The Electron Configuration Concert


Take your students to a concert—an electron configuration concert! Learning the electron filling order will be so much easier for your students once they have mastered this concert analogy.


  • Electron configuration
  • Atomic structure
  • Energy shells


Concert Floor Plan–Duplicating Master*
Concert Floor Plan–Transparency*
Overhead projector
Overhead transparency markers
Seating Chart–Duplicating Master*
Seating Chart–Transparency*
Worksheet and periodic table (pp 5–6)*
*Materials included in kit.

Prelab Preparation

Use the duplicating masters to make photocopies of the Seating Chart and the Concert Floor Plan (one of each per student). Also make copies of the Electron Configuration Concert Worksheet and of the periodic table, one of each per student, for use after the demonstration.


Announce to your students that there will be a concert tomorrow, and today is concert preparation day!

Tell a story such as the one provided, substituting or modifying the details as appropriate for your goals and your class. A sample dialog is provided in italics.

Read: As owner of a small outdoor amphitheatre, I am hiring all of you to help me with a big concert this weekend. Elvis Presley (substitute a favorite performer) will be performing! As my employees, you will have two jobs to perform in order to earn your pay for this weekend’s big event.

First of all, tickets are not sold in advance—they are sold at the gate on a first come/first served basis. You will need to appropriately seat people as they enter the amphitheatre.

Do: Hand out a copy of the Seating Chart and a Concert Floor Plan to each student. Place the Concert Floor Plan transparency sheet on the overhead projector.

Read: Notice the printed floor plan of the amphitheatre and compare it to the seating chart. You will need to fill the seats using these resources. It is very important that the first people at the gate get the best seats in the house. The seating chart is designed so that all of the guests will be seated in the best seat possible, so the seating chart must be followed very carefully.

Do: Place the Seating Chart transparency sheet on the overhead projector.

Read: Notice the diagonal arrows on the seating chart. The diagonal arrows indicate the seating order that must be followed. Start with the endpoint of the top arrow (1s) and slide down the arrow, completely filling the 1s section before moving onto the next section. When you reach the arrowhead, move to the endpoint of the next arrow and follow that arrow down, filling each section in the same manner.

So, let’s practice. First you would fill the 1s (section s, row 1) on the first arrow. Then the 2s (section s, row 2) for the next arrow. Then sections 2p and 3s for the next arrow. Then 3p and 4s. Then 3d, 4p and 5s. And so on. Got it?

But how many people can each section hold? This is a very important question.

Do: Place the Concert Floor Plan transparency sheet on the overhead projector.

Read: There are four different sections in the c amphitheatre—s, p, d and f. Notice that section s has one box in each row, section p has three boxes in each row, section d has 5 boxes, and section f has 7 boxes. And each box has 2 seats, so each box can hold only 2 people and no more. (No exceptions!)

So, let’s practice again.

How many people can each row in section s hold? 1 box × 2 per box = 2 people in s

How many people can each row in section p hold? 3 boxes × 2 per box = 6 people in p
How many people can each row in section d hold? 5 boxes × 2 per box = 10 people in d
How many people can each row in section f hold? 7 boxes × 2 per box = 14 people in f

Run through a practice scenario with your class.

Read: Here is a practice scenario—Seven people arrive for the concert at once and they need to be seated in the proper order.

Do: Have students refer to their seating chart to decide where to start seating. They will see to start at 1s. On the floor plan, use a transparency marker to fill in an upward arrow in 1s for Person 1 and a downward arrow in 1s for Person 2. Point out that 1s is now full.

Read: Since the 1s section is full, where do the next five people sit?

Do: Have students refer to their seating chart. Section 2s is next. Draw Person 3 as an upward arrow in 2s and Person 4 as a downward arrow in 2s. Point out that 2s is now full.

Read: Since the 2s section is full, where do the next three people sit?

Do: Again have students refer to their seating chart.

Read: Section 2p is next, but notice that this section is different—section 2p has 3 boxes so it can hold up to 6 people. Where should you seat three people in a section that holds six? Since it will be a hot day tomorrow, and we really don’t know how many total people will show up for the concert, the sections containing multiple boxes must be filled as follows (for the comfort of the guests). Seat one person alone in each box (so there is plenty of elbow room) and as more people arrive, go back and fill the section.

Do: On the overhead transparency of the floor plan, fill in the three people in section 2p in separate boxes using upward arrows for both, as follows:


Point out to students that it takes three people to half-fill section 2p, and upward arrows are used. If more people were to arrive, the next three people to sit in section 2p would be represented using downward arrows, as follows:


Read: In addition to seating the guests, you will also need to record how many people are present at the event. This total tally will be checked against ticket sales and you will be paid according to the accuracy of your information.

