Mineral Activities for Elementary School

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Want to make your minerals unit more hands-on and engaging? This lesson explains several activities, ranging from quick demos to in-depth inquiries, that can be brought into the elementary classroom.

Minerals: Not Just Rocks!

Rocks and minerals often get clumped together in the same category. To be fair, there are several similarities between the two materials. There is a subtle, important distinction between the two, though. To put it simply, minerals are the building blocks of rocks. It is important to make this distinction in order to thwart some common student misconceptions.

One of these misconceptions occurs when students hear the phrase 'vitamins and minerals' on TV. If they are under the impression that rocks and minerals are the same, they may think that humans are eating rocks for breakfast! Although there are several essential minerals humans must consume for their bodies to be healthy, the form these take is certainly not rock-like. The activities in this lesson are designed to help students explore minerals and their role in what makes up much of the physical material in Earth's crust.

Outdoor Mineral Hunt

A great way to introduce minerals is to take students outside for a mineral hunt. Equip students with shovels (or even large spoons), buckets, and some materials to clean samples with. Students will be searching for interesting rock samples, so it will be important to mention that rocks are made of minerals (but are not exactly the same thing). Either outside or back in the classroom, have students make and share observations of their samples. What do they look like? Do students notice anything interesting (like sparkles, stripes, or large particles)? Then, hold a discussion about why these samples look different from one another.

Mineral Identification Activity

This can either be an extension of the Outdoor Mineral Hunt, or it can be its own separate activity. Provide students with a guide to common minerals with pictures and age-appropriate descriptions. Then, hand out various mineral samples. Mineral samples can either be gathered outside or purchased from an educational retailer. This latter option might be best, because these samples tend to be a bit easier to identify (and come with the added benefit of being pre-labeled so there is no confusion on your part!).

Allow students to discuss their samples with one another and offer assistance to their peers as they try to discover which minerals are which. For advanced groups, mineral properties like streak, cleavage, density, and hardness can be introduced and used for identification.

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