The image is of an atom.

Interactive Atom Building Activity

In this simple activity, students play the role of the subatomic particles and position themselves correctly inside or outside of the nucleus.

After instruction on the basic structure of the atom, students can participate in this active model as a review or assessment.



  1. Prior to this activity, make cards in large print (36 pt at least) and braille as follows: 

Only use as many of each type of card as necessary for a given class.

  1. Glue the cards longways onto a piece of cardboard about 5″ X 12″ .
  2. Punch a hole in each side of the cardboard.
  3. Cut a piece of string about 3′ long.
  4. Tie the string through each punched hole so that the cardboard will hang around a student’s neck.
  5. Determine the best way to insure that each student has an opportunity to “play” each subatomic particle.   This may be easiest to do by considering the seating arrangement and having students pass the card they use in each trial  to the person who “normally” sits to the left.  (This will make more sense after reading the procedure.)


Give students the following instructions:

We just learned yesterday about how an atom is built.  Today you are going to build an atom, but you are not going to build it on your desks.  YOU are going to be the electrons, protons, and neutrons!

Instructions to give orally: 

  1. The Hula Hoop represents the nucleus of the atom. (Describe the location of the hula hoop in the classroom.)
  2. You will each be given a label with one part of the atom.  Think about whether you are inside or outside of the nucleus (the hula hoop).  Once you have decided, position yourself in the correct place.

Students will be instructed to complete the first trial of this activity. 

After the students have found the location they believe is correct, review (with student input) the locations of the proton, neutron, and electron.  The students may remember(from recent instruction)  that the proton and neutron are in the nucleus and the electron is outside.  Give students who are in the wrong place, time to adjust their position.

Trial 2:  Have Students repeat this activity after passing the card to the person who normally sits to the right.  If the seating arrangement in your room is such that this won’t work, use another method to make sure all fo the students have the opportunity to “be” each part of the atom.  

Trial 3: Again, have students pass the card to the person who normally sits to the right. Repeat the activity.


After the 3rd round of the activity, have students sit down but keep the label they each have.  Ask – Think about the part of the atom that you represent right now, what is it’s charge?  Students will indicate which charge the subatomic part on their label has by lifting fingers as follows:

The instructor should assess quickly the accuracy of the answers students give, and review the charges as necessary. If time allows, have students pass the cards again (but this time to the right) and determine charge of the part of the atom with a new label.  This may be repeated 3 times if time allows and deemed valuable. so that each student will review the charge of each subatomic particle. 

NGSS Standards:

High School 

PS1- A Structure and Properties of Matter

This activity was adapted from the 8th Grade Science Fusion book (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) by Paul Carlson, a student teacher, at TSBVI.  Many thanks to Paul for sharing his ideas. 

By Laura Hospitál

Collage of Interactive Atom Building Activity

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