Naming Ionic Compounds Games & Activities

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

Understanding the different types of chemical reactions and bonds can be difficult for students. Consider using these games and activities to help students name ionic compounds.

A Compound By Any Other Name

When students are putting salt on their fries, they're probably not thinking about how sodium and chlorine combine to form sodium chloride, or table salt. Sodium chloride is one of many ionic compounds found in our world. Ionic compounds can be difficult to name, so it's important for students to understand how the chemical formulas help to determine the compound's name. Let's look at some games and activities to help students in naming ionic compounds.

Cat or Onion

Use this fast-paced sorting game to help students identify cations and anions in binary ionic compounds.


  • Stuffed animal cat
  • Onion
  • Buckets
  • Copies of a cat image
  • Copies of an onion image
  • Tape
  • Cards with cations or anions written on them
  • Periodic Table of the Elements

Teacher Direction


  1. Prior to the game, print out copies of cat and onion images. Tape a cat or onion image to each bucket.
  2. Create sets of cards with cations or anions written on them, such as K (potassium, cation) and Br (bromide, anion).


  1. Show students a stuffed animal cat and an onion. Ask them to decide which object they would think more positively about and which object they would think more negatively about. Most students will think more positively of a cat and more negatively of an onion.
  2. Tell students that ionic compounds have a cation that has a positive charge and an anion that has a negative charge. Students can remember this because 'cats' (cation) are usually viewed more 'positively' and 'onions' (anion) are usually viewed more 'negatively.'
  3. Provide students with common examples of cations and anions on the Periodic Table of the Elements.
  4. Divide the class into teams, and provide each team with a cat bucket, an onion bucket, and a set of the cards you made.
  5. When you say 'go,' have each team sort the cards by whether the card is a cat (cation) or onion (anion).
  6. The first team to correctly sort their cards into the cat and onion buckets wins.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between a cation and an anion?
  • Why do cations have a positive charge and anions a negative charge?

Naming Mnemonics/Rhymes

Have students create mnemonics or rhymes to help them remember how to name compounds with polyatomic ions.


  • Chart paper
  • Markers

Teacher Directions

  1. Discuss the rules for naming ionic compounds that contain polyatomic ions, such as nitrate or phosphate. Share with students when the prefixes bi-, di-, hypo-, and per- are used, as well as the suffixes -ite, -ate, -ous, -ic.
  2. Provide students with examples of the names of compounds that contain polyatomic ions and how their names relate to the compounds' chemical formulas.
  3. Divide the class into pairs, and provide each pair with chart paper and markers.
  4. Have the pairs create 2-3 mnemonics or rhymes that would help them remember how to name ionic compounds containing polyatomic ions. For example, students might use the rhyme: ''We use the prefix hypo-/When the oxygen is low.''
  5. Students should write their mnemonics or rhymes on their chart paper and share with the class.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the most difficult part about naming ionic compounds with polyatomic ions?
  • What was your favorite mnemonic or rhyme that your classmates created?

Roll It and Name It

Have students play a partner game to practice naming ionic compounds.


  • Copies of paper cube template
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Paper
  • Pencils

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