Atoms, Elements and the Periodic Table NGSS MS-PS-1


In the Atoms, Elements and the Periodic Table mini unit, students reflect on elements they already know, build models of helium and copper atoms with Skittles, distinguish molecules from compounds and grow salt crystals to show cubic crystal structure! Finally, students create models of molecules to show what they know. Students love learning more about elements and the periodic table!


Extension activities challenge kids to create a stop motion video or flip book to show covalent and ionic bonding.

Anchor Phenomenon Ideas: Share a poster of the periodic table of the elements, a few element videos or one of many periodic table songs with students and let them discuss! Then, make a list of questions kids have and make connections throughout your unit.

Make it Relevant: Middle school kids are intrigued by the periodic table and are excited to learn what all of the symbols and numbers mean. We find this unit to be highly engaging!

Tips and Tricks: Let go of the worksheets with charts of elements asking kids to fill in the number of protons, neutrons and electrons! Those are busywork, boring and only prove your students can subtract. Instead, help kids find answers to the questions they have about elements and the periodic table.

Students usually ask why some elements like hydrogen have symbols that make sense (H) but other elements have symbols that do not make sense. Why is the symbol for gold Au? Here is a quick guide to explain unique element symbols.

This is what the table looks like with the lanthanides and actinides added.

As students build their understanding of elements and the periodic table, share this PhET Building an Atom simulation. As they play, they will inevitably have more questions - that's great! Self-pacing allows students time to find answers and more questions lead to more learning.


Theodore Gray's books and website are also an excellent source of information for students - and teachers!

Barium, sodium, sodium

Enrichment Ideas: The periodic table is like a secret code that students are thrilled to finally break! For a fun activity, ask students to write their name, another word or an entire story using the element symbols and names. For example, what do the element symbols for barium, sodium, sodium spell?

Molybdenum, uranium, selenium