How Very Latin is the Period Table of Elements?

By Jennifer Gioia, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

a few class periods as needed


Students are expected to discover the rich linguistic history of the elements found on the periodic table.  This lesson is an example of how students can begin to understand the cross curricula nature of Latin.  For more science and math oriented students, this lesson has the potential make positive connections with language.

National Standards


Students will be able to understand the symbols and words associated with the periodic table of the elements in both the realm of Latin and Chemistry. Students will be able to recreate a periodic table linguistically using their knowledge of Latin. The National Classical Language Standards will be applied, emphasis on classical language relationship to other disciplines. Common Core Standards will be applied as well in regards to science. The design process will aid in the implementation of this lesson because it will allow students to see connections between disciplines not ordinarily recognized by many students. It will make Latin come alive for them in ways that they had not considered through chemistry and history.   Final products will consist of the following for an audience of their peers as well as faculty members: individual element information, written passage in both English and Latin, oral presentation by groups, and all classes recreating the periodic table on a wall outside of the classroom. Advanced and gifted students will be assigned two or three elements to research. Struggling learners will be appropriately placed in groups in order to receive peer tutoring as necessary.          


  Classroom resource book: Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.  This text contains a history of each element will assist students in their research along with access to a computer and the internet. Students may also use their assigned chemistry books as a resource.  


Colored paper/ construction paper markers, pens, colored pencils instruction sheet for reference


Students will learn or relearn select chemistry vocabulary and in particular an analysis of the names of the elements and their Latin roots.  Some of the names of the elements will correspond vocabulary already covered in the Latin Ecce Romani series.


Students will need to be grouped after initial briefing on the lesson. I teach three sections of Latin, and each student, although working in groups, will be responsible for researching one element of the periodic table linguistically, historically, and scientifically. Work done groups will help students determine if words are Latin based and were known to or available to the Romans.   I Project briefing, element and group selecting (teacher modeling, explaining procedures)   II Group and Individual work researching elements (teacher observation and role of facilitator, mentor, tutor as needed)   III Students will create products individually—element information on 8X11 paper, color coded to represent table grouping   IV Students will each write a creative passage in first person as the element selected in two languages (English and Latin)—one passage but at least 25% of the passage must be composed in Latin and the rest in English. (Teacher as facilitator and mentor)   V Students will give group presentations and briefings on individual elements and group findings on how each one fits the challenge or not as well as placement in the Periodic Table—(teacher as facilitator and mentor)   VI Students will create periodic table on outside wall (teacher will assist in displaying final class product)        


Student products will demonstrate whether or not students have been successful in learning the objectives.  Students can be groups in various ways and not limited to similar abilities or strength grouping.  A teacher made rubric can be created, or to make the classroom/lesson experience more student-centered, the rubric can be student-created with a teacher in more of a facilitator role.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Further collaboration can done with a chemistry teacher as needed.  At my school, juniors take chemistry the same year they select their foreign language..

Teacher Reflection

Careful observation and reflection by the teacher is necessary in determining lesson adjustments.  It became evident very quickly that more consultation with a chemistry or chemistry teachers needs to be done.  Also timing is important.  This lesson is better designed for the second semester of Latin on a block schedule (4, 90 minute class periods).  By the second semester, all juniors will have had or currently taking chemistry.  The lesson is designed with the assumption that students already have a decent and basic Latin derivatives can be discovered.

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