The Chemistry of a Family-Style Dinner

periodic dinner

My good friend, an AP Literature teacher, inspires me to challenge my students (and myself) to think creatively. Students love her teaching style and line up to take her class. All the while, they say her assignments push the limits of their critical thinking abilities and bring out creative thinking talents they never knew they had. I want to do that.

Science is creative; it requires new ideas, new patterns, and new solutions to old problems. A deep understanding of the periodic table is the most critical knowledge in chemistry. I want my students to experience the table and conceptualize its trends in a deeper way. Combining creative ideas from an AP Lit project with my honors chemistry content, I am brainstorming about a more engaging, more challenging summative assessment on periodic table families. I would love to hear your ideas and collaborate to build an exciting assessment.

Here are my ideas:

  • Main theme - Student groups of six are assigned one significant family or area of the periodic table: alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, transition metals, halogens, and noble gases. Ask each group to host a “family-style” dinner party.
  • Logistics – Groups will have a single class period to provide a learning experience for the rest of the class. The group is responsible for transforming the classroom into the family home with food, furnishings, decorations, and more. The group members will personify the elements.
  • Required Invitation – What would an alkali metal include in an invitation to other elements? What type of invitation would an alkali metal choose? Include a meaningful address and RSVP method.
  • Décor – What kind of art would be on the walls of an alkali metals house? What sort of books would be on their shelves? What clippings or pictures might be on the refrigerator? What trophies might be on the shelves? (Picture the “Wall of Gaylord” in the “Meet the Fockers” movie!)
  • Food – What kind of foods would be served in the alkali metal house? Would they have servers, or would the family members serve themselves?
  • Personality – Group members will become six elements of the group. They will symbolize characteristics of the elements in terms of atomic radius, reactivity, ionization energy, and more with costumes, quotes, and personalities during the family dinner.


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 and further resources at


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 4

Ashley Crosby | Tue, 05/12/2015 - 12:54

Did you do this? I would love to know how it turned out and how you graded them (rubric?). Thank you!

Steve Kircher's picture
Steve Kircher | Thu, 05/14/2015 - 10:20

I'm going to try this next year.  I do something similar in my Chemistry class when we get into this subject.  I bring in a pile of t shirts with element symbols on them (I use markers) and have the students grab one that fits.  Then I tell them we're at a dance and they have to pick a compatible partner.  I mingle and advise them of their pairings.  We do this for about three rotations or until they get the right combinations.

Allison Tarvin's picture
Allison Tarvin | Thu, 05/14/2015 - 20:10

What a great idea!  This would be a great hook to introduce the larger project.  It would give the students the experience of "being an element."

Amy Clement's picture
Amy Clement | Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:35

I am starting this activity today! I made a rubric and used the instructions above. I will let you know how it goes! I will share my final products and the rubric with you guys if you want.