Mineral Identification Activities

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.

A mineral unit without mineral identification activities sounds pretty dull, doesn't it? This lesson contains several ideas that will give your mineral unit a bit more luster by engaging students in meaningful learning activities.

Mineral Identification: Multiple Approaches

When teaching about minerals, many teachers engage students in one arduous, drawn out laboratory activity in which students identify various minerals using a variety of tools and techniques. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this method, many students appreciate breaking down the learning into more manageable chunks whenever possible. The activities that follow are designed to engage students in meaningful learning by drawing on singular aspects of mineral identification. Each of the activities requires a variety of mineral samples, so be sure to stock up the next time your materials budget opens up!

Quick Quartz Demo

A great way to start your mineral identification unit is to show students how misleading it can be to rely only on color and texture when identifying minerals. Lay out a wide variety of differently colored quartz and ask students to volunteer observations. They will likely say that most of them look like crystals. Some may even notice that they are similar. Inform them, after some discussion, that each of the samples in front of them is quartz. They will see immediately that they cannot rely on color alone to identify minerals!

Hardness and the Mohs Scale Activity

A great way to identify many minerals is to test their hardness. Provide students or groups with a wide variety of mineral samples, some basic tools (e.g. a steel nail, a file, a glass plate, a penny), and a copy of the Mohs Hardness Scale that contains several common minerals. They can then explore each of the samples, figuring out their hardness comparatively. Once students have figured out what a mineral sample will scratch (and what scratches it), they can deduce what it is according to the Mohs Scale. Often, this is a bit puzzling, and students have a fun time figuring it out!

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