Reviewing the Periodic Table Using Mystery Puzzles

boarding pass

Last year, I wanted to create a fun way to review Periodic Table concepts with my students instead of using the same review worksheet I had students complete in the past. I personally enjoy Escape the Classroom activities, but I could not find one that fit with my Chemistry class content.

So, I decided to make a game of my own. I thought it would be fun to solve a mystery whose clues could be used to spell out the name of a country. I decided to create five puzzles to fit within my class time of fifty minutes. Therefore, I had to determine the names of countries that could be spelled using the periodic table and whose names could be made out as a result of five puzzles.

This five puzzle mystery aligns with my chemistry curriculum after instruction on the properties of elements and electron configurations. I use this mystery as a review to prepare for assessments over the properties of elements, symbols on the periodic table and the difference between groups and periods. Also incorporated within the puzzles are basic trends such as the number of subatomic particles, mass number, melting point, and other characteristics of specific elements.

My students forgot that they were reviewing for a chemistry test because they were having fun trying to solve the puzzles. During one of my classes, one group of students was so excited to complete the puzzles before other groups that they cheered and jumped for joy as if they really had just saved the world. They also thought the “airline tickets” I printed for the country for the correctly solved puzzles were an exciting touch. I didn’t tell the students if they were correct or not, I simply handed them their boarding passes.

I have shared this activity with my colleague that teaches AP Chemistry as a quick review of material they should already know from their previous participation in a Chemistry class. They too enjoyed to puzzles. I did find, however, a few AP students tried to cut corners by trying to solve for the country before collecting all of their clues first. Needless to say, they were not correct in identifying the country and did not solve the mystery.



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.

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Comments 6

Ana Lev | Fri, 01/29/2021 - 11:03

Can I use a different element for puzzle one? Also I dont understand the fourth clue. I have a gifted class and think they would love this actvity thanks.

Gloria Gajewicz's picture
Gloria Gajewicz | Fri, 01/29/2021 - 14:41

You will need to use the element Iodine for puzzle one.  You could make a different puzzle, but the clue needs to give the students and "I" so they can spell the word Finland in the end.  For puzzle four, you will need to translate the rosicrucian cipher (also known as the masonic cipher) at the bottom of the postcard to find the clue.  You may want to search the web for how to decipher the symbols if you need further explaination.  You should get the symbol for neodinium (Nd) after decoding this cipher.

Bryan Forney | Sat, 01/30/2021 - 21:15

I am looking forward to using this in my classroom.  Thank you so much for being generous enough to post this.

Ken Richardson | Thu, 02/04/2021 - 13:09

I'm sorry I have to ask this, but I don't understand how the Magic Square could have multiple possible combinations. My answer matches Lanthanum. Does your key allow for us to make different squares? I really apprectiate the hard work you put into this. Thank you.

Gloria Gajewicz's picture
Gloria Gajewicz | Thu, 02/11/2021 - 08:39

I add additional solutions so that students will have to determine which one aligns with their answers.

Danielle Chopra | Mon, 02/15/2021 - 08:16

This sounds exciting! Just what my hybrid classes need...Something different! Thank you so much for sharing!