What Are Valence Electrons? - Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:04 The Combining Game
  • 0:44 What Is a Valence Electron?
  • 2:01 Why This Is Important
  • 2:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Vannoy
Valence electrons are kind of like the directions to a Lego set. In this lesson, we will learn what valence electrons are and why scientists need to know the number of valence electrons an atom has.

The Combining Game

Have you ever taken two different things and combined them to make something brand new? Maybe you have taken two or more completely different Lego sets and put all the pieces together and invented something. Maybe you've helped your parents cook in the kitchen and combined many different ingredients and came out with cookies. Yum!

Scientists do this with elements in the periodic table to make new substances. They cannot just combine elements at random, though. Elements are very picky about what they combine with. However, they give scientists a clue of what other element they might combine with. That clue is the element's number of valence electrons.

What Is a Valence Electron?

You may already know that an electron is a negatively charged particle of an atom. A valence electron is an electron that 'lives' in the last electron shell (or valence shell) of an atom. The atom will have one or more electron shells based on how many electrons the atom has. The very last shell that the atom has holds the valence electrons. The number of valence electrons that an atom has tells us what it might be able to combine with to make something new.

Finding out the number of valence electrons an atom has may sound impossible. Scientists have organized the periodic table to make it easy to determine the number of electrons that an atom has. By looking at the group number that an element is in, we can determine the valence electrons that the atom of that element has. The number in the ones place of the group number is equal to the number of valence electrons in that atom (i.e. group 1 elements have 1 valence electron, group 16 elements have 6 valence electrons).

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