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What is Chemistry? (10 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Observations, Physical Properties, Introduction, Elements, History, Periodic Table, Chemical Properties. Last updated October 8, 2019.


In this lesson, students become familiar with chemistry by watching a video narrated by Bill Nye. They then complete a SOMA cube to enhance their perspective in the process of discovery.

Grade Level

High school


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

  • Describe ways in which chemistry is a part of their daily life.
  • Describe the process of discovery while emphasizing values in a scientific process.
  • Describe the characteristics of three states of matter.
  • Describe physical and chemical changes, and give examples of each.
  • Identify the reactants and products in a chemical reaction.
  • Describe observations that suggest a chemical change has occurred.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of

  • Chemistry basics


Teacher Preparation: 90 minutes

Lesson: 90 minutes


  • SOMA blocks


No specific safety precautions need to be noted.

Teacher Notes

  • Day one may be most critical in setting the tone for student awareness to an introduction of the course and respective expectations of their involvement to a successful engagement.  Chemistry requires participation to a diverse and demanding handling of vocabulary, comprehension of technical information, perseverance, and ability to integrate multilateral concepts.  To this effect, students are introduced to the Science’s Channel video “The Realm of Chemistry and its Greatest Discoveries” narrated by Bill Nye.  Their involvement entails active participation in listening and entering correct responses to the blanks in the provided written narrative along with a vocabulary list.  Upon completion, their attention is focused to their self-creativity in putting together the SOMA-cube to further enhance perspective in the process of discovery.
  • SOMA Cube:

For the Student


Focus (15 minutes)

Introductory Activity

Students find their seat with a provided document they collect when they enter. They complete a self-introduction handout, and read the brochure on course general information and teacher introduction.

Motivate (5 minutes)

Introductory Remarks

Welcome students, confirm room and subject area, give directions for video participation.

Video & Document Completion (60 minutes)

Listening Skill Assessment

Show video (http://www.sciencechannel.com/tv-shows/greatest-discoveries/videos/100-greatest-discoveries-chemistry.htm).

Integration Skill Assessment

Complete worksheet by filling in blanks of provided video narrative with given word list.

Answer key to the worksheet below. See Student Activity Sheet: What is Chemistry? for exact student document.

  1. Oxygen (1770s)
    Joseph Priestley discovers oxygen; later, Antoine Lavoisier clarifies the nature of elements. Priestley produces oxygen in experiments and describes its role in combustion and respiration. Then, by dissolving fixed air in water, he invents carbonated water. Priestley, oblivious to the importance of his discovery, calls the new gas "dephlogisticated air." Lavoisier gives oxygen its name and correctly describes its role in combustion. Lavoisier then works with others to devise a chemical nomenclature, which serves as the basis of the modern system.

  2. Atomic Theory (1808)
    John Dalton provides a way of linking invisible atoms to measurable quantities like the volume of a gas or mass of a mineral. His atomic theory states that elements consist of tiny particles called atoms. Thus, a pure element consists of identical atoms, all with the same mass, and compounds consist of atoms of different elements combined together.

  3. Atoms Combine Into Molecules (1811 onward)
    Italian chemist Amedeo Avogadro finds that the atoms in elements combine to form molecules. Avogadro proposes that equal volumes of gases under equal conditions of temperature and pressure contain equal numbers of molecules.

  4. Synthesis of Urea (1828)
    Friedrich Woehler accidentally synthesizes urea from inorganic materials, proving that substances made by living things can be reproduced with nonliving substances. Until 1828, it was believed that organic substances could only form with the help of the "vital force" present in animals and plants.

  5. Chemical Structure (1850s)
    Friedrich Kekule figures out the chemical structure of benzene, bringing the study of molecular structure to the forefront of chemistry. He writes that after years of studying the nature of carbon-carbon bonds, he came up with the ring shape of the benzene molecule after dreaming of a snake seizing its own tail. The unusual structure solves the problem of how carbon atoms can bond with up to four other atoms at the same time.

  6. Periodic Table of the Elements (1860s–1870s)
    Dmitry Mendeleyev realizes that if all of the 63 known elements are arranged in order of increasing atomic weight, their properties are repeated according to certain periodic cycles. He formulates the periodic table of the elements and predicts the existence of elements that have not yet been discovered. Three of those elements are found during his lifetime: gallium, scandium and germanium.

