A Creative Resource for Teaching Science

periodic table bought from 123rfBy Natalie Gillis

Curriculum Connection: High school Chemistry: Periodic Tables. Full curriculum connections noted at end of article.

Notes for Educators

Play is not just a way to pass the time or provide relaxation; it is an important learning experience (UNESCO, 1988). As such, educational games are excellent teaching aids in the classroom. Playing games helps students develop factual knowledge, decision-making, and interpersonal skills (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2002).

Games allow for multiple intelligences and differentiated learning by helping students discover things at their own pace and in their own way (Roussou, 2004) and by providing visual, kinesthetic, and interpersonal stimulation.

Perhaps most importantly, games make learning fun — which increases motivation and enthusiasm for learning (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2002). People feel deep pleasure when they learn something new or succeed in a challenging task, and experiencing this feeling through game play reinforces feelings of confidence and mastery, encouraging students to engage in further learning purely for the fun of it (Palmer, 2005). Pleasure in learning is especially important in schools, since many students are conditioned to see school as a place of hard work and no play (UNESCO, 1988).

Game Play

Guess Who? The Periodic Table! is played in the same fashion as the original Hasbro game Guess Who?, and the game cards are designed to be used with the game trays provided with the original game. Because engaging with science and technology through familiar and enjoyable experiences helps whet student appetites for more learning (UNESCO, 1988), the past experience many students will have had with this classic childhood game is a significant benefit.

At its core, Guess Who? is a modified game of “20 Questions.” See player rules provided with the game cards for details. Note that with either game card, students may ask any questions about an element’s properties (lustrous, flammable, metal, gas, etc.) but may not ask questions about an element’s location on the periodic table, as this would make the
game too easy.

Guess Who

Game Card 1: The First 24 Elements

As the title suggests, this card includes only the first 24 elements, and is designed to encourage familiarity with the symbols for and physical and chemical properties of these elements (e.g., density, texture, combustibility, etc.).

Students may need to refer to their notes or textbooks to help them formulate appropriate questions about the physical and chemical properties of the elements. Doing so will reinforce learning from lessons, labs, and other activities, and should be encouraged.

Game Card 2: The Elements and STSE

This game card expands student thinking about the elements from their properties to their historical, cultural, economic, and environmental significance, and includes some of the lesser-known elements. Most of the information on this game card extends learning beyond the grade 9 science curriculum.


Though Guess Who? is designed as a two-player game, teachers may print a class set of game cards and provide one to each student, without the game trays. Students could then play in pairs or small groups, stroking out elements as they are eliminated through questioning. Laminated game cards could be reused: students could write on them with dry erase markers, wax crayons or grease pencils.

Skills Encouraged

The original Guess Who? is a simple but effective game that encourages a variety of skills that are important to the Ontario science curriculum:

• logical thinking
• deductive reasoning
• observation and visual discrimination
• grouping
• question formulation
• listening and oral communication

In addition to promoting these skills, Guess Who? The Periodic Table! also encourages students to:

• Use vocabulary associated with the chemical elements and the periodic table (alkali metals, halogens, noble gases, etc.);
• Recognize elemental symbols (Fe, Cl, N, Na, etc.);
• Become familiar with the positions of elements and groups on the table;
• Compare and contrast physical properties of different elements.

Use in the Classroom

Guess Who? The Periodic Table! can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways:

• As part of a series of hands-on activity centres that allow students to explore scientific concepts and learning with partners or in small groups;
• As a group or partner activity to familiarize students with or consolidate learning of the periodic table and the properties of the first 20 elements (students will be able to self-assess their additional learning needs based on how easily they can formulate questions that get them closer to winning the game);
• As a class activity (see Variation, below) to review learning about chemical and physical properties of elements and the organization of the periodic table in grade 9 science;
• A class-wide diagnostic tool at the beginning of the grade 10 science chemistry unit to assess how well students remember what they learned in grade 9;
• As a culminating activity, students could develop their own version of Guess Who? incorporating physical and chemical properties of the elements. Student success at developing this variation would allow for assessment of overall learning about the properties of elements covered in class;
• As a tool to inspire greater depth and breadth of learning through independent study in gifted or advanced learners.

The Ontario Science Curriculum and Guess Who? The Periodic Table!

Guess Who? The Periodic Table! encourages thinking in each of the four categories of knowledge and skills identified in the achievement chart for the Ontario science curriculum:

• Knowledge and understanding (through familiarity with chemical elements and the periodic table);
• Thinking and investigation (through questioning and observing);
• Communication (through oral communication, use of vocabulary, and terminology);
• Application (by making STSE connections).

See Appendix 1 for a complete curriculum fit.

Literacy Connections

Guess Who? The Periodic Table! can increase student proficiency at reading symbols used in chemistry, particularly the symbols for the elements themselves, as well as various laboratory and cultural symbols (toxicity, radioactivity, gas, etc.).

The Elements and STSE game card encourages scientific literacy through connections with etymology and mythology, and can be a way of piquing student interest in various elements and driving them to do further reading on various topics.


For students looking for additional challenges, “The Elements and STSE” game card can be used to encourage further study on a variety of topics, including:

• Etymology of element names;
• History of a particular element’s discovery;
• Scientist who first isolated or discovered a particular element; Contributions of female chemists; [Milan – I can’t seem to put a bullet here]
• Economic importance of various elements;
• Environmental risks associated with various elements (bioacummulation in ecosystems, groundwater contamination, impacts of mining);
• Toxicity and health risks of various elements.

Students can also use the game cards as a model to create their own version of Guess Who? for other science units (e.g., cell organelles, ecosystems, living organisms, etc.).


Ontario Ministry of Education (2002). Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner: Teaching/Learning Strategies Companion. Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Palmer, D. (2005). A motivational view of constructivist-informed teaching. International Journal of Science Education. 27(15): 1853 –1881.

Roussou, M. (2004). Learning by doing and learning through play: an exploration of interactivity in virtual environments for children. ACM Computers in Entertainment, 2 (1): 2–23.

UNESCO (1988). Games and toys in the teaching of science and technology. Division of Science Technical and Environmental Education.

[Milan – insert pages 5 and 6, Crucible, Volume 45 • 4 May 2014]

Natalie Gillis was a pre-service teacher at Trent University when she wrote this article. She was a recipient of the 2013 Don Galbraith Pre-Service Teacher Award of Excellence with this submission.


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