Equilibrium Activities for High School Chemistry

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are a high school chemistry teacher, you will want your students to understand the concept of chemical equilibrium. This lesson offers a series of activities you can use to supplement your instruction.

Teaching Equilibrium

Do you teach chemistry at the high school level? If so, you have a great deal of material to cover every year. One of the ideas you will want your students to understand is equilibrium. Overall, equilibrium refers to the idea that the free energy of a system in equilibrium is minimal.

Understanding chemical equilibrium will help your students bring their mathematical knowledge to bear on chemistry, and it will also require them to understand systems on a newly abstract level.

Because equilibrium can be complicated, it might help to have some activities to incorporate into your instruction. The activities in this lesson appeal to different learning styles and strengths while teaching students about equilibrium in chemistry.

Thermodynamic Equilibrium

These activities will help your students understand key ideas behind thermodynamic equilibrium.

Diagram the Conditions

As students come to understand thermodynamic equilibrium, they will learn about the conditions that always need to be present as well as the conditions that are sometimes present for this kind of equilibrium to occur. In small groups or partnerships, have students create a graphic diagram that shows what conditions are required for thermodynamic equilibrium and why. Their illustrations may include words but should also rely on visual means to represent the cause and effect relationships. Students can talk about the difference between necessary conditions and occasional conditions as they work.

What Is Happening in Your Water?

This activity allows students to model the concept of local thermodynamic equilibrium. Have students work in small groups; each group should start with a glass of ice water. They should develop hypotheses about the temperature of the water in different points in the glass. Then, have students make a diagram that depicts what is happening with the ice, the water, and the glass on a molecular level. Ask them to describe why this works as a perfect model of local thermodynamic equilibrium.

Understanding the Equilibrium Constant

The activities in this section are oriented toward helping your students make sense of the equilibrium constant.

Charting Different Types

Your students will soon learn that there is a basic equilibrium constant, but there are also various types, including cumulative, stepwise, association, and dissociation concepts, among others. Have students work in small groups to create a chart to organize these constants. In the first column, they should list the kinds of constants they are learning about. In the second column, they should define these constants and when or why they are used. The third column should list the relevant equation. Once students have these charts, they can keep them in their notebooks as a quick and handy visual reference.

Enacting the Derivation

As students learn about the relationship between equilibrium and thermodynamics, they will gain an understanding of how the equilibrium constant expression is derived. This activity allows them to dramatize this derivation! In small groups, have students assign themselves roles, such as:

  • Gibbs free energy
  • K, the equilibrium constant
  • reaction coordinates
  • activity coefficients

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