Disciplinary Text Set- The History of the Periodic Table of Elements

1. Timeline of Element Discovery Infographic

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 3.17.33 PMClick on Above Image to See the Entire Timeline or to Download Your Own PDF Copy

Description: The infographic is entitled Timeline of the Elements. Through visualization the infographic depicts all the elements in the periodic table and the date of their discovery in a timeline format. The elements are color coded according to their group on the periodic table. Next to the elemental symbol is a circle with the flag of the country of origin the element was discovered along with the specific year.

Text Complexity: I would rate this text a 2 on a scale of 5. It is very considerate in terms of color-coding and serves as a nice visual aid to support comprehension. However, some students could have difficulties when interpreting the image if they are not familiar with a countries flags or the groups that elements are divided into, or the symbol of each element. Some frontloading would be required with this image. The image provides nice section breaks and is very straightforward. This text would be accessible to students because there are no lengthy sentences. The infographic provides accessible content knowledge to students.

Why Use This Text: It highlights the aspects of the nature of science by showing people from many different countries contributed to the discovery of the elements and science in general. This text could be used as an introduction to the periodic table or as a follow up to learning about the elements and the properties of the periodic table. Visual texts are a quick effective way to grasp students’ attention on a subject and really highlight key points without a lengthy article.

Things to Consider: When utilizing this infographic, students should be asked to discuss or consider the following topics:

  • Note the timeline of discovery of certain groups of the periodic table. How does the discovery of the noble gases compare to that of the alkali metals?
    • Follow up: Why do you think the less reactive alkali metals were discovered prior to the reactive ones?
  • Discussion on the nature of science and global contributions from scientists and the current discovery of new elements, which indicates the tentativeness of science.
    • Ask students how they would fit a new element into the periodic table.


Timeline of the Elements: Dates & Countries of Discovery. (2014, January 26). Compound Interest. Retrieved July 21, 2014, from http://www.compoundchem.com/2014/01/26/timeline-of-the-elements-dates-countries-of-discovery/

2. Introductory Chemistry Textbook Excerpt- History of Discovering Elements


Description: This is an introduction excerpt from Chapter 4 Chemical Foundations: Elements, Atoms and Ions from the textbook Introductory Chemistry, A Foundation. This chapter introduction highlights the importance of chemicals and elements in our everyday lives. It then goes on to discuss how the process of discovering elements came about through history starting as early as 1000 B.C. when chemical applications were beginning. The definition of an element is explained and is still used today.

Text Complexity: The textbook currently stands to be one utilized in a high school chemistry introductory course. According to Story Toolz, the text complexity level is that appropriate for grade levels 9-12. The text provides a photo of the major scientist they discuss as well as a picture of the element lithium discussed. It is an appropriate narrative grasping attention at the beginning with a connection and hook that pulls students into the reading. The text is accessible students with appropriate sentence length and word count for their grade level.

Why Use This Text: I am not one to have the textbook serve as the main route of instruction. However, I believe this excerpt does a nice job connecting the history of elements and provides background information that students may normally choose to skim over. By highlighting this text, students can gain insight into the evolution of chemistry and realize the process of discovering elements has been occurring since 400 BC and still exists in the field of chemistry today. It highlights the tentativeness of the nature of science and proves that definitions and classifications evolve with new scientific evidence. Highlighting this aspect of the nature of science early on can provide students with better scientific literacy to increase content comprehension later with more complex, or indefinite material.

Things to Consider: This text can be an introduction to teaching names and properties of elements. During and after the reading students can be asked to think and discuss the nature of science aspects present across history in discovering individual elements. This text can be paired with the infographic timeline discussed next in this blog as well to reinforce the timeframe that elements were discovered on.

Some Questions to Ask:

  • What kind of evidence would you need to support a new definition of a concept as such as an element or a known explanation for a chemical reaction?
  • Can a known word have more than one definition? How can you determine the difference? Provide some examples where this occurs in science and everyday conversation?


Zumdahl, S., & Decoste, D. (2008). Chemical Foundations: Elements, Atoms, and Ions. Introductory Chemistry (). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

3. The Disappearing Spoon- Chapter 1 Geography is Destiny

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Description: The first chapter of this book highlights the periodic table from its most simple shape and begins to explain its construction piece by piece. The author chooses to proclaim this history in an easy to flow narrative that highlights key groups of the periodic table, the definition of an element, and how the arrangement came to be about. The book in general contains more information about the periodic table and the tales of how the elements came to be discovered.

Text Complexity: The use of Story Toolz displays this text as a grade level appropriate for grades 11-14. It is a nice tool to be used in AP chemistry courses or to challenge a general high school chemistry course. The text may be inaccessible for some students who may lack the prior knowledge or reading level. However, it reads as a narrative story that provides captivating language and intriguing word choices. Front loading or prior knowledge and focusing activities will be needed with this text.

