A picture of a hula hoop

Interactive Atom Activity Part 2: Using a Hula Hoop

In this activity, students demonstrate their understanding of the structure of the atom and their ability to use the AZER Periodic Table Reference Booklet.

Students use the Periodic Table and AZER Reference Booklet to build an atom of an element given only the element symbol or atomic number.  

Students are given an atomic number, element symbol, or element name and must determine from the Periodic Table how many protons, neutrons, and electrons are needed. Students must identify the element.  The students will then create an accurate model using a hula hoop as the nucleus and themselves as the parts of the atom. 

This activity is appropriate for students in grade-level middle school and high school classes who have learned to use the AZER Periodic Table Reference Book.  Students in high school may and have been taught not only the basic structure of the atom but also the location of electrons in levels. 



  1. Prepare cards in large print/braille for the elements to be built.  The students will wear these cards when they build the atoms.  I recommend elements in the 2nd row of the periodic table such as carbon or oxygen.
    • The cards should read as follows for Carbon:
      • Electrons – 6
      • Neutrons – 6
      • Protons – 6


If only one student is completing this activity, modify as necessary,

  1. Tell students that they will be building an atom themselves today using a hula hoop as the nucleus and themselves as the protons, neutrons, and electrons.  In order to do so, they will need to figure out how many protons, neutrons, and electrons that this element has.  They will each have a Periodic Table Reference Booklet to use. Field questions from the students before passing out the cards.
  2. Tell the students that they will have a race to find this information.  Once a student has found this information, he should write it down and raise his hand so that all of the students can have the chance to work through the process of finding it.  Some students may need assistance finding the correct table, while others will be able to do this on their own. If you have any kind of point system in your class, you may want to offer points. 
  3. Give 1/2 of the class a card with the name of the element.
  4. Give the other half of the class a card with the same element symbol.
  5. Tell the students to begin. 
  6. After about 5 minutes, discuss which element this is and the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
  7. Discuss how students came to their answers. 

Building the atom:

  1. Assign each student a subatomic particle – electrons, neutrons, or protons. Remind the students of how many of each are found in this atom.  Give each student the prepared label.  
  2. Students will place themselves appropriately in the nucleus (hula hoop) or outside of the nucleus.  (See variations for students who are familiar with electron levels and may be able to include this content in the activity.
  3. Correct the placement if necessary.
  4. Repeat the activity using a different element.



NGSS Standards

High School – PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter

By Laura Hospitál

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