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5 Ways to Make Chemical Nomenclature of Inorganic Compounds Approachable to Students

Usama Attiq
Teaching with Labster
October 20, 2022

Introduction: Chemical nomenclature (inorganic compounds)

Nomenclature is a method of giving names to chemical compounds, so we can easily differentiate between these compounds. Nomenclature is an effective process in the field of science and several other situations. Generally, the chemist uses nomenclature to identify compounds according to their names.

Inorganic chemistry is a branch of chemistry that deals with chemical compounds other than carbohydrates. In inorganic chemistry, we can learn about metals, metalloids, and mineral compounds. Inorganic compounds are classified into four types; salts, acids, water, and base. These compounds are used as medicines, catalysts, pigments, and fuels. Inorganic compound nomenclature is important because there are thousands of compounds present in the world. 

Many chemicals are used in our daily lives and we use common names for these substances rather than systematic names. For instance, ammonia (NH3) is a gas that has a pungent smell. The systematic name of ammonia is “nitrogen trihydride” which is rarely used by people. In general practice, chemists use more common names of compounds as compared with the systematic name.  

There are several aspects of chemical nomenclature that may be confusing for students. We, at Labster, compiled all the complexities that students experience during learning about the chemical nomenclature of inorganic compounds. Then, we provide five ways that can make the topic simpler for learners to understand. At the end of the topic, we will convince you why a virtual lab simulation is important for teachers to explain the topic to their students. 

Figure: An image of periodic tables represents the metals, metalloids, and nonmetals from Labster’s theory. 

Why chemical nomenclature can be tricky to learn

There are three main reasons that can make the chemical nomenclature of inorganic compounds difficult for students to understand.

1. It feels abstract

In organic chemistry, several abstract terms are used. For instance, cations, anions, atoms, nucleus, and electrons. We cannot see these things with the naked eye. For instance, the cation is a species that loses electrons from an atom. Students cannot see atoms or lose electrons, so they need to imagine or remember them from the textbook. So, it is hard for students to learn about abstract terms and inorganic chemistry mainly consists of abstract concepts and theories.

2. Inorganic chemistry covers the maximum number of elements

Inorganic chemistry is a hard topic to learn because there are some concepts that need to be remembered. It covers the maximum elements present in the periodic table. So, students may find it difficult to understand the complex nomenclature of inorganic compounds. It takes time to learn the basic steps of nomenclature. There are nearly five hundred thousand inorganic compounds present in the world. So, it may be tricky for students to remember the chemical nomenclature of compounds.

3. It’s content-heavy

When you need to learn about the chemical nomenclature of inorganic compounds, it is important to follow the IUPAC rules. According to the IUPAC rule, the inorganic compounds are classified into Ionic compounds, Binary acids, Oxyanions, Oxyacid, and weak conjugate bases. In each classification, there are different explanations of naming and different compounds are involved. Sometimes, students may get confused while learning the chemical nomenclature of inorganic compounds due to the complicated and heavy content.

5 ways to make chemical nomenclature a more approachable topic to understand

As we explain the reasons that make chemical nomenclature a tough topic to learn. There are five ways that can be helpful for students to understand this topic.

1. Talk about the people behind that science

Jons Jacob Berzelius (1779 – 1848)

Jons Jacob Berzelius was a Swedish chemist who contributed to modern chemistry nomenclature. He is known as the “Father of chemistry.” He suggested that chemical compounds should be named by their properties. He also introduced the method of 1 letter and 2 letters atomic symbols. He explained that chemical compounds should be described by using chemical formulas. In 1813, he published a paper regarding molecular formulas. His work related to the new nomenclature of inorganic compounds was displayed in 1819. Moreover, he was the first person who differentiated inorganic compounds from organic compounds.

2. Basic knowledge of inorganic nomenclature

In inorganic chemistry, there are two kinds of compounds; ionic compounds and chemical compounds. The ionic compounds are formed when an atom loses or gains an electron. It consists of cations and anions. An atom is called a cation when an atom loses one or more electrons. The anions are produced when an atom accepts one or more electrons. If we talk about ionic compound nomenclature, it is classified into two groups.

