Since at least the eighteenth century scientific knowledge (then natural philosophy) was produced in groups of experts and specialists and was transmitted in schools, where, future experts and specialists were trained. The design of teaching has always been a complex process particularly in recent years when educational aims (for example, teaching scientific competence to everyone, not just to experts and specialists) present significant challenges. These challenges are much more than a simple reorganisation of the scientific knowledge pre-determined by the existing teaching tradition for different educational level. In the context of chemical education, the new teaching approaches should bring about not only the transmission of chemical knowledge but also a genuine chemical activity so as to ensure that students can acquire chemical thinking. Chemistry teaching should be revised according to contemporary demands of schooling. In order to move forward towards new teaching proposals, we must identify the genuine questions that generate 'chemical criteria' and we should focus on them for teaching. We think that a good strategy is to look for those criteria in the philosophy and history of chemistry, from the perspective of didactics of science. This paper will examine the following questions: (1) How can school science be designed as a world-modelling activity by drawing on the philosophy of science. (2) How can 'stories' about the emergence of chemical entities be identified by looking at the history of chemistry? (3) How can modelling strategies be structured in school chemistry activities? © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.