Building 3D Models of Atoms

Peggy Knetter-Johnson at Ubah Medical Academy, Hopkins, MN
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Students build atoms of elements 1-20. The entire set can be hung from the ceiling in order of the Period Table to be referred to throughout the Chemistry class/unit. This is helpful when teaching bonding and patterns of the Periodic Table.

Learning Goals

Goals: Students will have a 3D model of atoms of elements 1-20.

When reviewing or teaching new concepts, the teacher has 3D models to refer to instead of 2D pictures or just the Periodic Table.

-Students have a 3D visual of elements 1-20

-Students can actually see patterns of the periodic table: size, number of orbitals, valence electrons, etc

-Valence electrons



-Strong force



Context for Use

Who: For students who are not familiar with atoms or do not know anything about them
Type: lab/building a model
Time: 45-90 minutes - depending on dexterity of students

-Wire (about 20 gauge)

-Wire cutter

-Fishing line

-Colored marshmallows


-Bamboo skewers

No prior knowledge of atoms necessary

Subject: Chemistry:General Chemistry:Atomic Structure
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: High School (9-12), Intermediate (3-5), Middle (6-8)

Description and Teaching Materials

Cut the needed amount of orbitals (wire) and put each orbital size in a different box. (1st orbital = 1 foot of wire, 2nd orbital = 2 feet, 3rd orbital = 3 feet)

Pieces need to do 1 set of elements 1-20:
1 foot = 20 pieces
2 feet = 18 pieces
3 feet = 2 pieces

Cut bamboo skewers in half (so they are about 2 in. long).

Copy student instruction sheet

Have enough marshmallows! (Note: My students cannot eat them because of religious reasons, but you may need to worry about them eating them!)

Have scissors for cutting fishing line

Have glue

How will the lesson be introduced?
As a way to "see" atoms by building 3D models and arranging in the order of the periodic table to see trends.

Student will:
-Build 3D models

-Attach them to the ceiling in order

-Look for trends

-Use the models to show bonding

Closure strategies:
I referred to them throughout the quarter! Assignment handout (Microsoft Word PRIVATE FILE 24kB Aug15 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Safety: warn students that ends of wire are sharp (may want pliers to twist ends into a ring)

I had students work in pairs and I assigned the atoms so that my students that would have problems got the smaller elements so everyone finished about the same time.

I had students who got done first make extra oxygens, carbon, and lots of hydrogen so we could make them into molecules later (by using twisty-ties from bread bags to keep the orbitals together).

The actual making of atoms helped so much especially for students who had never heard of atoms and to refer to throughout the unit.


I assessed this as a completion project. It needed to be perfect and then full points were awarded.


II A 1-6 for 9-12 : Periodic table

References and Resources