  1. Nomenclature of monatomic ions

  2. Nomenclature of polyatomic ions

Nomenclature of monatomic ions: The names of monatomic ions can be given by the name of the cation followed by the name of the anion. It means that the name of the metal is followed by the name of a nonmetallic element. In these compounds, the name has the ending with “-ide”. For example, NaCl is a compound named sodium chloride in which Na is a cation and is always present at the first. While Cl is an anion that is modified as “chloride” and written after Na.

Nomenclature of polyatomic ions: The names of polyatomic ions can be written as same as monatomic ions but there is no need to use “-ide” at the end. For example, NaHCO3 (sodium bicarbonate) and (NH4)Cl (ammonium chloride). 

chemical nomenclature virtual lab

Figure: An image shows the nomenclature of ionic compounds from Labster virtual laboratory of chemical nomenclature

3. Relate to the real world

Inorganic compounds play an important role in our daily lives because we are using several compounds every day. When students know about the examples of inorganic compounds in the real world, it can help them remember the compounds' names more appropriately.

  • Sodium Chloride: The most common example of an inorganic compound is sodium chloride (NaCl) which is used as ordinary table salt. It acts as food preservable and also provides flavors to the food. Sodium chloride is an important product used for cooking purposes. Additionally, it is helpful for the production of plastic and other products.

  • Sodium Fluoride: Another example is sodium fluoride (NaF) which is a main ingredient of toothpaste. It prevents tooth decay and bacterial growth inside your mouth. Sodium fluoride also worked as a pesticide to kill insects and use for the fluoridation of water.

  • Calcium carbonate, Magnesium hydroxide, Aluminum hydroxide: Calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, and aluminum hydroxide are available in the antacids. Antacids are medicines that help to neutralize the acid content of your stomach. It is effective to prevent heartburn symptoms.

  • Sodium bicarbonate: Sodium bicarbonate is commonly called baking soda. It is used in different medicines to reduce the symptoms of heartburn, indigestion, and stomach irritation. Sodium bicarbonate is also used for cooking purposes and is mostly available in the kitchen.

  • Sodium carbonate: Sodium carbonate is an effective ionic compound and is also known as washing soda. It is used in the production of soaps and detergents because it works great in hard water.

  • Potassium phosphate: Potassium phosphate is another inorganic compound that has several uses in daily life. For instance, it is an effective food additive. Also, it is used in injection form to treat hypophosphatemia.

4. Seeing is believing

Color diagrams make a tough topic like chemical nomenclature more interesting for students. Due to the diverse colors, they can better understand the naming of the inorganic compounds. It can also be effective in differentiating between the different compounds. It is better for students to remember visual diagrams rather than written theories. The reason is that color diagrams can be stored in their memory more easily.

The color diagram presented below explains the nomenclature of anionic compounds. Anions are those compounds that accept electrons and get negative charges. Through this image, learners can understand the naming process of anions. They can differentiate whether they need to use “ide” or “cen” at the end of the name. For instance, the first example is oxygen. The root is “oxy” while the suffix used is “gen”. But when oxygen accepts the pair of electrons and becomes an anion. Then, the root is “ox” while the suffix is “ide”. 

chemical nomenclature virtual lab 2

Figure: An image shows the element's name and anions from Labster virtual laboratory of chemical nomenclature

5. Use of virtual lab simulation

The virtual lab simulation is an advanced way to teach students complex topics like chemical nomenclature. It can make topics easier and simpler for students to understand. Using a virtual lab in class can help teachers properly explain difficult topics. At Labster, we provide a 3D simulation with gamification elements like storytelling and a scoring system. These features clarify the concepts of students.

Labster's chemical nomenclature simulation explains the monatomic cations and ions, formulas and naming of monatomic, naming of simple and covalent inorganic compounds, and formulas of simple and covalent inorganic compounds.

Check out Labster's chemical nomenclature simulation here, or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual lab simulations with your students.

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