Periodic Table Activities for Elementary School

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

The periodic table can be an abstract concept for young students, with its maze of atomic numbers, symbols, and atomic masses. However, there are simple activities you can do with students to make the key principles of the periodic table tangible.

Metals for Non-Metals

Metals and non-metals are two of the key categories that divide the periodic table. Students can conduct simple tests to learn how metals and non-metals are different from each other.

Materials per group:

  • D battery and holder
  • four wires with gator clips pre-attached at each end
  • 1-2 Christmas lights cut apart from the string, and the wire ends already stripped
  • magnet
  • set of metal and non-metal samples that include magnetic and non-magnetic metals (iron nails, paperclips, brads, pennies, coffee stirring sticks, chalk, etc.)


  • Explain that one-way elements are separated on the periodic table is based on metals versus non-metals. As a class, brainstorm what is known about metals and non-metals, and record it on the board or chart paper. Consider providing a periodic table hand out that has metals and non-metals highlighted.
  • Explain that there are two basic tests they are going to do on all of the samples. First, they will test each sample to see if it can be picked up by a magnet and then record 'magnetic' or 'non-magnetic' on a data table.
  • The second test is a bit more complicated. It begins by setting up a simple circuit. Place the D-battery in the holder; connect one wire with a gator clip to each end. Connect the Christmas light to the hole in the circuit to complete the loop. If it lights up, everything is done correctly, and they are ready to test the samples. If it doesn't, they need to check that their battery is in the correct direction and try the second Christmas light.

Sample Circuit Setup

  • Next test each sample. To do this, add the last two gator clips into the circuit, one on each side of the Christmas light. That will leave two new wire ends to connect the samples into. For each sample, have students record 'light on' or 'light off' based on what happens.
  • Compile the results into a class data table. Going back to the original chart students made, discuss the different characteristics of metals versus non-metals, such as magnetism and conductivity.

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