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A great Organic Chemistry Nomenclature activity

Okay, so I know this is not the most riveting topic for an educational blog, but organic chemistry is what I studied and what I’m passionate about teaching.  I’m always looking for ways to make this subject more interesting for my grade 12 students.   I think I hit the nail on the head with this one.

***** Warning: Organic Chemistry Content! *****

For the chemistry teacher who may be reading this:

I’ve taught my students how to name alkanes, alkenes and alkynes, as well as their cyclo derivatives.  They can name chains and groups up to 12 carbons long.

Here’s the setup: I have the students group themselves into threes or fours.  They are to come up with a challenging organic structure that is nameable using the naming rules they have been taught to date.  As a group, they must also name their own molecule, making sure that everyone in the group agrees with the name they have chosen (this is to help minimize mistakes in names, as the rules can get fairly complex). The next day, they will be paired up with another group.  They will try and name the molecule that the other group gives them.  The group that successfully names their molecule first wins a food prize.

I was amazed at how much they actually became involved in this activity.  Once they started drawing their molecule, you could see in their interactions that they were excitedly trying to make it as complex as possible (knowing that it was going to be a fun competition).  Some groups were even sending out ‘spies’ to see what the other groups were doing so that they could make sure their molecule was the most complex in the class.

It was so much fun for me to watch as well.  It allowed me to step aside from the traditional lecture-style teacher to an observer and ‘walking reference manual’ to answer questions and to help verify that their structures were actually nameable (it’s fairly easy to generate a structure that goes beyond the naming rules that they are taught).  I would even ‘egg’ them on from time to time, saying this like “I think that other group’s structure is more complex than yours…”.  It was great fun.

Here are a few examples of the structures that they came up with (they were more ‘torturous’ than I would ever think to give them!)

Three organic molecules the students came up withI will definitely have to find ways of incorporating this type of activities in other areas of the chemistry courses that I teach!


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