  7. Electricity Transforms Chemicals (1807–1810)
    Humphry Davy finds that electricity transforms chemicals. He uses an electric pile (an early battery) to separate salts by a process now known as electrolysis. With many batteries he is able to separate elemental potassium and sodium in calcium, strontium, barium and magnesium.

  8. The Electron (1897)
    J.J. Thomson discovers that the negatively charged particles emitted by cathode ray tubes are smaller than atoms and part of all atoms. He calls these particles, now known as electrons, "corpuscles."

  9. Electrons for Chemical Bonds (1913 onward)
    Niels Bohr publishes his model of atomic structure in which electrons travel in specific orbits around the nucleus, and the chemical properties of an element are largely determined by the number of electrons in its atoms' outer orbits. This paves the way to an understanding of how electrons are involved in chemical bonding.

  10. Atoms Have Signatures of Light (1850s)
    Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen find that each element absorbs or emits light at specific wavelengths, producing specific spectra.

  11. Radioactivity (1890s–1900s)
    Marie and Pierre Curie discover and isolate radioactive materials. After chemically extracting uranium from uranium ore, Marie notes the residual material is more "active" than the pure uranium. She concludes that the ore contains, in addition to uranium, new elements that are also radioactive. This leads to the discovery of the elements polonium and radium.

  12. Plastics (1869 and 1900s)
    John Wesley Hyatt formulates celluloid plastic for use as a substitute for ivory in the manufacture of billiard balls. Celluloid is the first important synthetic plastic and is used as a substitute for expensive substances such as ivory, amber, horn and tortoiseshell. Later, Leo Baekeland invents hardened plastics, specifically Bakelite, a synthetic substitute for the shellac used in electronic insulation.

  13. Fullerenes (1985)
    Robert Curl, Harold Kroto and Rick Smalley discover an entirely new class of carbon compound with a cage-like structure. This leads to the discovery of similar tube-like carbon structures. Collectively, the compounds come to be called buckminsterfullerenes, or fullerenes. The molecules are composed entirely of carbon and take the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid, tube or ring. Named for Richard Buckminster Fuller, the architect who created the geodesic dome, they are sometimes called "buckyballs" or "buckytubes."

Manipulative/Model Skill Assessment

SOMA-cube is provided for each student to work individually towards completion of puzzle (students who do not finish within allotted time will be given additional time in subsequent lessons). All students are expected and encouraged to individually complete this task, regardless of time restrains and to build self-confidence in their involvement.

Closing Activity

Students retrieve puzzle components and place them in original container, retrieve syllabus and homework handout, and submit requested material by the teacher at indicated location.

Organization Skill Assessment

Observation only.


Writing Skill Assessment

Students are asked to write a summary of the video in a paragraph and make a specific list of chemistry items in their everyday life (video document has been returned to students for future consultation during their modeling exercise). Examples are provided in the directions.

Reading Skill Assessment

Students are asked to review and be prepared to answer in writing questions on the provided course syllabus.


  1. Science Channel’s 100 Greatest Discoveries in Chemistry. http://www.sciencechannel.com/tv-shows/greatest-di... (accessed July 23, 2014)
  2. Wong, Harry K., Classroom Management, http://www.yale.edu/21c/documents/Meek_9_25_07_HarryWong.pdf (accessed July 1, 2014)

Connections to Standards

National Science Education Standards Covered

Unifying Concepts & Processes

UCP 1 Systems, order, and organization

UCP 2 Evidence, models, and explanation

UCP 3 Change, constancy, and measurement

Physical Science—Structure & Properties of Matter

PS 2e Solids, liquids, and gases differ in the distances and angles between molecules or atoms and therefore the energy that binds them together. In solids, the structure is nearly rigid; in liquids, molecules or atoms move around each other but do not move apart; and in gases, molecules or atoms move almost independently of each other and are mostly far apart.

Physical Science—Chemical Reactions

PS 3a Chemical reactions occur all around us, for example in health care, cooking, cosmetics, and automobiles. Complex chemical reactions involving carbon-based molecules take place constantly in every cell in our bodies.

PS 3b Chemical reactions may release or consume energy. Some reactions such as the burning of fossil fuels release large amounts of energy by losing heat and by emitting light. Light can initiate many chemical reactions such as photosynthesis and the evolution of urban smog.