Using Periodic Properties to Group Students for an Activity

Today in my IB Chemistry class we were reviewing the Born-Haber cycle. This has proven particularly challenging in the past so I wanted to try something a bit different and have the students review in groups. The task for each group of students was to create a visual Born-Haber cycle for potassium oxide - ignoring the math and calculations but instead focusing on each process within the cycle. I'd like to share how I grouped students using periodic properties.

Normally for an activity of this sort I'll either let students choose groups or randomly select groups using an Excel spreadsheet and a random number generator. But for some reason I didn't want to resort to either of these techniques today. Instead, I made 20 cards with small descriptors of a specific element and gave each student a card.* The students then had to mingle and figure out the pattern. I didn't give them much in the way of directions. Just that they would be in groups of 4. I didn't tell them the groups were actually groups from the periodic table. One student figured out his element and immediately began looking for students with the same element. At some point they started to catch on. "Come on guys, of course they are groups in the periodic table. This is chemistry class!"

Without a doubt this took longer than either of the usual methods I typically use for grouping. However, I feel it added a bit of thinking to an ordinarily mundane task. And while I won't use this every time I want groups, it will certainly become part of my rotation for occasional use. Now the task is finding more ways to create groups!

I will admit that my clues weren't all perfect. I think the clue for tin is a bit obscure, and a few of them could have been more creative and/or chemistry-inspired. But overall I think the students got a little reminder about periodic properties.

If you want to use this method, I've attached a PDF copy and an Excel spreadsheet with my note cards. After students formed groups, I asked for the cards back so I could re-use them with my other chemistry classes.

Do you have any creative - and thought-provoking - ways to group students? If so, share them in the comments. I'd love to hear your ideas.


*Yes, for many of you I realize classes of 20 will never happen. I am very lucky to teach at an international school where class sizes are a bit smaller.