K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Learn more

Related pages

  • Writing and English as a Second Language: Strategies for helping English Language Learners throughout the writing process.
  • The human atom: Students will act out the role of atoms by dressing up as the atoms of designated elements. They will wear costumes with balloons representing valence electrons. The “atoms” will gain or lose valence electrons in order to achieve chemical stability. The students must then identify the charges of the ions formed.
  • Profiling a potato killer: In this lesson, students use internet resources to determine the factors behind the potato blight that led to the most destructive famine in human history. Students will use the scientific method and inquiry to determine how the pathogen spread over the world and learn some of the historical context surrounding this tragedy.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2008. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • Identify the major contributions of John Dalton, J.J. Thompson, Ernest Rutherford, and Niels Bohr to the development of the Atomic Theory.
  • State and explain Dalton’s atomic theory.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

90 minutes


Technology resources

At least one computer with internet access per group


The teacher will draw a large circle on the board to represent the nucleus of an atom and circles surrounding it to represent energy levels. The teacher will have construction paper circles to represent protons, neutrons, and electrons. The teacher will have a color code written on the board (e.g. protons are red, neutrons are blue, and electrons are black). As the teacher is explaining the structure of the atom, the students are invited to come to the board one at a time and place circles representing parts of the atom in the appropriate locations. After the illustration is complete the teacher poses the following questions as the learning goal for the class:

  • who came up with the model of the atom that we have recreated?
  • what discovery led to this model?
  • what are the key principles of atomic theory?


Students are placed in small groups (no more than 4 students in a group) and given a text describing the contributions of one particular scientist to the development of atomic theory. The students are given the following directions (shortened version of directions should be posted on the board or overhead):


  1. Take 2–3 minutes to read the text quietly to yourself.
  2. One person read the text aloud to the group.
  3. Discuss the text to make sure everyone in the group understands the text.


  1. Answer the questions following the text—record the answers.
  2. Complete the part of the chart that deals with your scientist, all except the sketch. If you lack information at this point, you will be able to add some after you have worked online.

Use the internet

  1. After you have shown the teacher your completed questions and chart you will be given a site to continue your research on the web. (Teacher should create a list of relevant websites and give a copy to the students.) Look for information that will help you complete the chart. Pay special attention to pictures so that you could complete your sketch. Teacher circulates from group to group checking the answers and assisting students as necessary. All factual errors should be corrected now.


  1. You have to present your findings to the class. Divide the information between members of the group and rehearse your presentation. (Teacher may suggest for one person to name the scientist, one person to explain the important words, one person to describe the experiment, and one person to tell about the discovery. If there is more than one group working on the same scientist, they still follow the same procedure, but only one group will present (draw perhaps?); the other group may add information. It is recommended that the teacher watch the students rehearse before presenting.)
  2. Do your presentation/listen to the presentation and record information on the chart. (It is recommended that the teacher fill in the chart on the board or overhead. Sketches will be completed later.)


  1. After the presentations you will be given a list of addresses to go to on the internet. (Teacher creates the list of relevant websites below, considering students’ reading level—teacher may want to give a list to each group.) Your sketches will be completed at this point.
  2. Turn in your completed chart to the teacher.


Teacher will ask the class the same three questions that were posed in the pre-activity:

  • who came up with the model of the atom that we have recreated?
  • what discovery led to this model?
  • what are the key principles of atomic theory? (Students give oral answers.)

The teacher will use the presentation rubric. The
Chart rubric is optional. The rubrics should be introduced to the students prior to the assessment.

Supplemental information


The lesson is appropriate as is for English Language Learners at advanced level of English proficiency because:

  • Texts are language sensitive and manageable in length.
  • Students are heterogeneously grouped.
  • Teacher is available to assist students during the activity.
  • New information is contextualized through sketching.
  • New vocabulary is recycled throughout the lesson.
  • Internet sources should be selected based on the students’ reading level (below grade level).

Alternative assessments

Assessment in this lesson plan is appropriate as is for the English Language Learners at advanced level of proficiency. When assessing the chart, teacher should monitor and correct errors in composition and structure.

Critical vocabulary

  • atomic theory
  • scientist
  • experiment
  • discovery
  • contribution


This lesson plan was developed during the English Language Development Standard Course of Study lesson planning institutes hosted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and LEARN NC, June and July, 2004. It includes specific strategies, instructional modifications, and alternative assessments which make this lesson accessible to limited English proficient students. Please note that this lesson has been aligned with the goals and objectives of the North Carolina English Language Development standards.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Physical Science

        • PSc.2.1 Understand types, properties, and structure of matter. PSc.2.1.1 Classify matter as: homogeneous or heterogeneous; pure substance or mixture; element or compound; metals, nonmetals or metalloids; solution, colloid or suspension. PSc.2.1.2 Explain the...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Development (2005)

  • Objective 0.01: Use new vocabulary in speech.
  • Objective 0.01: Demonstrate writing using a wide variety of complex vocabulary, including academic vocabulary and idioms.
  • Objective 0.02: Identify the main ideas and draw inferences about written text using detailed sentences.
  • Objective 0.03: Analyze modified text by drawing conclusions and making inferences.
  • Objective 0.03: Write about complex themes outside the realm of personal experience.
  • Objective 0.05: Understand academic language conventions across the content areas when spoken at a normal speed with occasional difficulty.
  • Objective 0.05: React to and reflect upon print, non-print text and personal experiences by examining situations from both subjective and objective perspectives.
  • Objective 0.06: Respond appropriately when participating in group discourse by adapting language and communication behaviors to the situation to accomplish a specific purpose.
  • Objective 0.06: Prepare and deliver presentations and reports across content areas.
  • Objective 0.06: Evaluate problems, examine cause/effect relationships, and answer research questions to inform an audience.
  • Objective 0.07: Identify and demonstrate knowledge of various types of communication (e.g., expressive, informational, argumentative, critical).
  • Objective 0.10: Apply conventions of grammar and language usage.
  • Objective 0.12: Utilize reference materials for research purposes (e.g., encyclopedia, internet, thesaurus, English dictionary).
  • Science (2005)

    Grade 9–12 — Physical Science

    • Goal 5: The learner will build an understanding of the structure and properties of matter.
      • Objective 5.01: Develop an understanding of how scientific processes have led to the current atomic theory.
        • Dalton's atomic theory.
        • J.J. Thomson's model of the atom.
        • Rutherford's gold foil experiment.
        • Bohr's planetary model.
        • Electron cloud model.