Check your students’ understanding of atomic structure using self assessment in this lesson plan with activities for 14–16 year olds

This activity enables students to review their ideas about the structure of atoms. They work together in a group to demonstrate their understanding to other students and to the teacher. The teacher provides external validation of the group rather than individual achievement.

This resource is best used to consolidate learning at the end of a period of study on this topic.

Learning objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Understand and make use of ideas about the structure of atoms.

Sequence of activities


  1. Show a photograph of Ernest Rutherford to the students before asking them what he is most famous for.
  2. Explain to the students:
    • The term criterion.
    • How the criteria relate to the learning objectives.
    • That they will work collaboratively.
    • That they will demonstrate that they meet the criteria.

Activity: stage 1

Give a ’Criteria’ sheet to each student. Arrange students into groups of four, with a mix of ability in each.

Next, explain to the students how they are to carry out the activity. They should:

  • Assess whether they think they can satisfy each of the ten criteria listed on the sheet.
  • Tick the first box with each question, if they think they are competent.
  • Ask for help from another member of the group, if they don’t think they are competent.
  • Ask the teacher if all members of the group are not confident about meeting a particular criterion.

Then circulate and support with prompts while students:

  1. Work in pairs to devise questions for the other two students.
  2. Answer the questions posed by the other pair, to demonstrate to the group that they can meet the criteria.
  3. Tick the appropriate second boxes.
  4. Ask for or give help to other members of the group if they fail to meet criteria.
  5. Try again, to demonstrate their competence.

The aim is for all members of the group to be confident that they can all demonstrate that they meet all the criteria.

Activity: stage 2

Invite each group of students to ask for teacher confirmation that they can meet the criteria. Use a randomised check:

  1. Number each member of the group one to four.
  2. Choose a question to test the understanding of some aspect of the topic and choose a number from one to four at random.
  3. Ask the question of the appropriate student.
  4. Pose further questions to other students in the group in this way.
  5. Confirm that all members of the group can meet the criteria or that further work is necessary.


The initial image provides a catalyst for sharing the criteria related to the learning objectives.

Initial self assessment is followed by peer questions and judgements. The focus is on the whole group rather than individual understanding with peer mentoring a feature of this activity. The outcome for each group is externally validated by the teacher.