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Activity: Organizing the Elements

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:


  • Three sets of element cards
    • Set A
    • Set B
    • Set C
  • Colored pencils, pens, or markers (optional)
  • Tape (optional)
  • Large sheet of paper (optional)




  1. Start with Set A. Working with your group, decide how to organize the elements in a way that is more than just a list. To help you develop your organizational system, you may choose to write on the cards with colored pencils, pens, or markers.
  2. As you organize the elements, keep in mind the following questions:
    1. How are you organizing the elements?
    2. What is your starting point and why?
    3. What is your stopping point and why?
    4. Is there anything that does not seem to fit? Why?
    5. Is there anything that you think is missing? Why?
  3. Record your final organization of Set A of the elements.
  4. Continue with Set B. Repeat teps 2 and 3 with both Sets A and B.
  5. Continue with Set C. Repeat steps 2 and 3, with all three sets.
  6. Record your final organization of Sets A, B, and C of the elements.
  7. (Optional) Tape your final organization of the elements onto a large piece of paper.
  8. Share your group’s organization with the class.


Activity Questions: 
  1. What was your primary, or first, level of organization of the elements?
  2. What were your secondary, or second, levels of organization?
  3. What did you observe as you organized the elements? What did you observe as you added new sets of elements?
  4. When something did not seem to fit, what did you do?
  5. When something was missing, what did you do?
  6. Compare your group’s organization of the elements to that of the other groups in your class. What was similar among the different organization systems? What was unique?
  7. How would you define a metal?
  8. How would you define a nonmetal?
  9. Compare your organization system to the modern periodic table (Figure 2.7). How is your system similar? How is your system different?
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.