Acid and Alkali Quiz

Here is a fun quiz for early year secondary students, Key Stage 3 (KS3; ages 11 to 14), to find out whether chemicals present in everyday life are acids or alkalis.


A brief introduction to increase the students’ knowledge and understanding of acids and alkalis prior to the quiz. Subjects to include:

  • Acids – solutions of pure compounds in water. Corrosion. Strong and weak acids.
  • Alkalis – examples of strong and weak alkalis.
  • Neutral Substances.
  • Litmus solution and paper tests.
  • The pH scale.


  • To give students the opportunity to consider the acidity or alkalinity of chemicals used in everyday life.
  • To increase understanding of the pH scale and universal indicators to categorise the strength of acids and alkalis.
  • The quiz will also develop analytical thinking, discussion and teamwork skills.

Materials & Methods

A list of cards and posters/slides required for the quiz. The quantity of cards will depend on class numbers. These can be laminated to keep in good condition for future use.


  • 14 cards with the colours of universal indicator papers (figure 2).
  • 14 cards with descriptions of acid and alkali strength (figure 2).
  • Picture cards of item (chemical) with descriptions (figure 3).


  • pH scale, with numbers and universal indicator colours (figure 1).
  • Student scorecards, a table with item, pH, colour and strength columns (table 1) .
  • Answers to scorecards – items, pH, colour and strength (table 2).

Students work in groups of 2 to 6, depending on class sizes, resources, and teacher’s discretion. Each group is provided with a scorecard and card sets: pictures, colours, and descriptions.

Firstly, the groups take a picture card of, for example, lemon juice, vinegar, washing powder or rainwater. They discuss whether the chemical in question is an acid, neutral or alkali, the pH number of the chemical and corresponding colour and description. A designated scribe records the predictions on the scorecard.

For example, if the item was car battery acid, the pH number would be zero, the colour red and the strength, very strong acid.

Scores are collated and a ‘prize’ given to the highest scoring group. The lesson could end with a whole class discussion on the pH scale/number of the items considered.


Figure 1: The pH scale, with numbers and universal indicator colours.

pH scaleFigure 2: Universal indicator colours & strength descriptions.


Figure 3: Picture cards of item (chemical) with descriptions.


Table 1: Scorecard.

pH score card 1

Table 2: Answers.

pH answers

Presented at ASE Annual Conference Reading 2013

I compiled and presented this quiz for Dr Sue Howarth’s workshop: Giles, P. and Howarth, S. (2013) Acids and alkalis. TES resources were used.

T118 Crazy ideas in secondary science teaching that work

Dr Sue Howarth, Inst of Educ, Univ of Worcester. Organisation: University of Worcester

1130-1230 Henley business school 102: We will share some crazy – and not-so-crazy – ideas. Mostly the result of challenging Science PGCE and GTP student teachers, to take more risks in their lessons, these ideas have been tried and tested in classrooms/labs/outdoors and elsewhere. A booklet containing the best of their learning and teaching ideas will be given to those attending. It is hoped that some of the students, who came up with these ‘risky’ ideas, and are now NQTs, will help them present.

Overall conference theme: science for all. Disciplines: curriculum development research. Target audiences: 11-14 14-16 post 16 ITE Technicians Advisors. T118, p80.

Acids and alkalis (Gallagher and Ingram, 2001)


An important group of chemicals is called acids.

  • They are solutions of pure compounds in water.
  • Need to be handled carefully because they are corrosive. They can eat away metals, skin, and cloth.
  • Some are not so corrosive even when concentrated. They are weak acids. Citric acid is a weak acid found in oranges and lemons.

You can tell if something is an acid, by its effect on litmus. Litmus is a purple dye. It can be used as a solution, or on paper.

  • Litmus solution is purple. Litmus paper for testing acids is blue.
  • Acids will turn litmus solution red.
  • They will also turn blue litmus paper red.


Strong acids Weak acids
Hydrochloric acid Ethanoic acid
Sulphuric acid Citric acid
Nitric acid Carbonic acid


Some common acids and their formulas:

Common acids Formula
Hydrochloric acid HCl (aq)
Sulphuric acid H2SO4 (aq)
Nitric acid HNO3 (aq)
Citric acid C6H8O7 (aq)
Ethanoic acid CH3COOH (aq)


There are many other weak acids that, like citric acid, occur naturally. Ethanoic acid is found in vinegar, and tannic acid on tea. Ant and nettle stings contain methanoic acid.


