Electron Configuration Activities & Games

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Electron configurations can be challenging for students to understand. Activities and games make it easier and more fun. Check out some of these ideas and try them in your classroom.

Electron Configuration Activities and Games

Electron configurations sound a lot like gibberish. If someone walked up to you and said '1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p5,' you would rightly think them crazy. That can make teaching students about electron configuration initially a little rocky. Even when they understand the basics of how it works, they still take a while to be able to write electron configuration of a particular element. This part is nothing but practice, practice, and more practice.

The way we teach electron configuration, and the way we provide students with practice, will have a big impact on how engaged they are in the topic and how much information they retain. So, if we can do it through games and activities, all the better. What follows are several possible activities you could use to either teach or practice electron configuration with your students.

Color-Coded Diagramming

When introducing electron configuration, it helps to color-code everything. Make the S orbitals red, the P orbitals yellow, the D orbitals green, and the F orbitals blue. Then students can create drawings of various atoms as illustrations and practice, and use that same color coding. For example, if a student is drawing carbon, they can draw the nucleus, and then draw dots for the electrons in the appropriate colors. They can draw two red dots to represents the 1S orbital, two red dots in the next shell to represent the 2S orbital, and two yellow dots in the same shell to represent the 2P orbital. Alternatively, you can have your students use colored dot stickers.

Electron Configuration Bingo

Electron configuration is a perfect topic for a bingo game. Give students a bingo card with electron configurations in each square. Then randomly select and call out names of elements that they might find on their bingo cards. If a student notices that they have the electron configuration for the element you named, they can circle or cross out that square. The first time a student has marked all of the squares on a bingo card, they can shout, 'bingo!' to win the game. (Or have them shout, 'chemistry!' instead.) Be sure to check that they matched the configurations correctly. This game can be played multiple times and will give them lots of great practice.

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