Fun with patterns and ideas

Yasmin Jayathirtha

I was asked recently how to make chemistry fun in the primary classes. This poses quite a dilemma for me. I don’t understand how chemistry cannot be fun, particularly in the younger classes, since it involves messing about with test tubes, fizzes, colours and more rarely nowadays, stinks. But if you have to teach chemistry concepts (or facts) at a younger age, my only prescription again is to do experiments. So to teach a topic like water, all the possible properties of water should be illustrated through experiments that the children do, and that is fun. What perhaps is not fun is to remember the details like formulae, names, conditions, terms… how do you make that fun? Most drill work can get quite boring because it is repetitive and has the disadvantage that, while easy to do in the context of the chapter, is hard to apply in other situations. What practice can you give that is both fun to do and gives practice?

fig In a previous article we had looked at games that could be played to liven up rote learning. Here, I would like to share some worksheets, ideas for questions (both written and oral) that will give practice in and allow you to assess informally, both facts and concepts. This is important; a child may know the formulae of 20 salts but may fail at figuring out the formula of the 21st, since it has never become apparent to her/him that the charges have to be equal. Taking a hint from language teachers and assessors, who make use of nonsense words and syllables to check understanding of phonics, we can use similar tools. For example, students learn how salts are named from acids as, hydrochloric – chloride, nitric – nitrate, sulfuric – sulfate and so on. To pin down the concept; ‘ic’ in the acid changes to ‘ate’ in the salt usually, we can orally ask what salts are formed from ascorbic, formic, dodecanoic… Since students know they are not expected to have known the names, they can feel free to try and figure out the rules. It is also great fun to roll complicated syllables and names around your tongue. We can then introduce the exceptions, where we need the formula to determine the ending e.g. HCl has no oxygen, so it is a chloride. This can also be used to give the ‘ous’-‘ite’ rules.

Let us look at all the ways we can use puzzle templates to make the required learning enjoyable:
Anagrams, word searches, crossword puzzles, mazes, flowcharts, descriptions to be matched to reactions, flow charts with fill in the blanks, identify the unknowns, all can be used to give required practice to learn the terms and to allow them to think about patterns and ideas. Your fun comes in thinking about what they need to remember and figure out and devising the puzzles to challenge them.

I will share some puzzle formats that I have found useful for practice.

The author works with Centre for Learning, Bengaluru. She can be reached at

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