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  • Writer's pictureAndroy

Effective Strategies: A Card Game for Teaching Ionic and Covalent Bonding to Chemistry Students

A Game-Based Learning Approach for Teaching and Learning Chemical Bonding

A card game to assist students in learning ionic and covalent bonding

The Importance of Learning Chemical Bonding

Chemical bonding is a critical topic in chemistry because it provides insights into the structure, properties, reactivity, and behavior of substances.

It forms the basis for understanding the formation of molecules and compounds, predicting reactions, and exploring the complexities of various scientific disciplines, from biochemistry to materials science.

In this blog post, I discuss the use of the Make Em’ Bond Card game in my chemistry classrooms (from high school to college level) to improve my students' understanding of Ionic and Covalent Bonding.

Common Challenges Faced by High School Students Learning Chemical Bonding

While chemical bonding is crucial for understanding the subject, students often encounter various challenges when learning about it. Some of the difficulties chemistry students face when studying chemical binding include:

  • Abstract Nature: Chemical bonding involves abstract concepts, such as electron sharing and molecular structures, which can be challenging to visualize and comprehend. Students may struggle to grasp these concepts without tangible models or visual aids.

  • Complex Terminology: Chemistry, in general, is known for its specialized vocabulary. Learning and understanding the terminology associated with chemical bonding, such as valence electrons Lewis structures, and hybridization, can be overwhelming for students.

  • Electron Configurations: Understanding the electron configurations of elements and how they relate to bonding is a foundational aspect of chemical bonding. The rules governing electron placement and the determination of valence electrons can be perplexing.

  • Lewis Structures: Constructing Lewis structures to represent molecular and ionic compounds requires careful consideration of electron placement. Students can find this process challenging and error-prone.

All of these difficulties can be addressed when implementing the Game-Based learning approach.

Exploring the Advantages of Game-Based Learning in the Chemistry Classroom

Exploring the advantages of game-based learning in the chemistry classroom

  • Engagement and Motivation: Games are inherently fun and engaging, which can motivate students to participate actively in the learning process. They are more likely to be excited about and committed to educational content presented in a game format.

  • Active Learning: Games often require active participation, problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making. This can lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter compared to passive learning methods.

  • Immediate Feedback: Many educational games provide immediate feedback on a student's performance, allowing them to learn from their mistakes and make corrections in real-time. This can accelerate the learning process.

  • Enhanced Memory Retention: The interactive and immersive nature of games can enhance memory retention. Concepts learned through games are often better remembered, as students associate information with memorable game experiences.

  • Increased Autonomy: Games allow students to take control of their learning, making choices and decisions that impact the game's outcome. This sense of autonomy can boost self-confidence and motivation.

How to Play the Make Em' Bond Card Game to Improve Student Understanding of Chemical Bonding

The Goal of the Game

The central goal of players is to collect as many stars as possible by forming different molecules with their element cards. Ionic compounds or covalent compounds may be formed however, covalent compounds carry more points.

Suppose you are interested in having students learn the ions and their charges and focus on the formation of ionic compounds.

In that case, I have a different card game focused on ions and ionic bonding which you can learn about here.

The Cards

Each card displays the Lewis structure of the element (there are four of a kind and two of each noble gas) and the number of stars students will earn by playing this card to make a compound.

A calcium atom has a valency of two and can form two  bonds with another element, this will earn a player two stars

The number of stars earned is equal to the valency of the element. The valency of the element represents the number of bonds that an atom can form as part of a compound.

I always run through the concept of valency with my students before the activity. In so doing, students have a better understanding of how the elements bond to form compounds making it easier for them to figure out the formula of a compound.

One strategy used for addressing valency is by having students sort the cards into groups of elements with the same valency and discuss how valency is related to the number of valence electrons and the group number of the element.

Starting the Game

  • Pick a student to shuffle the deck of cards each deck will have 74 cards (x 2 of each Noble gas and x4 of the other 17 elements ). Students could be picked based on birth dates or by drawing numbers to keep things fair.

