Periodic Table Webquest: Discovery of the Elements

Page content

Get to Know the Elements

The periodic table is a listing of all of the elements that have been discovered by scientists. The table is arranged in rows and columns that form specific patterns. The elements are listed in order horizontally by atomic weight, but placed above elements that have similar characteristics.

For example the first group or column is composed of elements that are alkali metals. This pattern creates a kind of U shape to the table. Hydrogen is horizontally in line with Helium but directly above Lithium. Additional groupings are color-coded to indicate elements that have similar attributes.

Elements have the same basic characteristics no matter where they are found. Carbon on earth has the same atomic weight and bonding characteristics as Carbon found on Mars. There are currently over 100 elements on the periodic table, but the first 18 are used in most of the matter found in the universe.


NASA has been monitoring signals from space for many years. It is convinced that an alien race will be making contact with Earth. In order to facilitate communication NASA has requested a visual presentation on the elements. Since elements are the same throughout the universe this will help humans establish basic communications with any aliens sophisticated enough for space travel. A contest has been announced and the winning presentation will be broadcast into space.


Students will work in pairs or small groups to create a PowerPoint presentation with details on assigned elements contained in the periodic table. Elements can be assigned according to period or group or randomly as desired by the teacher. Students should answer the following questions for all of the elements assigned:

  • Name
  • Symbol
  • Atomic number
  • Group characteristic, i.e. alkali metal, noble gas, etc.
  • Classification
  • One additional fun fact
  • How is it similar to the elements around it?

Students should use their imagination to create an entertaining and informative presentation. They can review the presentation at to listen to the famous song by Tom Lehrer for inspiration. All presentations will be reviewed by the class and a winner will be determined by popular vote. Students may find the following websites helpful for basic information on each element:


Presentations will be evaluated on the following three-point scale:

1 - Not all required information is included for each element

2 - All required information is included for each element

3 - Additional information is included for at least one element or additional elements are included in the presentation.

The periodic table is a large and complex visual representation that changes as new elements are discovered. Students who are interested in chemistry need to understand the information contained in the periodic table and how it is used. Additional information can be found in more advanced chemistry textbooks as well as online.