By the end of Key Stage 3 pupils are expected to be able to describe the structure of an atom, relate atomic structure to information given for each element in the Periodic Table and show the arrangement of electrons in shells around the nucleus. It is vitally important that pupils develop a secure knowledge of these fundamental concepts in chemistry since a superficial understanding can result in misconceptions and pose significant difficulties in understanding higher-order content such as ionic and covalent bonding at GCSE and beyond.
Take your time, break down the topic into bitesize chunks and use plenty of diagnostics such as hingepoint questioning to gauge the level of understanding of the whole class before moving forward together. In addition to the following activities, provide pupils with plenty of practice in relating atomic number and mass number to the number of protons, neutrons and electrons in a neutral atom, and drawing electron shells.
Hula hoop competition
Explain that all atoms consist of electrons orbiting a tiny nucleus then have a hula hoop competition! Who can keep their electrons orbiting for the longest?
Provide pupils with laminated electron shells, an element symbol, a particle key and coloured plasticine. Ask them to build an atom of the element they have been given before taking a photograph and sharing it with the class via Padlet.
Build giant models of atoms using foam balls, craft straws, pipe cleaners and wire etc. These make excellent mobiles which can be hung in order of atomic number along the length of the science corridor.
Alternatively, bake (or buy) cookies and decorate them with proton and neutron M&Ms and silver ball electrons.
Facebook profiles or cubes
Facebook profiles or these simple cubes can be used to present information on all manner of things in science (e.g. famous scientists, types of nuclear radiation, specialised cells). Ask the pupils to investigate the element for which they built their plasticine atom and then complete a Facebook profile or cube for it. Who discovered it? When was it discovered? Is it a metal, non-metal or semi-metal? What are its properties?