Steroid Medicines: A Profile of Chemical Innovation Mark as Favorite (12 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in History, Covalent Bonding, Molecular Structure , ACS National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program. Last updated August 31, 2022.


In this lesson, students will learn about developing medicine through the lens of hydrocortisone while reading an article. 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:

  • HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
  • HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • 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:

  • Understand how functional groups affect a compound’s properties.
  • Realize that medicines are a practice of organic chemistry.
  • Relate chemical formulas to real-life applications.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Structural Formulas
  • Green Chemistry Principles
  • Covalent Bonding


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

  • Reading: 20 minutes
  • History exercise: 10 minutes
  • Steroid structure: 15–20 minutes
  • Steroids and green chemistry: 20–25 minutes
  • Use of steroid medicines: 10–15 minutes


  • Reading document and any lessons that accompany it that you want to include.
  • A computer with internet access for one of the introduction activities.


  • 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. “What first comes to mind when you hear the word ‘steroids’?” Many will think of anabolic steroids and their abuse by some athletes. “What other steroids are part of the world around you and part of your body?
    • You could show the ACS Reactions video: “The Science of Steroids: Keeping the Olympics Fair.” The video focuses on anabolic steroids and also mentions legitimate medical uses for steroids. The video addresses how chemists work to detect steroids in athletes who use them illegally to boost athletic performance.
  • Reading: Steroid Medicines: A Profile of Chemical Innovation
  • Activity: History Exercise
    • Students assess major events from the research and development of steroid medicines from the 1920s to the 1990s and place them in the correct order on a timeline. Consider why there was a race among companies to manufacture cortisone and also how the Upjohn Company built its research teams and its facilities to encourage process.
  • Activity: Steroid Structures
    • Students will recognize that steroids have the same basic structural “skeleton.” Consider why each structure can have different properties and effects. Practice using bond-line notation with these compounds.
  • Activity: Steroids and Green Chemistry
    • Compare the paths used to produce cortisone and to upcycle the waste material from this process into hydrocortisone. Discuss how three principles of green chemistry can relate to past steroid research.
  • Activity: Use of Steroid Medicines
    • Look for changes to the structure of a hydrocortisone molecule and discuss why even a single change could be beneficial for use in medicine. Imagine a world without steroids and describe the possible effects on the world.