Memorizing is a Waste of Time...

Memorizing is a waste of time… at least where Periodic Table symbols are concern.

It is not uncommon for a chemistry teacher to require students to memorize the names and symbols of various elements. On the surface, this sounds reasonable. Many of the elements will be repeatedly encountered within the class so why not memorize the necessary information? However, I recommend you do not require students to memorize element symbols…or at least that you don’t intentionally give assignments for this.

Let me explain what I mean.

First of all, once I give students the Periodic Table, I never take it away…literally never. Technically, students don’t need to memorize any element symbols because they can always look it up on the Periodic Table. In addition, at the beginning of the year this is just a rote memorization activity. It is void of meaning to students. It is just a list to be memorized.

Rather than require memorization of element symbols, at the beginning of the year I give students the Periodic Table and explain about symbols. I make sure to point out the symbols that are different and discuss the Latin roots for some of the symbols. I then teach and plan with the understanding that students will need a little extra time searching the Periodic Table for elements. I like this searching. It helps students become more familiar with the Periodic Table and location of various elements. To help students along, I will intentionally use problems or class discussions centered around elements with symbols that are difficult to remember. After about the first unit or two, students start learning symbols as well as where to look on the periodic table for different elements. During the process of learning, you can always provide students with an element's atomic number to make the process of locating that element on the Periodic Table a little faster.

By the end of the year, most students (referring to those passing your class of course) will naturally have those symbols memorized (the important symbols anyway). Those symbols will not be memorized because your students sat down to memorize a list of names and symbols but rather because your students have been constantly using them over the course of the school year. Students will even surprise you with having learned and therefore memorized the molar masses of several elements.

So re-think some of that memorization this year.

Happy Teaching :)

- Founder of Chemistry with Confidence

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