Atoms Family - Atomic Structure Review

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SWBAT describe the structure and function of parts of atoms by comparing the charge, location, and relative mass of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Big Idea

Atoms make up everything, so students explore their understanding the structure and function of atoms by creating a "spooky" summary notes resource.


10 minutes

They're tiny and they're teeny, much smaller than a beany! That Atoms Family! The study of atomic structure has to get creative due to the issue of scale - models and research are two ways students can access information about atomic structure. In this lesson, students critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to obtain scientific information to describe evidence about the natural world (SP8).

In this case, the natural world is made of atoms! So students work to learn the fundamentals of atomic structure in order to access more sophisticated concepts like: Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures (MS-PS1-1). A basic understanding of atomic structure is fundamental to further study of molecules, chemical reactions and properties of matter. After students conduct research, they construct scientific explanations based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from their sources (SP6).

As students research and explain, the structure and function cross cutting concept is important to tease out in this lesson: complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts; therefore, complex natural and designed structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function. This cross cutting concept also weaves through these related lessons:

Building Atomic Models Simulation Investigation 

Cooking Up Atoms Investigation

Periodic Table of Elements Exploration Project

This lesson is best used in conjunction with other inquiry-based lessons that use modeling of atomic structure (like those above). It can serve as a pre and post assessment or a way to summarize or introduce concepts. This lesson gains "teeth" by using it to support inquiry-based learning.

In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, we do the best possible thing: Sing


60 minutes

The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. As students explore, this lesson provides opportunities to EXPLAIN their understanding as well. The EXPLAIN stage provides students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far and figure out what it means, which can present an opportunity for a quick formative assessment.

To help students explore and explain, students access resources to complete the Atoms Family Handout. Student prompts for the research are on page 2 and their responses are recorded on page 1. To support students when accessing scientific texts, it is important to find a variety of levels of text with different methods of exploration (interactive models, images, etc.). Science textbooks include good basic information. Additional online resources that support this research inquiry are:

Chem4Kids Atoms

Chem4Kids Atomic Structure

JLab Atom Tour

Science Class Atomic Structure

Nuclear Wallchart Atoms

Teacher Note: This lesson has an artistic component. Once students complete the notes part of the activity on page 1, students cut out the matching rectangular "doors" on page 2. These doors are stapled onto page 1 to create an Atoms Family "haunted house" notes resource that students can use to review the concepts. These doors have a prompt or question on them and can be opened to reveal student's answers. For help visualizing, view this student work: Atoms Family Student Work. This cut and staple project adds time to the research, but also helps to blend kinesthetic activity with the mental activity of reading texts and formalizing responses.


The EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation. The novel situation in this case is for students to explore topics that are even more complex than atomic structure:

1) Sub-Atomic Particles: Students explore the research question: Is there anything smaller than a proton or neutron in an atom (other than an electron)?  Students research sub-atomic particles and create a small poster showing a model of an atom with these particles labeled.

Support site for sub-atomic particles: Particle Adventure.

Student Example: Sub-Atomic Particle Extension

2) Atomic Scale: Students find out the diameter of any atom, measure at least four distances in centimeters in the classroom.  Then, students calculate how many atoms it would take to span that distance and create a mini poster showing their results.

Support site for atomic scale:

The Scale of the Universe 2

Student Examples: Atomic Scale Extension Example 1 and Atomic Scale Extension Example 2


15 minutes

The EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. Since this lesson is best used in conjunction with inquiry-based lessons, the Atoms Family activity could be used as an assessment itself. Students could complete the activity without the research component in order to demonstrate understanding of atomic structure. If, at the conclusion of this activity, after review of the concepts using the Atoms Family Notes, a check-in quiz may be beneficial to check for understanding. Two quick assessments related to atomic structure are here: Basic Atomic Structure Quiz and Advanced Atomic Composition Quiz. For more about developing simple assessment that are time efficient, visit this section's reflection: Developing Assessment Tools.