Graphing the Periodic Table

PBS Learning Media
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Graph , Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This activity provides students the opportunity to explore patterns in the periodic table. Students have options to display graphs of elements according to their atomic numbers and properties including: molar mass, atomic radius, ionic radius, melting point, boiling point, electronegativity, and ionization energies. Supplement Materials provided with the resource include a background essay and discussion questions. Discussion questions provided for the teacher encourage students to compare the properties of the elements and identify patterns in the properties within element families as well as across periods.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 12
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 9
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-PS1-1 Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.

Clarification Statement: Examples of properties that could be predicted from patterns could include reactivity of metals, types of bonds formed, numbers of bonds formed, and reactions with oxygen.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to main group elements. Assessment does not include quantitative understanding of ionization energy beyond relative trends.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity gives students an opportunity to describe patterns of how relative properties of elements compare. To fully address the PE, students need to connect these patterns to the electron configurations of the atoms of each element. Along with graphing properties, students should also explore the “electron configurations” tab to examine the electron configurations by energy level and describe patterns in the configurations according to the periodic table. Students can then use observed patterns in the electron configurations to explain patterns in properties observed. Students should also be asked to predict patterns in a group of elements (eg., Alkali Metals, Halogens, Noble Gases, etc.) using observed patterns from groups already examined. Predictions could be based off of data collected from the "Plot Data" or "Electron Configuration" tabs. The properties students will investigate in this activity go beyond those listed in the clarification statement. Teachers should be sure to connect properties from this activity to additional chemical properties, like those included in the clarification statement.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The Background Essay provides an explanation of the connection between observed patterns in properties and electron arrangements (see “Support Materials” on the teacher page). Teachers can present students with this information and have them use the data provided to assess the extent to which the claims in the essay are supported by the data. For example, the essay states “Trends in properties of the elements can be explained by electron configurations.” Students could examine that data to provide evidence supporting this claim. It would be best for the teacher to communicate expectations for students to consider what counts as evidence and how much evidence is sufficient to support the claim. This would work well in a classroom that is employing the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) framework for constructing explanations. For additional information on the CER Framework see the NSTA Web Seminar “How Do You Know That? Helping Students Write About Claims and Evidence” presented by Dr. Jodi Wheeler-Toppen. In this program Dr. Wheeler-Toppen shared strategies for using claims, evidence, and reasoning in the classroom. Alternatively, students could begin the activity by finding patterns in data they have observed in properties and electron configurations of different elements, supported by the questions in the Support Materials. The teacher could then guide the students to make the connections on their own prior to comparing their conjectures to the explanation provided by the “expert” in the essay.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
While this activity is not useful for identifying the horizontal arrangement of elements by the number of protons in the atom’s nucleus, it is useful for examining the similarity in properties from the same column and the repeating patterns of electrons in outer energy levels of atoms. This is explicitly included in the background materials provided for students. What needs further emphasis is the connection between the periodic table arrangement of elements and the arrangement of electrons in atoms. (See Tips for Addressing the Practice for suggestions on how to use this information.)

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The PE is asking students to use subatomic structure to explain phenomenon that may range from the atomic scale to bulk properties. The activity includes opportunities for students to examine a range of properties but does not distinguish them by scale. It would be appropriate to ask students to examine different properties and justify why subatomic structure provides the causality for the patterns in properties for a sample of atoms. To fully address the cross cutting concept in the PE, the teacher should provide a context for the students’ learning using one or more particular phenomena.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Elements of the disciplinary core idea and the crosscutting concept represented in the performance expectation are significantly addressed. Use of the online interactive tool from this activity provides opportunities to address the use of the periodic table as a model expressing relationships among elements as to allow properties of an element to be predicted based on the arrangement of its outermost electrons. Improvements are needed in order to provide appropriate opportunities to use the practice of modeling to make sense of the arrangement of elements in the periodic table as a tool for predicting phenomenon.

  • Instructional Supports: Discussion questions and a background essay are provided to support instruction with the activity. However, the resources do little to guide the teacher to provide differentiated support for students in connecting patterns in the relative properties of elements and electron configurations of the atoms and do little to support students with three-dimensional learning. Teachers should consider creating a handout that can guide students through the activity in a way that will emphasize connections between the arrangement of elements on the periodic table with an atom’s electron configuration.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Discussion questions provided in Support Materials can be used to monitor student progress. The resource does not include suggestions for how to use the questions for formative assessment. An example of how to strengthen the resource to monitor student learning could be to plan for both small group investigations and whole group discussions where students share observations of observed patterns of relative properties and again after examining electron configurations. Following these discussions, students could be prompted to connect their observations of patterns in electron configurations to explain the repeated patterns in properties from a group of elements.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The technological aspects of the activity are straightforward to use and provide numerous ways for students to manipulate data from the periodic table. The functionality is directly related to examining patterns in electron configurations and relative properties of elements.