Worksheets and lesson ideas to challenge students aged 11 to 16 to think hard about atomic structure and isotopes (GCSE and Key Stage 3)
Where to start?
Challenge students to tear a piece of paper into the smallest size possible. Then pose the question, ‘can this piece of paper be broken down further’? Explore ideas on the board and then introduce the idea of atoms, building on what students already know about particles. A fun thing to do is then ‘build an atom together’ using a range of artefacts to represent the different parts. Neutrons and protons should be represented by similar sized objects, with the same mass. Electrons can be represented by something with a tiny mass – such as a hair plucked form your head!
Particle theory (solids, liquids and gases) teaching resources
Mass number and atomic number – what do they mean?
GCSE activity on atomic number and mass number. Students work in pairs to deduce as many things as they can about atomic structure from diagrams showing three different atoms and one ion. The activity should lead to an understanding of what the atomic number and mass number mean. (PDF)
The language of atomic structure
GCSE worksheet on atomic structure key words. Key words used to describe atomic structure are written on the board. Students come up with a list of questions that their partner must answer by using the key words written on the slide. This activity promotes good discussion between students and supports meaning making of key terms. (PDF)
Electronic configuration of atoms
Whenever teaching atomic structure, it is vital students gain an understanding of scale and just how empty atoms are. This fantastic model helps students appreciate the scale of a hydrogen atom
GCSE worksheet on electronic configuration and the Periodic table. Students draw on the electronic configuration for the first 20 elements. They see for themselves how group number equals valence electron number. (PDF)
Follow this link for a GCSE activity where students have to decide if a model shows an atom or an ion.
Students need to understand and explain why isotopes have the same chemical properties but different physical properties. Heavy water can provide an excellent context to study isotopes. Ice cubes of heavy water sink in water. Perhaps get students to Predict, Observe and Explain what is happening in the video below from 6:14. Then move on to get students to calculate the relative atomic mass for hydrogen. Why is it not simply an average of the three naturally occurring isotopes 1H, 2H, and 3H i.e. 2 and not 1.00794?
The development of the model of the atom
GCSE worksheet on the development of the model of the atom. Students read about the development of the model of the atom throughout history and draw what they think the atom would have looked like at different points in time. Students then consider what was right and what was wrong about each model. The Phet animation of Rutherford’s scattering experiment will be useful to students. (PDF)
- If atoms are mostly empty space, why does it hurt when we bang into a wall?
- Why is it not possible to know precisely where an electron is?
- How is an atom similar and different to the solar system?