rule that for naming oxygen-containing compounds.