There is another group of chemicals that also affect litmus, but in a different way to acids. They are the alkalis.

Alkalis turn litmus solution blue and red litmus paper blue.

Like acids, they must be handled carefully, because they can burn skin.

Strong alkalis Weak alkalis
Sodium hydroxide Ammonia
Potassium hydroxide Methylamine
Calcium hydroxide Hydrazine


Some common alkalis. Most alkalis are solids. However, they are usually used in laboratory as aqueous solutions. The main one are:

Common alkalis Formula
Sodium hydroxide NaOH (aq)
Potassium hydroxide KOH (aq)
Calcium hydroxide Ca(OH)2 (aq)
Ammonia solution NH3 (aq)


Neutral substances

Many substances do not affect the colour of litmus solution, so they are not acids or alkalis. They are neutral. Sodium chloride and sugar solutions are both neutral.

The pH scale

Some acids are weaker than others. It is the same with alkalis. The strength of an acid or alkali is shown using the pH scale that goes from 0 to 14.

On this scale:

  • An acidic solution has a pH number less than 7.
  • An alkaline solution has a pH number greater than 7.
  • A neutral solution has a pH number of exactly 7.

You can find the pH of any solution by using universal indicator. Universal indicator is a mixture of dyes. Like litmus, it can be used as a solution, or as universal indicator paper. It goes a different colour at different pH values.


Gallagher, R. and Ingram, P. (2001) Acids and bases. In: Coordinated science. Chemistry for Higher Tier. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press, pp. 44-51.


Posted in Science blog, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Paul Giles

Hi, I am Paul, a freelance biomedical copywriter.

Having enjoyed writing my doctoral thesis, preparing manuscripts, slide presentations, and conference posters/abstracts, I transitioned to work as a medical writer. Skills developed during my research career, applicable to projects in the medical communications sector, include; designing experiments to meet the outcomes required by clients, presentation, demonstrating and teaching experience.

I am a neuroscientist, with 10+ years experience in academia and industry. Therapeutic areas worked on include motoneurone disease (UCL), inflammatory pain (Leeds/GSK), anxiety, and schizophrenia (Warwick). Main techniques used have included in vitro electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and immunohistochemistry. Latterly, I worked at a contract research organisation conducting electrophysiology experiments to meet client needs (NeuroSolutions Ltd).


  • Science Writer, Freelance (inc. Aspire), 2015-present
  • Medical Writer, Associate (Chameleon), 2014
  • Teaching, Secondary School (Worcester), 2012-2013
  • Senior Research Scientist, NeuroSolutions Ltd, 2008-2012
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Wellcome Trust, Warwick, 2005-2008


  • PhD, Neuroscience (MRC/GSK CASE award), University of Leeds, UK, 2005
  • MSc, Neuroscience, University College London, UK, 2000
  • BSc, Biology (Mars Petcare Ind. plcmt.), University of Cardiff, UK, 1999


Giles, P.A., Trezise, D.J. and King, A.E. Differential activation of protein kinases in the dorsal horn by group I metabotropic glutamate receptor subtypes. Neuropharmacology. 2007 Jul:53(1):58-70.

Giles, P.A., Trezise, D.J. and King, A.E. Differential activation of PKC and ERK signalling by short versus long-term Group I metabotropic glutamate receptor stimulation in the dorsal horn. J Physiol 557P, PC74. The Physiological Society meeting, University of Glasgow.

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Writing style: Patient leaflet

golimumab molecule

Here, I consider the writing style of a leaflet on golimumab; a drug used to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis. A link to this leaflet (Published May 2014 2279/D-GOL/14-1) is provided below:

Author’s writing style – The author has used the correct writing style for a patient leaflet. The title consists simply of the drug name and a sentence, in a smaller font size, telling the reader what the leaflet is about. The subheadings are all descriptive and consist of a question that the subsequent dialogue aims to answer. Sentences are kept short and simple, providing information that is important for the patient to know. The jargon is kept to a minimum and defined in its first entry.

