A Virtual Adaptation of a Periodic Table Card Sort and Lab

Key card for periodic table element cards

“What are we doing to try to help kids achieve?”

Several years ago this site featured an activity, Trend Setter Lab, that was developed as part of Target Inquiry. I have used “Trendsetter” for years with great success. The activity introduces relevant vocabulary that students have covered or will cover. There is a nice wet lab portion to the activity. The periodic table activity that features a relevant card sort that involves trends and patterns. One of the many reasons I like this activity is that the card sort involves searching for periodic patterns that actually exist. Many other similar activities involve a card sort that involves trends and patterns but they are about colors, symbols and / or drawings rather than real chemical properties. “Trendsetter” actually involves patterns and trends about electronegativity, atom radii, properties of reactivity and ionization energy. All of these are topics that students eventually will cover in depth. This activity provides a nice “frontloading” opportunity that other similar activities do not provide. A final advantage is that students are asked to predict these properties for a “missing element” just as Mendeleev did. As the students work through their reasoning, more often than not, they discuss their ideas much the same way as Mendeleev. Students eventually master multiple objectives with this one activity. I was reluctant to give this activity up when we went virtual. Below is an attempt at a virtual option.

Figure 1: Sample cards. A - Code card, B - card for part 1, C - card for part 2


Overall, the majority of the students who completed this virtual lab seemed to gain a much better understanding of the periodic table. I was still able to “eavesdrop” on a number of rich conversations. This is anecdotal evidence, but with trying to teach students who are face to face, virtual and some who could be or are streaming at any moment, I will take any success I can get.

Do you have a favorite activity that you have converted to a virtual format? Please share!  We are stronger together than separate…..especially during this difficult time.

periodic table
periodic trends
  • The student will be able to identify trends of electronegativity, atomic radii and ionization energy on the periodic table.
  • The student will be able to explain the periodicity of the trends of electronegativity, ionization energy and atomic radii found on the periodic table.
  • The student will be able to identify elements with similar properties based upon their location on the periodic table. 
  • The student will be able to predict properties of elements based upon where that element is found on the periodic table.
Procedure time: 
50 minutes

Students begin by completing a pre lab of vocabulary terms. I used the piece provided in the original version (see the questions below and in the Supporting Information) but you might also consider using one offered by Dan Meyer in his October 2016 blog, Trendsetter: A Target Inquiry Activity

In part one, students sort 10 cards by decreasing atomic mass. I created a Google Slide where students can move the cards with their mouse to achieve the correct order. An instructional video is also attached to this slide show. In my current synchronous virtual class, my students were not able to continue to the next part until I checked their work. This was accomplished through breakout rooms. A teacher could do this in Zoom, Google Meets or other similar online platforms as well. 


Figure 2: The first two periods of the periodic table students will organize.


Part two is similar to part one. Students already have the first 10 cards sorted as in the previous Google Slideshow. They then complete the next two periods with the remaining 16 cards. This was more of a challenge. There is an “Unknown Card - Xx”.  Most of these 16 cards do not show the atomic mass. In my class, students worked on this in breakout rooms and as before, there was a video to provide some gentle hints. As the instructor I provide the final checkpoint.

Access the Pre-Lab assingment, the Google Slides presentations (including student instructions and instructional videos) and all related keys by logging into your ChemEd X account and downloading the Teacher Document from the Supporting Information below. The virtual element cards are included in the Google Slide presentations.

Since my class is virtual, the wet lab portion was achieved through video. Since I was able to access my lab, I created a video to share with my students (you can use this LINK to view). It was not ideal but provided the best option given our setting. The ChemEd X video library also offers a series of videos that allow students to compare the reactivity of three alkali metals. Videos 1 through  3 show lithium, sodium and potassium reacting individually with water. Video 4 shows all three metals reacting in side by side beakers of water (without voice over).

Reaction of lithium with water

Video 1: Reaction of lithium with water, (accessed Dec 2020)*


Reaction of sodium with water

Video 2: Reaction of sodium with water, (accessed Dec 2020)*


Reaction of potassium with water

Video 3: Reaction of potassium with water, (accessed Dec 2020)*


Reactions of three alkali metals with water

Video 4: Reaction of three alkali metals with water, (accessed Dec 2020)*


I personally included links for my students to videos from http://www.periodicvideos.com/ (Editor's note of CAUTION: the link goes to a website that may not be secure). The Lithium video is an exceptional video from this site. It directly compares Lithium and Sodium reactivity in water and can be immediately applied to “Trendsetter”. This video ties in reactivity between two elements in the same family and placement in the periodic table. There are other videos on this site that can serve the same purpose.

By this time students accomplish an understanding of trends and patterns of the chemical properties in their periodic table that they have developed on their own. In my class we spent a period of time discussing the trends and patterns and how students might use these to determine the values for the unknown element. 


PRELAB ACTIVITY - Write the definition for each of the following: 







List the properties of





A summative assessment can come from the questions provided in the original lab. I have found that an excellent assessment is one in which they use their table to explain 3-5 trends and patterns on a blank periodic table and then provide an explanation of the properties of the unknown element based on their trends and patterns. See the teacher document in the Supporting Information.


Provide students with copies of the Pre-Lab Activity and of the Google Slide presentations (part one and two) of the activity. The first 10 cards can be found in the Google Slide presentation for Part 1 and all of the cards are included in Part 2. 

Videos 1 - 4 are derived from Jerrold J Jacobsen and John W. Moore. Chemistry Comes Alive! Vol. 2: Abstract of Special Issue 21, a CD ROM. Journal of Chemical Education 1998 75 (7), p 297. DOI: 10.1021/ed075p927

Trend Setter Lab by Deanna Cullen published October 2012. Log into your ChemEd X account and follow the link to download the original documents. The Teacher Guide includes the element cards for face to face use and includes facilitation notes including tips for guiding class discussion. Access the Teacher Guide through the Target Inquiry website for the face to face version.

Trendsetter: A Target Inquiry Activity by Dan Meyer published on ChemEd X October 2016. Log into your ChemEd X account and follow the link to download his optional vocabulary assignment.

I would encourage you to check out all of the Target Inquiry activities. You’ll need to create a log-in but the access is otherwise free and is a fantastic resource. I highly recommend reading the Teacher Guides to any of these that you wish to try. They include a wealth of information that will be helpful for facilitating the activities in your classroom.


Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds.


Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. Use a model to predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system.

Assessment Boundary:

Students who demonstrate understanding can 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.

*More information about all DCI for HS-PS1 can be found at https://www.nextgenscience.org/dci-arrangement/hs-ps1-matter-and-its-interactions and further resources at https://www.nextgenscience.org.


Students who demonstrate understanding can 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.

Assessment Boundary:

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


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.

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Comments 2

Tamara Northern | Mon, 02/01/2021 - 11:30

Thank you for modifying this lab, but I am wondering if there is a link somewhere for the cards that are used in this lab ?

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Mon, 02/01/2021 - 13:47

The cards in the virtual adaptation are included within the two Google Slide presentations that need to be shared with students. The first 10 are in Part 1 and all of them are included in Part II. You can access those in the Teacher Document at the end of Chad's post. You do need to be logged into your account to see the Supporting Documents. 

If you are teaching face to face and would like to use the original cards, you can access them through the Target Inquiry website. They can be found in the Teacher Guide for Trendsetter (currently the third activity from the top) in their list of activities.