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Ideas for Teaching Chemistry

Be sure you are familiar with all safety requirements before selecting an activity and purchasing and using chemicals.

Chemistry for Informal Educators content on howtosmile funded by The Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation.

Skeletal chemistry

Chemistry tends to be difficult for many students, partly because of the challenges in both teaching and understanding how macroscopic observations relate to the nanoscale behavior of particles. Research suggests that focusing on the most important concepts can help students build their understanding.

The following nine lists of howtosmile activities are organized based on a set of core concepts in chemistry that were proposed by chemist Peter Atkins in his article "Skeletal chemistry."

Suggestions for Chemicals

There are many resources on the web to help educators follow safe procedures while using chemicals.

Chemical Safety

Before purchasing and using any of the chemicals suggested in the activities compiled on this site, it is essential that you prepare to store, use, and dispose of chemicals safely. Be sure you:

  • Read each activity carefully for all safety information
  • Have all necessary safety equipment before selecting the activity and purchasing chemicals
  • Are familiar with all federal, state, local, and district regulations regarding storage, use, and disposal of chemicals

The Regents of the University of California and assume no responsibility for your use of chemicals or for the safety of any of the activities in the collection. These materials are provided for information only.

Following are several links with helpful safety information.

The "NCW (National Chemistry Week) and Community Activity SAFETY GUIDELINES," published by the American Chemical Society (ACS), provide useful safety guidelines for presentations, hands-on activities, and demonstrations.

The American Chemical Society’s poster can be used to remind learners of "Milli's Safety Tips."

Buying Chemicals

For each chemical cataloged in howtosmile at least one retailer is noted. The link provided in is usually to the smallest quantity of a chemical offered by the retailer. To minimize chemical waste, the American Chemical Society (ACS) advises that "for many reasons, less is not only better; it is less risky and less expensive."

Read the ACS publication "Less is Better."

Retailers might have multiple variations of the same chemical. Make sure you are buying the right amount, the right quality (cheaper is often fine), and the exact chemical you want. (For example, is the chemical supposed to be anhydrous/without water? Should it be in solid form, or in solution?)

(Note: One of the retailers, Flinn Scientific, sells only to educational institutions.)

Storing Chemicals

All chemicals in the website are catalogued according to the Flinn Storage System. Some chemicals are also cataloged with the Stanford Storage Group System. This system is a convenient approach to chemical storage when space and the size of the chemical inventory are limited. Since the system works with only two shelves (plus additional shelves for more hazardous substances), it can be used in many situations.

Disposing of Chemicals

Anyone who undertakes an activity or experiment involving chemicals is responsible for properly disposing of chemical waste. The following resources provide information that will help you choose an appropriate disposal method. As always, be sure you are informed of federal, state, local, and district regulations before you dispose of any chemical.


Chemical information and images are taken from the Flinn and Oxford MSDS, the Flinn catalog, and Wikipedia. The List of commonly available chemicals from Wikipedia and the Acid-Base Indicators at General Chemistry Online! provided additional information.

Search by Chemical

Select from the list below to search for activities that include the chemicals you choose.

  • acetic acid (info)Search for acetic acid
  • acetone (info)Search for acetone
  • acetylsalicylic acid (info)Search for acetylsalicylic acid
  • agarose (info)Search for agarose
  • aluminum (info)Search for aluminum
  • aluminum chloride (info)Search for aluminum chloride
  • Ammonium chloride (info)Search for Ammonium chloride
  • ammonium hydroxide (info)Search for ammonium hydroxide
  • Ammonium nitrate (info)Search for Ammonium nitrate
  • ammonium sulfate (info)Search for ammonium sulfate
  • ammonium thiocyanate (info)Search for ammonium thiocyanate
  • baking powder (info)Search for baking powder
  • barium nitrate (info)Search for barium nitrate
  • Boric acid (info)Search for Boric acid
  • bromocresol green (info)Search for bromocresol green
  • bromophenol blue (info)Search for bromophenol blue
  • bromothymol blue (info)Search for bromothymol blue
  • Calcium carbonate (info)Search for Calcium carbonate
  • calcium chloride (info)Search for calcium chloride
  • Calcium hydroxide (info)Search for Calcium hydroxide
  • Calcium nitrate (info)Search for Calcium nitrate
  • calcium oxide (info)Search for calcium oxide
  • calcium sulfate (info)Search for calcium sulfate
  • cesium chloride (info)Search for cesium chloride
  • citric acid (info)Search for citric acid
  • cobalt chloride (info)Search for cobalt chloride
  • cobalt nitrate (info)Search for cobalt nitrate
  • copper nitrate (info)Search for copper nitrate
  • copper sulfate (info)Search for copper sulfate
  • crystal violet (info)Search for crystal violet
  • ethanol (info)Search for ethanol
  • glucose (info)Search for glucose
  • glycerol (info)Search for glycerol
  • hydrochloric acid (info)Search for hydrochloric acid
  • hydrogen peroxide (info)Search for hydrogen peroxide
  • iodine (info)Search for iodine
  • iron (info)Search for iron
  • iron trichloride (info)Search for iron trichloride
  • iron(II) sulfate (info)Search for iron(II) sulfate
  • isopropyl alcohol (info)Search for isopropyl alcohol
  • lithium chloride (info)Search for lithium chloride
  • magnesium (info)Search for magnesium
  • magnesium chloride (info)Search for magnesium chloride
  • magnesium oxide (info)Search for magnesium oxide
  • magnesium sulfate (info)Search for magnesium sulfate
  • manganese dioxide (info)Search for manganese dioxide
  • methanol (info)Search for methanol
  • mineral oil (info)Search for mineral oil
  • nickel nitrate (info)Search for nickel nitrate
  • nitric acid (info)Search for nitric acid
  • oxalic acid (info)Search for oxalic acid
  • phenol red (info)Search for phenol red
  • phenolphthalein (info)Search for phenolphthalein
  • phosphoric acid (info)Search for phosphoric acid
  • potassium aluminum sulfate (info)Search for potassium aluminum sulfate
  • potassium bromide (info)Search for potassium bromide
  • potassium carbonate (info)Search for potassium carbonate
  • potassium chloride (info)Search for potassium chloride
  • potassium iodide (info)Search for potassium iodide
  • potassium nitrate (info)Search for potassium nitrate
  • potassium permanganate (info)Search for potassium permanganate
  • potassium phosphate (info)Search for potassium phosphate
  • salicylic acid (info)Search for salicylic acid
  • silver nitrate (info)Search for silver nitrate
  • sodium acetate (info)Search for sodium acetate
  • sodium bicarbonate (info)Search for sodium bicarbonate
  • sodium borate (info)Search for sodium borate
  • sodium carbonate (info)Search for sodium carbonate
  • sodium chloride (info)Search for sodium chloride
  • sodium hydroxide (info)Search for sodium hydroxide
  • sodium hypochlorite (info)Search for sodium hypochlorite
  • sodium nitrate (info)Search for sodium nitrate
  • sodium phosphate (info)Search for sodium phosphate
  • sodium polyacrylate (info)Search for sodium polyacrylate
  • sodium silicate (info)Search for sodium silicate
  • sodium sulfate (info)Search for sodium sulfate
  • sodium sulfite (info)Search for sodium sulfite
  • sodium thiosulfate (info)Search for sodium thiosulfate
  • sucrose (info)Search for sucrose
  • sulfur (info)Search for sulfur
  • sulfuric acid (info)Search for sulfuric acid
  • tannic acid (info)Search for tannic acid
  • universal indicator (info)Search for universal indicator
  • urea (info)Search for urea
  • zinc (info)Search for zinc