Why Use This Text: This text can be utilized in the classroom as an added piece to understanding and connecting with the foundation of chemistry. It provides upbeat text with interesting stories of the discovering of elements. The author also relates chemical terms and discoveries to real-life student experiences. One example is in determining what it means to be an element. He relates the process of cooling mercury with liquid helium to that of cooling an iPod and discovering that the battery remained fully charged and you could infinitely play music without recharging as long as the helium remained cool. With examples of something the students can connect with, they are more likely to be interested in the reading and want to know more about how the periodic table and chemistry applies to their everyday lives. It also provides students with a more personal connection to the history of chemistry.

Things to Consider: Based on students reading levels and needs, a teacher can decide if this should be a text for after content introduction to provide reinforcement or as an introduction into outlining the periodic table. Personally, I would use this text towards the end of the unit to solidify student knowledge. I think it can provide them with “fun facts” about their study and highlight any topics they may need more clarification on. While reading the text, I would encourage students to underline terms and vocabulary words they may not be familiar with. I would then want them to research the definitions and explain the concept or meaning to a partner. If time does not permit, the terms can serve as an admit slip with definitions or an exit slips with content to be discussed in class the next day. Additionally, the whole chapter can be assigned or just a section as the teacher sees fit.


Kean, S. (2010). Geography is Destiny. The disappearing spoon: and other true tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements (). New York: Little, Brown and Co..

4. Interactive Periodic Table

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 Screenshots of Element Pages. Click Any Image to Explore the Entire Table!

Description: The link above provides access to an interactive periodic table. When the user clicks on an element, a new page opens to describe the history of the elements discovery right below an image of the element. To the left of the new screen a user can discover various properties and characteristics of that particular element.

Text Complexity: Using an online text-complexity scorer, Story Toolz, I was able to generate a reading grade level of 9-12 for this text. Clicking on various elements and inserting their history description into the tool to generate a score produced the range of grade levels. The elements that scored on a higher-grade level were due to some having greater sentence and word length. The information pages also provide a lot of excess information with language that may not have been introduced yet in a chemistry classroom. The titles and headings provide nice guidance for a student that may be inquiring more about the element than just its history of discovery.

Why Use This Text: This text can allow for students to explore the periodic table in an interactive setting other than a poster on the wall or information from a textbook. It provides unique stories that can be pulled out and read before doing a laboratory experiment with the specific element of interest. It again, humanizes the science by explaining how it was discovered and why it exists today. A short excerpt can even be used to introduce a WTL activity about the element or specific properties of the group it is in.

Things to Consider: Students will need some guidance with this website to remove the intimidating factor associated with information overload. Students can each pull an element from a bag at random when entering the classroom. Assuming access to technology is available, students should then be asked to explore their element and read the history of it from the table. Students can then complete a POMS (points of major significance) from their reading to be shared with a partner or the class at large. A discussion can then be had about the different methods scientists use in their research to make discoveries.


Chemicool Periodic Table. 7/21/2014 <http://www.chemicool.com/>.

5. Article- The Periodic Table of Elements

Can Be Accessed for Free Download From:

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Description: Chemists now know that the configuration of electrons around an atom’s nucleus determines each element’s set of chemical properties. Yet, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev had no knowledge of atomic structure or the existence of many of the elements recognized today. This 1 page essay describes the observations and foresight that led Mendeleev to develop the modern periodic table of elements.

Text Complexity: Utilizing Story Toolz, I was able to determine the text complexity of this essay to be that appropriate for 10-12th grade. The longest sentence is 30 words, and the average number of sentences per paragraph is 10. The text lacks photos or visualizations, but displaying an image of Mendeleev’s original table in class serves as a potential visual support if needed. Not much prior knowledge is needed on the periodic table for this text.

Why Use this Text: This text can be used as a hook or introduction into a lab activity on discovering the periodic table and realizing the trends and properties of the table and its elements. It is a shorter essay that will allow students a brief introduction into the history of the discovery of the periodic table.

Things to Consider: In this essay, Mendeleev’s name is spelled differently than commonly seen in textbooks. This is due to the translation and can be edited to be appropriate for the classroom setting or a time to explain the translation of names and pronunciations between countries and languages. More importantly, there are many things to be discussed with a class from the article.

Some questions to be discussed:

  • How are the elements organized in the periodic table?
  • What are some of the properties of the elements by which they can be organized?
  • How was Mendeleev’s periodic table different from those of other chemists of the time?

