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  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Role play
Topic: Periodic table

Sulphur is usually the element fingered for the blame when it comes to pollution. But is it really the evil one - or just a boisterous reactive non- metal with as many good properties as bad?

Students research sulphur to get the low down on this "Jekyll and Hyde" chemical; then act out a trial of the suspect element.

Published: 5th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 8

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Learning objectives

Pupils should appreciate that compounds have completely different properties from those of the elements that react to make them. They should also understand that useful chemicals can be harmful if they are not kept under control.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

QCA Unit 9G: Production of acid rain.
QCA Unit 9H: That virtually all materials are made through chemical change.
QCA Unit 8F: Representing compounds by formulae and summarising reactions by word equations.

Running the activity

Suggested starter activity - Get students talking about sulphur with questions like: "What's in the smell of a boiled egg or the gas the dog passes?" Project the stimulus sheet (page 1), which sets the task, and give pupils chance to recall what they already know about sulphur. The sulphur fire at the chemical plant in Iraq produced more pollution than most volcanic eruptions. On average it released 21,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide a day. That's a lot of pollution.

Main activity: Split the class into prosecution lawyers, defence lawyers, and jury members. There are key roles for a judge (or panel of judges) and Sulphur himself. One student could be Oxygen, Sulphur's friend, who pleads for his good character. A court administrator can read the charges. Each student needs one of the three briefing sheets (Page 3) and "The Evidence" (Page 2). The briefing sheets ask students to research sulphur so they can put convincing arguments for the prosecution or defence, or be an informed jury member. "The Evidence" is a summary of sulphur's main uses and reactions. They can work in groups to prepare a prosecution or defence case, or get ready to be jurors. Any additional characters can be briefed separately. 15 mins
Set up the trial, and act it out.
Sulphur comes into the dock and confirms his identity.
The charge is read out.
Prosecution lawyers question sulphur "Do you admit to joining with oxygen to make acid oxides?" etc. Then they sum up the evidence against. 5 mins
Defence lawyers cross examine. "Is it correct that in your role as a detergent you played a major part in cleaning up an oil spill recently?" etc 5 mins
The jury discusses the case in front of the rest of the class e.g. "He looked guilty to me, he makes more acid oxides than he does useful products"... 5 mins
The judge(s) deliver the verdict - sulphur is sent down for life trapped in calcium sulphate OR he's free to react with other elements, and make useful compounds.

News links

BBC News
A news item about the record breaking sulphur fire in Iraq.
Sulphuric Acid
Uses of sulphuric acid
Acid Rain
A well illustrated site covering all aspects of the acid rain problem.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Acid rain

Mar 20th, 2011

5 Star

Wow! This is really fantastic. I like the idea behind it and my students will love this variation to the topic. Thank you.

Reviewer: Carol Smith

Sulphur Activity Review

Jun 21st, 2010

5 Star

Quite versatile - could be used as part of elements, compounds & mixtures or air pollution or properties of materials.

Reviewer: Chris Budd

Sulphur review

May 19th, 2009

5 Star

Excellent - but I teach in a Welsh medium school! Can use the ideas but have to develop own Wl;esh medium materials.

Reviewer: Eflyn Williams

chemistry - elements and compounds

Mar 12th, 2009

5 Star

My top set yr 8 class LOVED this!! They really got into it ans we extended the activity to take the whole lesson with defence and prosecution teams calling witnesses. Our judges came up with their own idea of a restraining order - sulphur was only allowed out under supervision of a qualified chemist. We've filmed this as evidence of an extension activity for Gifted and Talented (as well as cross curricular links)

Reviewer: susan humphreys


Dec 11th, 2006

5 Star

This activity was great fun. I used it with a year 8 class to round off compounds and mixtures. It took them a while to get into it, but once they did, they really got into it. The girls made campaign posters and did press interviews, which were all their own idea. The jury made up their own minds on the verdict by asking lots of questions to the prosecution and defence and this created lots of discussion. Not only did the girls have fun doing this activity, they really got a lot from it about the different properties and uses of sulphur containing compounds.

Reviewer: Karen McWilliam


Jul 2nd, 2006

5 Star

I used this with a year 7 group and it is amazing the ideas they came up with. Very interesting drama and arguments and it set them thinking. Very good closing remarks of prosecution, defence and the jury.
Will be valuable to revisit this under Atoms and compounds in year 8.



May 10th, 2005

5 Star

We adapted the idea by giving pairs of pupils in year 8 different elements to write power point presentations on based on the ideas from the topic they produced a good variety of presentations. We then had votes from the jury on the elements for or against.

Reviewer: jane Le Page

A fun activity if you have the time

Jan 20th, 2005

5 Star

I used this to round off module 8F. I'd allocated roles and set the preparation for the trial for homework. We realised we would need sulphur and family, courtroom officials, witnesses, and reporters as well as the prosecution, defence and jury. The teams spent the first 10 minutes of the lesson getting their approach organised before we started the trial. It was a 50-minute lesson but it wasn't enough. Many students got carried away with the preparation and came in with photographs of the crime scene; little plastic bags of stuff labeled 'Exhibit A' etc and elaborate scripts for cross-examinations. It was clear that they'd seen a lot of court scenes on TV. They really got involved in the acting and we had to limit ourselves to two witnesses – little girl with asthma and dying tree – to fit into time we had. I'd definitely use this one again because it did make the point that sulphur and oxygen are very different from the compound they form. I'd either split the class into two groups, to give everyone more time to speak, or limit the defense and prosecution to one question per witness.

Reviewer: Pam Large