  • The game can be played with as few as 2 players and up to 6 players

  • For 2 - 3 players each player should receive 7 cards

  • For 4- 6 players each player should get 5 cards.

The rest of the cards are placed face-down in the middle of the playing area. This is your pool of elements or as I prefer to call it The Periodic Table. When someone has to grab an element they will retrieve their cards from this pile.

Forming Molecules

The game is played similar to Go Fish! Instead of collecting matching cards, students try to form molecules. The first player starts by first looking at their hand and attempts to make a molecule by asking another player for the element they needs.


Player 1 has carbon and one oxygen in hand. Carbon monoxide CO can be formed and this player can earn 6 stars.

students can form a carbon monoxide molecule and earn six stars

Or the player can ask for an oxygen card and form carbon dioxide CO2 instead of earning 8 stars

students can form a carbon dioxide molecule or a nitrogen molecule to earn 8 or 6 stars respectively

With the hand available, This player could also form nitrogen molecule, N2 = 6 stars

The player will have to strategize and determine which molecule will earn them the most stars.

The Rules

  • A player can only ask one person at a time and can only ask about one element.

  • A player can only ask about a specific element only if they already have that element in their hand.

For example, A player cannot ask for oxygen if they do not already have an oxygen card.

  • If a player has the card or element that you asked for they must give you ALL of those cards. If not then you are required to "grab an element" from the periodic table.

  • If you get the cards you asked for then you can take another turn. You can ask the same person about a different card, or ask a new person.

  • Once you have formed a molecule, you need to show the other players your cards as proof and write the formula of your molecule on your score sheet.

To add an extra element of learning to the game I tell my students that they can dispute a molecule created by another player. In that case, the player will be required to draw a Lewis structure or dot and cross diagram depending on what has been taught) to prove that their formula is correct. This is also a great form of practice for students.

“Proving” structures can be done during the game or after the game has concluded.

Winning the Game

  • The player with the highest number of stars once The periodic Table (deck of cards is empty) wins the game.

  • If a player runs out of cards while there are still cards in The Periodic Table they must draw a card from the pile and continue playing.

  • If there are no more cards in the periodic table and a player is no longer holding any cards they can wait until the game has ended and then find the total number of stars earned.

Bonus Points (The Noble Gases)

Although students cannot technically form molecules with the noble gases I have included two of each of the noble gases Helium, Neon, and Argon in the deck. Students can collect these cards throughout the game. A student can earn three additional stars by collecting one of each noble gas.

students can collect noble gas cards to earn bonus points

The only rule is that players cannot request noble gases from other players like they would the other elements.

What Your Students Learn while playing the Make Em' Bond Card Game when learning about chemical bonding

Students will learn and understand :

  • The concept of valency and how it relates to the number of bonds formed

  • How to determine the formulae of simple ionic and covalent compounds and how to write the formulae correctly

  • How to draw Lewis and/or dot and cross diagrams to demonstrate ionic and covalent bonding in different compounds.

How to Use the Make Em' Bond Card Game in Your Chemistry Classroom

  • Reinforcement Activity: after teaching the topic of chemical bonding I usually set aside some time to have students practice making molecules. They can identify the metals from the non-metals and determine whether an ionic or covalent bond will form

How playing chemical bonding game in the chemistry classroom can expand student knowledge

  • Peer learning/teaching: students can learn from each other as they play the game when they form molecules and dispute structures

  • Revision: Before starting a related chemistry topic such as VSEPR writing equations or even organic chemistry I have students engage in a session or Make Em’ Bond to revise bonding and writing formulae.

Different Versions of the Card Game

I have different versions of this game to fit every season. You can pull out the Love Bonds version for Valentine's Day, or just for a love theme.

I use the love bonds version throughout the school year and tell my students the elements are lonely and want to form compounds.

The spooky version is great for Halloween when you want a quick revision session on bonding around that time.

Be sure to laminate these cards, or you can print these out on card stock paper. I use these, and they last me a long time.

If you want to focus on ions, ionic charges, and getting students to practice writing formulas for ionic compounds, this is another great card deck for you.



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