The leaflet is easy to follow and engages the reader effectively – The piece is accessible. The first page is devoted to a description of golimumab. Here jargon is minimized to one essential term. The leaflet is laid out like a pyramid. The information is basic at the start and more detailed towards the back if required by the reader. Headings and subheadings make the information easy to find and understand. The headings, in the form of questions, are listed in methodical order.

The simplicity of the leaflet with the use of large font sizes, coloured boxes and minimal writing makes the document engaging. It is not daunting for the layperson to read and offers more detailed information in the last four pages. For example, two sentences are used to describe the possible side-effects of golimumab use, on page two. These are discussed in more detail on page four. So the reader is ‘hooked’ with the simple sentences on the introductory pages, and if this information is applicable they can find out more. Safety concerns are also addressed and bold type is used for key terms within the text, for example ‘rheumatoid’ and ‘once a month by subcutaneous injection’. The use of two columns, short paragraphs and bullet points, all contribute to making the leaflet more engaging and easier for the reader to pinpoint the relevant information.

Use of the active voice – The active voice has been used. This is determined because the noun relates to the verb directly. For example ‘It blocks (verb) the action (verb) of TNF proteins (noun) and so reduces (verb) inflammation.’ And ‘There may be a slightly increased risk (verb) of certain types of cancer patients using anti-TNF drugs (noun).’

This writing style would enable (in comparison with the passive voice):

  • Information to be processed up to seven times quicker.
  • Determine who is to carry out the action and the effect of the action.
  • Produce less wordy copy with fewer grammatical mistakes.
  • The text is more interesting to read and tends to be more up-to-date.

These attributes make it the correct writing style to choose for patients, who could be in an emotional state and worried about their condition. As such, accurate and accessible information is needed in quick time.

The goal of the leaflet has been achieved – The purpose of the leaflet is to provide accessible information on arthritis treatments to a general audience, including patients. Here the anti-TNF (anti-tumor necrosis factor) drug ‘golimumab’ is discussed. The writer does a good job at sticking to the key message. What type of drug is it? What does it do? What it is used for? How it is taken? These are listed in easy to consider bullet points. Risks of cancer and lupus are also described. Side-effects are discussed including reactions at the injection site, such as redness, swelling or pain. Key technical information is included such as doses, the number of injections and patient weights. Complicated names had to be included such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, but in general, the vocabulary is kept simple. I consider that the author has met the objectives of the patient leaflet. The brief of providing a clear explanation of golimumab treatment for patients with arthritis has been met.

Suggested changes to the leaflet – The author could consider using a contents page, reducing the number of words in the longer paragraphs and incorporating more bullet points. The organization of the questions could be reviewed, listing the most common issues first in each section. I think the leaflet is engaging, clear and well structured. The boxes and text (size, bold, colour) variation and speech bubbles also make the article less daunting to read.



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The life of Stephen Sutton; a time of positivity and inspiration

Stephen Sutton came to the nation’s consciousness for charitable endeavours partaken during his fight with cancer. The condition was not used as an excuse to withdraw from society in self-pity and introspection. Instead, he set about completing a ‘bucket list’ of activities and accomplishments in the short time available. Using social media he publicised the events and raised money for charity.

Born in Staffordshire in 1994, Stephen had a very active and successful school life. He competed at a high level in sports and had an interview to study medicine at Cambridge University. It was at this time that the cancer was reported to be incurable. His focus changed to charity work where the aim was to raise £10,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust. However, following the support of several celebrity comedians the profile of the campaign was raised, leading to a substantial increase in the amount raised. Some of his achievements included skydiving, public speaking at Downing Street and a meeting with the Prime Minister, television appearances, a Guinness world record and community events.

In May 2014 Stephen passed away peacefully whilst asleep. His efforts inspired people throughout Britain and the world, gaining him a posthumous MBE and an honorary Doctorate at the University of Coventry. Stephen’s life was celebrated in a public vigil held at Litchfield Cathedral. The Teenage Cancer Trust received over £4.96 million in charitable donations from his projects. He wished to be remembered as ‘the positive person he was and not as a cancer sufferer.’

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