Reactivity Series: Demonstration

About this practical...

This is a demonstration activity, sadly, we cannot let you use a lot of these substances. Rather than just learn the reactivity series, watch the reactions and judge for yourself why these metals are in this order.


Firstly, demonstrate the reactivity of Li, Na and K in water, this will allow the class to clearly arrange the first 3 elements

When these have been put in order put a piece of calcium in a boiling tube of water and some magnesium in another one. The calcium will merrily fizz but the magnesium will do nothing. Calcium can then sit underneath lithium on the board. Now put magnesium and zinc in a boiling tube each part filled with hydrochloric acid. The magnesium reacts much more vigorously than the zinc so they too can be placed on the board

Next, put into fresh boiling tubes of hydrochloric acid, copper and iron. Show that these cannot be seen to react at all, even with acids. I now get the students to apply their knowledge to decide which of these is most reactive. If they struggle to get there, remind them of rusting cars. bikes and outdoor structures. Then remind them that their drinking water arrives through copper pipes and if it reacted, you would be drinking what came out.

Finally gold, even if you dipped gold leaf into the acid, you cannot see the reactivity differences from the above. Remind them that there are Egyptian artefacts made from gold that are still as lustrous and when made 4000 years ago.

Final task. Drop a piece of Ba into water and ask them to position it into the order that they have made. Make the students justify their choice.

Safety & Managing Risks

This is a demonstration rather than a class practical, however, it is worth reminding all that staff and students in the room need to wear goggles and that a safety screen is needed when the alkali metals are being used. For more detailed information, please consult CLEAPSS.

Technician notes:

Small samples of Li, Na, K, Ba in oil

Small pieces of Zn, Mg ribbon, Ca

Iron nail, copper sheet

Boiling tubes x 4

HCl(aq) 2 moldm-3

Large glass bowl for alkali metals

Safety screen


Filter papers x 2

Universal indicator or phenolphthalein (if requested)

This page was updated on: 8th January 2022