Turning Element Abbreviations into a Strategic Exercise

chemistry crossword puzzle preview image

Co-authored by Thomas Manning*, Teighlor Livingston*

*Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA

Various types of puzzles have been incorporated into learning activities and accepted as educational tools to enhance critical thinking and introduce content in many areas of academia1-15. Our group has developed a number of novel strategic exercises utilizing puzzles16-20. Puzzles can be used as a familiarization exercise in many different settings or social environments. Students can work individually or in groups and compete against each other. The puzzles can be assigned to be completed as homework or can be an extra credit exercise on a test. Our group has developed puzzles for in-class exercises16-20, one being a complex way for educators and students to learn about infectious diseases during the pandemic17; and for an international event with faculty and students from other countries, including Cuba18. This exercise was originally used in general chemistry lectures as a method to familiarize students with the position of elements on the periodic table.

periodic table

A series of crossword puzzles using element names can be found in the Supporting Information below. These include blank puzzles, word lists and answer keys. (Supporting Information can be viewed when you are logged into your ChemEd X account. Not a member? Register for FREE!)


This puzzle involves two steps;

  1. The student is given a chemistry-oriented word and asked to identify all of the element abbreviations that be extracted from the word. The student is instructed to list the abbreviation and full name of the element. If desired, the instructor can also ask the student to list the periodic group the element is in, as well as its atomic mass. The simplest solution is the student finding the abbreviations and the names of the elements that can be constructed from the letters of the given word. The ptable.com periodic table is often used for exercises of this nature. An example is included in Table 1. In this case “Bond” is the word.


Table 1. Example of element identification using the word “bond”.


  1. The student is asked to use the element names that were found to fill in a corresponding crossword puzzle. The puzzle can be left blank for a more challenging approach or can have certain letters or element names filled in to help guide students to the correct solution. There are several crossword puzzle generators online that can be used for free to create a unique puzzle. We used the EclipseCrossword generator for our exercises.


Figure 1. A blank crossword puzzle utilizing element names from the word “bond”.


Using the “bond” example above, the student uses their 6 elements to fill in the crossword grid (Figure 1). As the number of elements derived from a word increase, the complexity of filling a blank puzzle grows. If the eclipse program is used, the puzzle can be viewed online through a web link (“bond” example: https://share.eclipsecrossword.com/play/acc77053/bond-crossword), but this option is not recommended with this exercise because it provides clues and is graded online. The completed puzzle using the word “bond” is found in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The completed crossword puzzle utilizing element names from the word “bond”.


The “ptable” periodic table mentioned above can be used to find a number of parameters associated with each element, such as state (solid, liquid, or gas) at a specific temperature, electronegativity, atomic or ionic radii, boiling and freezing points, energy level information, etc. Different forms of the exercise can be applied as a familiarization tool to learn about the elements and some of their physical or chemical properties.


This is an interactive exercise that students can complete alone or in groups. It provides flexibility in that many chemical terms can be used as the starting point, allowing instructors to not use the same data set on a repetitive basis. It also provides flexibility in that instructors can add parameters (atomic radius, ionization energies, etc.) for students to add to their table. The overall goal of the exercise is to use it as a familiarization tool for the periodic table and the various elements, parameters, and trends that exist. We have found that exercises of this nature can be used as an introduction to topics in class or as a homework exercise.

See an example puzzle, CHEMISTRY, below. 



Chemistry is a branch of science that studies matter, which is made up of elements from the periodic table. Chemistry also studies how substances interact with each other and form bonds.

Task: Find as many elements from the periodic table as you can that make up the word “chemistry” and fill them in the crossword puzzle!



Chemistry is a branch of science that studies matter, which is made up of elements from the periodic table. Chemistry also studies how substances interact with each other and form bonds.

Elements that make up the word CHEMISTRY:


The CHEMISTRY puzzle above can be found in the Supporting Information below. Several other puzzles, including word lists and answer keys are also included. (Supporting Information can be viewed when you are logged into your ChemEd X account. Not a member? Register for FREE!)



Provide students with puzzle template, word list and periodic table. We use ptable.com.

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