Periodic Table Battleship

text: Periodic Table Battle Ship

A proficient understanding of the periodic table is indispensable for students studying chemistry. Chemical properties, bonding, and reactions are routinely explained using the trends and patterns of the periodic table. In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) reserves two of the eight performance expectations of the Chemistry division for the periodic table. Of particular interest is a knowledge of the arrangement of the outermost electrons, identified by an element's electron configuration, which is vital when predicting the products of chemical reactions, and the formation of bonds.

In my experience, novice students struggle to see elements' valence electron configuration trends across the rows and columns on the periodic table. It's possible to explain the trend using a diagram like that in figure 1; however, a deeper understanding may be possible when students discover it independently. One way that students can discover these trends is through a game called Electron Configuration Battleship.

Figure 1: Periodic Table with valence electron configurations.1


Electron Configuration Battleship gameplay is similar to the board game, Battleship, popularized by Milton Bradley. In Milton Bradley's version of the game, players secretly arrange plastic ship pieces on a 10 x 10 grid. Each space on the grid is identified by a letter and number corresponding to the column and row (figure 2). Players then take turns launching a strike on their opponent by calling out a square as indicated by its letter and number. If the opponent's ship is placed on that square, a hit is recorded. Once all squares of a ship have been hit, the ship is sunk.

Figure 2: Battleship game 10 x 10 grid.


The gameplay in Periodic Table Battleship is essentially the same; however, the squares of the periodic table are identified by the last subshell notation in the electron configuration of the corresponding element. For example, Magnesium's (Mg) square is called by simply stating 3s2 rather than the complete electron configuration of 1s22s22p63s2. In the same fashion, the squares of the alkali metals from top to bottom are 2s1 (Li), 3s1 (Na), 4s1(K), 5s1 (Rb), 6s1 (Cs), and 7s1 (Fr). As you may discover, students tend to catch on quickly to the fact that the first number of this notation corresponds to the row of the periodic table or, in other words, the principle energy level -- a practical realization.

I tend to use this activity after students have learned how to write electron configurations before learning about periodic trends. After a few rounds of the game, students are more apt to see the periodic table in terms of energy levels and subshells which helps them learn periodic trends more quickly.

Why I Love this Activity

When playing the game, students seem to naturally work together to learn the trend. Usually, one student picks it up quicker than their partner and, in turn, explains it to others. Once students learn how to play, they often problem-solve themselves through mistakes without teacher intervention. For example, suppose a student called out the non-existent square 3s3. In this case, their partner or another group member can usually explain that this is an invalid notation, and the instructor rarely has to step in to correct the error.


electron configurations
periodic table
periodic trends
Procedure time: 
50 minutes
Prep time: 
10 minutes
Time required: 

One class period


Gameboard (folder)

Paper clips


Blank periodic tables (x2)



Object of the Game

Be the first to sink all 3 of your opponents ships.

Prepare for Battle

  • Use the paper clips to attach a periodic table to each side of the folder. You and your opponent sit facing each other, with the folder open at a 90 degree angle (you can prop it up with something like a water bottle or binder). (Figure 3)
  • Use a highlighter to shade in your fleet of 3 ships on the bottom periodic table. Your opponent does the same.
  • The submarine is 3 squares long, the battleship is 4 squares long, and the carrier is 5 squares long.
  • Place ships so that they are only covering the squares of main group elements
  • Place each ship in a horizontal or vertical position, but not diagonally
  • Do not change the position of any ship once the game has begun

Figure 3: Periodic Table Battleship gameboard


How to Play

  • Decide who will go first. You and your opponent will alternate turns, calling out one shot per turn to try and hit each other’s ships.
  • On your turn, pick a target square on your upright periodic table and call out its location by highest energy sublevel notation in its electron configuration. For example, sodium’s (Na) electron configuration is 1s22s22p63s1, so you would just say, “3 s 1” and your opponent will find that square on their periodic table.
  • When you call a shot, your opponent must tell you whether your shot is a hit or a miss.

It’s a Hit!

If you call out a shot location that is occupied by a ship on your opponent’s ocean grid (the bottom periodic table), your shot is a hit! Your opponent tells you which ship you have hit (submarine, battleship, or carrier). Record your hit marking the appropriate element on the upright periodic table with an X. Your opponent draws an X on their ocean grid (bottom periodic table) on the same element.

It’s a Miss!

If you call out a shot location not occupied by a ship on your opponent’s ocean grid (bottom periodic table), it’s a miss. Record your miss by marking the appropriate element on the upright periodic table with an O.

Sinking a Ship

Once all the holes in any one ship are filled with Xs, it has been sunk. The owner of the ship must announce which ship was sunk (submarine, battleship, or carrier). 

Winning the Game

If you’re the first player to sink your opponent’s entire fleet of 3 ship’s, you win the game!



10 minutes to gather materials and print blank periodic tables.

1. This figure is found on Florida State University Chemistry Department's resource for electron configurations:

Another version of this activity can be found at: Montejo Bernardo, J. M., & Fernández González, A. (2021). Chemical Battleship: Discovering and Learning the Periodic Table Playing a Didactic and Strategic Board GameJournal of Chemical Education98(3), 907-914.



Students who demonstrate understanding can use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.

*More information about all DCI for HS-PS1 can be found at and further resources at


Students who demonstrate understanding can use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.

Assessment Boundary:

Assessment is limited to main group elements. Assessment does not include quantitative understanding of ionization energy beyond relative trends.


Examples of properties that could be predicted from patterns could include reactivity of metals, types of bonds formed, numbers of bonds formed, and reactions with oxygen.