Here is how the information should be recorded. After seating a guest, record the section number along with the total number of guests up to that point. This will assist others in knowing where to seat the next people.

For example, in our scenario above with the seven people, your information should look as follows: 1s2 2s2 2p3

This indicates 2 people in 1s, 2 people in 2s and 3 people in 2p.

Do: Continue seating people as they arrive for the concert. Fill the seats in with arrows (to represent people) on the floor plan sheet.

Do: Be sure to read the tips section and the other helpful student activities. After discussing the electron concept and how it relates to this concert hall idea, distribute the Electron Configuration Concert Worksheet and periodic table for student practice.

Teacher Tips

  • Make copies of the seating chart and floor plan for the students (as well as an overhead transparency) so they can follow along as you tell the story. If desired, only provide the top half of the seating chart page (for more advanced groups or for assessment).
  • A student worksheet is provided for use as follow-up for assessment after the overhead demonstration.
  • Students commonly enjoy teacher’s stories or life experiences to reinforce topical concepts. Change the ideas to fit your situation or preferences. When telling the story, insert the name of a popular or favorite performer. Practice your presentation in advance for best results. Have fun with this exercise!
  • The term “electron” is not used when introducing or performing this exercise. After students understand the idea of seating people at a concert, present this as the way that electrons are “seated” around the nucleus. Only introduce the electron after practicing multiple examples with seating people at the concert.
  • This exercise is designed as an introduction to electron configuration. All of the major skills and concepts can be taught using this exercise. After students grasp the main ideas, then you can label the exercise with the appropriate terminology (e.g., electrons, Aufbau principle, Hund’s rule, Pauli Exclusion Principle, electron spin) as well as exceptions to the rules that you feel are appropriate for the level of the class that you teach.
  • Students always seem to ask why arrows are used to represent people in the concert diagram. A suggestion is to tell them that the boxes are so small that it would be impossible to distinguish people, so arrows work well. Arrows are commonly used in chemistry to represent electrons.

Further Extensions

Helpful Student Activities

  1. After students have heard your presentation, give them additional scenarios to walk through using all of the rules. Give them a scenario of 20 people arriving for the concert. Have them walk through the seating chart, drawing in the people (using up and down arrows) until they have seated 20 people. Also have them write out the tally (electron configuration) to represent 20 guests attending the concert. Make sure all students have the correct electron configuration before moving on.
  2. Repeat Activity 1 using different numbers of people until all students come up with the correct boxes/arrows and the correct configuration.
  3. After you have introduced the idea of electrons “seated” around the nucleus, look at the seating chart again. Notice the totals of all electrons for each principle energy level of the atom. This will help to explain why the first energy level holds 2 electrons, the second holds up to 8 electrons, etc.... Remember to point out that this is not the way to fill the orbitals, but it does explain the totals for each.
  1. Apply the seating chart and the order that the electrons are “seated’ to the way the elements are arranged in the periodic table. The first 2 columns in the periodic table correspond to the s section of the seating chart. The columns containing boron through neon represent the p section. The transition metals in the middle of the table represent the d section. The inner transition metals in the lanthanide and actinide series on the bottom of the periodic table represent the f section. This reinforces the relationship between the number of electrons an atom has and the arrangement of atoms in the periodic table.

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Developing and using models

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
HS-PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter

Crosscutting Concepts

Systems and system models

Performance Expectations

MS-PS1-1: Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

Answers to Questions

  1. In what seat will the 5th person who arrives at the concert be seated? Relate this person to the elements in the periodic table. What is the “name” of the 5th “person” (element)?

    5th person; Seat 2p1; Name is Boron

  2. In what seat will the 8th person be seated? What is the 8th person’s “name”?

    8th person; Seat 2p4; Name is Oxygen

  3. In what seat will the 45th person be seated? What is the 45th person’s “name”?

    45th person; Seat 4d7; Name is Rhodium

  4. If person X is seated in Row 3, Section p, and Seat 5, what is “person” X’s name?

    3p5; Name of X is Chlorine

  5. If person Y is seated in Row 2, Section p, and Seat 6, what is “person” Y’s name?

    2p6; Name of Y is Neon

  6. If person Z is seated in Row 4, Section s, and Seat 1, what is “person” Z’s name?

    4s1; Name of Z is Potassium

  7. If 24 people arrive for the concert, where will the people be seated? Draw the people in the correct places on the concert floor plan, and write the electron configuration (tally).

    1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d4

  8. If 40 people arrive for the concert, where will the people be seated? Draw the people in the correct places on the concert floor plan, and write the electron configuration (tally).

    1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d2


Special thanks to Patrick Kelley, Richland H. S. of North Richland Hills, TX, for sharing this original activity.

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