Citation: WGBH Educational Foundation

Periodic Table of the Elements essay | Science | Classroom Resources | PBS Learning Media. (2004, January 1). Periodic Table of the Elements essay | Science | Classroom Resources | PBS Learning Media. Retrieved July 21, 2014, from http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.matter.ptabledoc/periodic-table-of-the-elements-essay/

6. Periodic Table Video

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 3.40.04 PMClick Image to Access Download for Video

Description: This is a video excerpt from NOVA’s “Hunting the Elements,” on PBS. In the short segment New York Times technology columnist David Pogue explores how the periodic table of elements took shape. He discusses Dmitri Mendeleev and his process for organizing the table by families with similar properties and by relative weights. It additionally highlights how the table is constructed to predict properties of elements that were not known at the time of its creation. An extended 2-hour video of “Hunting the Elements” is available and can be utilized for many purposes. I chose only to highlight a portion with this clip.

Text Complexity: According to the PBS NOVA website, the video clip is appropriate from high school students in grades 9-12. I support this statement based on my assessment tools of text complexity. It is a considerate video with new concepts being introduced one at a time. It provides visual aids and highlighting of elemental descriptions, vocabulary words, and even pictures of Mendeleev and his original table he created. The video uses a familiar tone and has a narrative approach to make comprehension easier. I believe it is an accessible text through the use of visuals, audio, and the option for captions.

Why Use This Text: This video provides a nice introduction and visual tool for students to understand the history of the periodic table. They can relate the concepts stated to the actual table with the features they are discussing being highlighted. It also provides a more detailed historical context to relate the periodic table to. Mendeleev’s original table is shown and his scientific thought process is explained. Students can now visually see the table as a comprehensive tool that evolves throughout history instead of just a resource for atomic weight and other information needed for problem solving. Additionally, signing up for a free PBS account will allow you download and keep the video files on your on computer or stored on your account. This is a great resource for future science lesson and text needs!

Things to Consider: Some front loading may be required for terms such as families and other periodic properties described in the video.

Some Discussion Questions:

  • Why do you think this display of the elements is called the “periodic table?”
  • How was Mendeleev able to predict the existence of unknown elements?
  • How has the periodic table changed since Mendeleev’s time?

Citation: WBGH Educational Foundation

Pogue, D. (n.d.). NOVA “Hunting the Elements”. Developing the Periodic Table. Retrieved July 21, 2014, from http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/asset/nvhe_vid_periodic/


How Can These Texts Be Used Together!?!?!?!?

The text set I have compiled revolves around the aspect of the history of the periodic table and elements. The texts can be used in tandem to develop a unit on the periodic table. This unit can highlight properties and characteristics of elements, periodic trends, history, and the nature of science. Due to the nature of print text and media text, all types of student learning styles will be addressed. The students will be presented similar yet new information from multifaceted outlets. As a result, reader tasks can be increased to develop more purpose and greater concept comprehension. Many of these texts can accompany a laboratory activity where students mimic Mendeleev’s investigations and explore the table and ways to arrange it on their own. Texts 1-3 about the elements serve as a starting point to front-load students with information about the elements. Texts 3-6 can be used after the lab to reinforce the concepts they learned through their inquiry activity. The possibilities are endless to combine these texts into a classroom unit. The most important thing to remember is to assess your classroom and the abilities of your students. Know their preconceptions and misconceptions, so as a teacher you can tailor these texts and accompanying activities to fit the needs of your specific classroom!!

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5 thoughts on “Disciplinary Text Set- The History of the Periodic Table of Elements

  1. You provide a very nice range of texts. While most of them seem geared for upper high school students, the ways in which you use them in coordination with each other (especially the videos) will help the students build knowledge around the topic, taking bits from each text.

  2. Ashley, what a great text set you present here! I think all of the texts you’ve chosen are very practical and realistic to bring into a classroom. I especially like that so many of the texts are physically accessible for your students. I like that they can access them outside of school or on their own devices. You completed a good, in-depth analysis of these texts. I also really liked how you were conscious about the content of your texts overlapping which is a good thing! I agree that it is so important to present students with the same information in more than one way. Finally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing or easy way out to use the text book as a reference. It has a lot of good information in it and it is provided for free to us. I think it should definitely be used, but in an intelligent way as you discussed.

  3. I love the story of Mendeleev and the discovery of the periodic table. Thanks for bringing that back to me. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that story. You did a great job organizing and analyzing the various texts.

  4. I love that you used a ton of texts on the periodic table, it’s one of my favorite things in chemistry and then to have when they were all discovered!? Too cool! I also enjoyed your video gave me some great information even I didn’t know or had forgotten all that the periodic table tells you. I may use some of your stuff in the future now!

  5. The chemicol website is awesome! That is such a great resource, a wealth of knowledge. You post is very interesting to me and will be a helpful resource as I can see myself in my spare time checking out these sights and seeing about the elements. My blog talked about “elements” of a sort as well…the categorization of things really interests me a lot.

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