Carbon Atom Mobile

Carbon Atom Mobile lesson plan

How can something so small be so spectacular? Explore the structure of carbon, the foundational element for all living things. See atoms for yourself!

  • 1.

    Carbon is everywhere -- diamonds, graphite, fuels, even the air you breathe. All plants have carbon as their most important element. Find out more about the value of carbon to our planet.

  • 2.

    The smallest piece of carbon is a carbon atom. It can only be seen with a super-powered microscope. A carbon atom consists of a nucleus (center) with rings of moving electrons around it. Inside the nucleus are six protons (with a positive electrical charge) and six neutrons (with no electrical charge). Six electrons (with a negative charge) are around the nucleus.

  • 3.

    The positive electrical charge of the protons pulls on the negatively charged electrons to keep them around the nucleus. But four of the electrons are called valence electrons, which means they are free to bond with valence electrons from another carbon atom or an atom of another element, such as oxygen or hydrogen.

  • 4.

    Is it hard to picture all this? Build your own carbon atom mobile so you can visualize tiny carbon atoms. Use your own ideas or follow these directions.

  • 5.

    With Crayola® Scissors cut one large cardboard circle into the outer shell, inner shell, and nucleus. Here's one way to do it.

  • 6.

    Fold the circle in half. Cut into the fold about a finger length from the edge. Cut a semi-circle around the inside of the outer circle. Unfold. You will have a large and small circle.

  • 7.

    Trim around the edges of the smaller circle to make it slightly smaller yet. Fold it in half. Cut into the fold about halfway from the outer edge. Cut around the inside again. Trim your smallest circle, which is your atom's nucleus. Unfold.

  • 8.

    Color the nucleus and inner and outer shells with Crayola Washable Markers. Arrange the pieces with the smaller circles inside the larger ones. Cut string long enough to fit across the center of all three pieces plus add extra length for hanging. Lay str

  • 9.

    Use three different marker colors to color cotton balls to represent six protons, six neutrons, and six electrons. Attach protons and neutrons to the nucleus with Crayola School Glue. Attach two electrons to the inner shell and four electrons to the outer


  • Students research the element of carbon, its composition, and the importance of carbon to life on earth.
  • Students design model mobiles of carbon atoms to demonstrate their understanding of the configuration of protons, neutrons, and electrons.


  • Build atoms of other elements. The first 18 elements in the periodic table make up most of the matter in our universe. Research the elements, then create a large display of the periodic table.
  • Who figured it out? Find out about the scientists who made discoveries that are so important to modern chemistry, such as John Dalton, Linus Pauling, Jons Jacob Berzelius, Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, Dmitri Mendeleev, and others.