Landmark Lesson Plan: The Periodic Table & the Transuranium Elements

Grades: 9-12
Subject areas: Chemistry and history
Principal author: Susan Cooper

The following inquiry-based student activities are designed for use in high school chemistry lesson planning, but they apply to all science subjects. Some middle school teachers may also find the lesson outline helpful. The lesson plan will help students learn about the people and discoveries that led to the development of today’s periodic table. The final activity integrates writing as students are asked to summarize what they have learned about the periodic table.

The content is designed as a ready-to-go lesson, easily implemented by a teacher or his/her substitute to supplement a unit of study. Students will practice critical reading and writing skills as they develop a deeper understanding of the development of the periodic table.

Download the complete lesson plan (PDF).

Resources include:

  • Teacher’s guide: Includes the handout, student activities and answer guide
  • Handout: “The Periodic Table and Transuranium Elements”
  • Student activities: Include the six activities described below.

Student activities:

While these activities are thematically linked, each is designed to stand alone as an accompaniment for the handout. Teachers may choose activities based on curricular needs and time considerations.

  • Anticipation Guide and Reading on “The Periodic Table and Transuranium Elements” Students confront their ideas about the development of the periodic table. (5 minute introduction, 15-20 minutes of reading)
  • History Exercise: Timeline of events Students chronologically order events from the reading. (10-15 min.)
  • Graphic Organizer: Contributions of chemists leading to today's version of the periodic table Students describe the contributions made by various chemists along with the significance of each contribution. (5–10 min.)
  • Graphic Organizer and Questions: Discovery of Elements Students organize selected elements into a chart and answer questions about the problems that had to be overcome in discovering the transuranium elements. (10–15 min.)
  • Writing Exercise: The Value of the Periodic Table and Transuranium Elements Students summarize the development of the periodic table and its importance to chemists. (15–20 min.)
  • Optional Video Summaries After reading the handout, students watch an ACS Reactions video related to the periodic table and share their learning with the class. (15–30 min., depending on choices made by teacher)

Periodic table
The modern periodic table includes rows of lanthanide and actinide elements, and ends with element 118, which was named oganesson and is the heaviest known element.

Glenn Seaborg standing in front of a periodic table in 1950
Glenn Seaborg, shown here in 1950, reshaped the periodic table with his discoveries of transuranium elements.
Courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

PDF of Landmark brochure
Cover from "Discovery of Transuranium Elements at Berkeley Lab" booklet, produced by the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program of the American Chemical Society in 2019.