Atoms, Elements, and Molecules OH MY!

Atoms are the building blocks of everything– that was the main theme of our last River Classroom for our 4th-6th graders from Española. Our students learned that atoms are the foundation for everything in the world and that the periodic table is THE tool to use for exploring these atoms.

At the beginning of class, each student was given a copy of the periodic table and asked to write down all the information they could gather from simply looking at it. The class noticed that each atom was abbreviated to a symbol, certain atoms were grouped together, and each one had an atomic number. Great!


Next, we had them find elements based on their atomic number. We explained that the atomic number provides information about the quantity of protons, neutrons, and electrons that each specific element contains.

At this point, our students learned that protons have a positive charge, neutrons have no charge, and electrons have a negative charge. Protons and neutrons can be found in the atom’s nucleus, but electrons are found around the atom in atomic orbitals. Each orbit can only hold a specific number of electrons. After students practiced drawing different atoms in their science notebooks, we assigned students the roles of “protons”, “neutrons”, and “electrons” and acted out a room-sized atom. They definitely had a lot of fun with this one!

We also divided students into pairs and had them model atoms using a felt square with painted atomic orbits and felt protons, neutrons, and electrons. We assigned each group a different atom to model. The kids liked this activity so much, they just kept asking for more atoms to model!



After a lunch break, we split the class up into two groups; one group modeled an atom individually and the other group made “molecules” out of trail mix.

Students in the first group were assigned an element and had to model their element using an apple as the nucleus and raisins as electrons. The kids broke skewers into various sizes to demonstrate different atomic orbits. It was really great to see how engaged the students were with this activity and how they chose to float the “electrons” around their atom’s apple.




In order to emphasize the point that molecules are comprised of different elements joined in a specific proportion, we used snacks to get their attention! Students were given the task of creating several different molecules using the ingredients for trail mix. We did this by selecting several molecules such as glucose (C6H12O6) and assigning each element a specific part of the trail mix (e.g. raisins are carbon, peanuts are hydrogen, etc.). Everyone had a blast getting to create numerous molecules—and getting to eat chocolate chips and popcorn while doing it wasn’t so bad either!


Finally, as we do at the end of each class, we helped students relate our lesson back to the real world and apply it to our everyday lives. Our students understand that the periodic table, atoms, and molecules are important because they make up the foundation of everything in the entire world- without them nothing would exist!




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