by Lorenzo Selby


Lorenzo Selby is a graduate student at SDSU. He is currently a middle school math/science/business/computer teacher.


Instructional Objective Depending on the level of play, the learners will be able to a.) Recognize and state the name of a chemical element from its chemical symbol (Elemental Go Fish!), b.) Accomplish part a.), and combine them and "multipliers"to form proper chemical molecules (It's Elemental!), c.) Accomplish parts a.) and b.), and group them into their chemical families (Molecular Poker), or d.) Accomplish part a.), and compose and write pertinent clues regarding the identity of specific chemical elements (Elemental Trivia).


Learners/Context The learners are middle school general science students. They are completing an instructional unit on Introduction to Chemistry.

The game reinforces lessons about basic chemistry such as recognizing the names of elements from their symbols, combining elements to form molecules, and using the concept of valence electron to understand the attraction/repulsion aspect of elements.


Rationale This game is an appropriate format for the identified learners and instructional objective. The abstract nature of the lesson content is reinforced by visual representations and manipulatives. Active participation ensures the students' sustained attention during the activity. The rules of all four game variations correlate with the complex patterns and order intrinsic to the subject. The card game is portable. It is quick and easy to play. The rules are familiar, therefore the game's learning curve does not inhibit the learners from attempting the game. The four variations have increasing levels of complexity and difficulty that provide the less-able students incentive to move beyond their current skill level.



Players Two to six people may play at the same time.


The Deal. Distribute the cards one at a time to the left (clockwise), beginning with the player at the left of the dealer. Each player receives seven cards.


The Play. The player to the left of the dealer plays first and the turn to play passes continuously to the left (clockwise). In their turn, each player must adhere to the following order:


a.) Draw. The player must begin by drawing one card: the top card of the stock or discard pile.


b.) Molecule> The player may then place any number of cards from their hand face up on the table, provided that the cards form a proper molecule or proper addition to molecules already on the table. The molecule must be properly identified before the cards are laid down.


c.) Discard. The player must end their turn by placing one card from their hand face up on the discard pile, except that the player need not discard if all of their remaining cards have been used to create proper chemical molecules.


Laying Off. A player may lay off cards from their hand onto their own, or onto an opponentís, previously played cards.


Challenging. After a player is finished with their turn, any other player may challenge the play. A player must announce a challenge prior to the next play. The dealer will then verify that the molecule just created is proper from a list that is included with the game. If the challenged molecule is proper, the challenged player then adds twenty points to their score. If the challenged molecule is improper, the challenger then adds twenty points to their score, and the challenged picks up the cards just played and loses their turn.


Going Out. When any player creates a molecule using all cards remaining in their hand, they thereby go out and win the deal for the next game. Cease play and score the deal. If no player goes out by the time the stock is exhausted, turn the discard pile face down (without shuffling) to form a new stock, and continue play.


Scoring. When a player goes out, each other player pays winner for the points left in their hand as shown on each card. "Multiplier" cards are added at their face value. A player goes rummy if they play all of the cards in their hand on their first turn. In such case, the losers must pay double.

Scoring Variation: Scores may be multiplied by the number of different elements used to create the molecule. (This provides added practice in basic math skills, but will slow the game.) Calculate the scores as the difference in points played less the points of all cards held at the end of the deal. Negative scores may be possible.


Multiplier Cards. Create molecules two ways, a.) by using only the element cards in one's hand, such as HOH to represent a water molecule, or b.) by using a multiplier card, such as H2O to represent the same water molecule.


Card Design One face of each card has the chemical symbol for an element and its number of valence electrons. The other face has the name of the same element and the number of points that card is worth. The more common an elements, the lower its worth. The more rare the element, the higher its worth.


Deck Design. The deck has a total of 84 cards, comprised as follows:

8 each Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen; 4 each Carbon and Calcium: 2 each Helium, Sodium, Potassium, Silver, Gold, Tin, Silicon, Sulfur, Copper, Chlorine, Iron, Zinc, Mercury, Aluminum, Iodine, and Lead. Other elements could be added, but for an introductory lesson, this list is sufficient to teach the concepts. Another 20 cards are ìmultiplierî cards. These are worth 2, 3, or 4 points, as stated on each card.


Ancillary Materials. Each game contains a list of acceptable molecules with names and a small periodic table.


Sample Cards

Playing Card Side 1: Chemical Element Name and Card Value.

Playing Card Side 2: Chemical Symbol and Number of Valence Electrons

Multiplier Card Side 1

Multiplier Card Side 2

Design Process The target audience is seventh grade students and the supercontext is general science. I have found introductory chemistry to be a difficult subject to teach: it is dry and abstract. A game should provide the engagement my students need to learn the basic concepts of elements and their names. I work with a widely diverse population, therefore I need an activity that can accommodate students with extremely low skills (2nd and 3rd grade level reading) to students with more advanced skills (up to 12th grade level reading).

The version described here is for the student who needs practice in combining elements into molecules using the concept of valence electrons.


The deck can easily accommodate the less-able student as a "Go Fish" game. Each card has the chemical symbol on one side and the name of the element on the other. Each player can see only the names of the elements in their hand and the symbols on the backs of the other player's hands. The players must request a card from their opponents by calling the card by its proper chemical elemental name.


The deck can also accommodate advanced students as a Poker game. In this game each player can see only the names of the elements in their hand and the symbols on the backs of the other player's hands. The number of valence electrons must be covered for this variation of the game. Players attempt to build threes-of-a kind, full-houses, and so on, using the chemical elemental families as suits. A small periodic table is included for verifying correctness.



1.) Molecular Royal Flush (a molecule that consists of all five cards)

2.) Molecular Straight Flush (consists of three unalike elements of the

 same chemical family

3.)Five Elements-of-a-kind

4.)Molecular Full House (two molecules that consist of all five cards)

5.)Four Elements-of-a-kind

6.)Molecular Flush (a molecule that consists of four cards)

7.)Molecular Straight (consists of two unlike elements of the same

 chemical family)

8.)Elemental Full House (consists of three elements-of-a-kind and two


9.)Three Elements-of-a-kind

10.)Two pair of elements

11.)One pair of elements

Yet another variation, styled after "Trivial Pursuit", exercises students' language skills. After cards are dealt, players must compose and write one clue about one of the elements that is in their hand. Players lay cards down for all to see, and place their clues in the center of the table. In rotation, each student draws a clue and attempts to match their clue with one of the elements in the clue-writer's hand. Both players get points if a match is made, thereby rewarding both good clue writing and chemical content knowledge.

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Educational Technology 670, Fall 1996.