Elemental: finding out where an element’s name comes from

Where did you get that symbol?


You need a periodic table

Look carefully at the element names and symbols then answer the following questions

  1. Why do some elements have a one letter symbol and others a two letter symbol?
  2. Find C, O and Co what are these elements?
  3. Consider CO and Co what is the difference? Can you suggest a rule for element symbols?
  4. Can you name the letter that does not appear as an element symbol?
  5. Some elements have symbols that do not seem to match their English name. Find as many of these as you can and write down their name and symbol.

Discuss your answers with a partner. In green pen make any changes to your answers that you think improve them.


You need access to a computer

Lead – Plumbum

Lead’s Latin name, ‘plumbum’, likely originally derives from a language pre-dating Ancient Greek. This Latin name is also the source of the English words ‘plumbing’ and ‘plumber’.

  1. Using the element vocabulary template provided research lead’s name and why words like plumber share the same root. Next can you find any facts or properties of the element lead?
  2. Choose a second element that’s English name and symbol do not appear to match and complete a new element vocabulary template for it.
  3. For the letter of the alphabet that does not represent any element can you find a reason to suggest why this was never used?

Blank template available here:

elemental 2 template

Exemplar available here:

Exemplar elemental 2silver

This is a fun activity that can add stretch and challenge as well as engagement with the subject. I strongly recommend that you include a game of periodic table battleships or Taboo to make a memorable lesson.


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