Main Ideas & Objectives: MI-1: Minerals are the building blocks of rocks. All minerals have 5 common characteristics. Minerals have distinguishing properties that can be used to tell them apart. O-1: Classify minerals by commonalities and differences.

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Lesson Purpose: This lesson answers the question, "What are minerals?" The activities elicit student ideas and build understanding about minerals. The lesson builds classifying and observation skills. It concludes with whole-class co-construction of the characteristics of minerals.

Grade Levels: Grades 4-8. Students in lower grades (4,5) will need additional support for activity 1.2. Activity 1.1 could be used in grade 3.

Activity Description: 1.1 Mineral Classification -Working in groups, students examine mineral samples in a box of common minerals. Students make observations and construct lists of characteristics that all the minerals have in common and characteristics that vary among the minerals. 1.2 Mineral Characteristics -Groups share their mineral observations. Teacher helps class construct a list of five characteristics of all minerals.

Background Information: Minerals are the building blocks of rocks. All minerals share five common characteristics:

Are naturally occurring – This means that the mineral is not human-made. There are examples of minerals that occur naturally but can now be manufactured artificially, like diamonds. However, a substance that is manufactured artificially and does not occur in nature would not qualify as a mineral. Are inorganic compounds – Inorganic means that minerals are not alive and never were alive. Therefore, anything made of plant material would not qualify as a mineral. For example, coal, which is made from dead plants, is not a mineral. Are solid – All minerals are solid and occur as solids at normal temperatures and pressures that exist on the surface of the Earth. Thus, mercury, which is a liquid at room temperature, is not a mineral. Water is also not a mineral, but its solid form, ice, is a mineral. So are snow flakes. Have an orderly internal structure – The atoms that make up a mineral are arranged in a regular, repeating, orderly pattern. You cannot see this pattern with the naked eye. There are some solids that look like solids but do not have a regular internal structure. For example, glass is not a mineral because the atoms that make up glass are not arranged in a regular pattern. Glass is actually a super-cooled liquid. Given enough time, glass will flow. If you look at the windows of really old buildings, you may notice that the bottom of the window is thicker than the top of the window. Have a characteristic chemical composition – All minerals have a regular chemical composition. Sometimes this composition is made up of just one element, like gold. More commonly, minerals are made of many elements called compounds. Most minerals are made up of various combinations of only 8 elements: Oxygen, silicon, aluminum, sodium, potassium, chlorine, iron, and magnesium.

Materials Needed: For each group: Hand-lenses Box of minerals:

Feldspar Quartz Crystal Milky Quartz Chert Hornblende Muscovite (mica) Biotite (mica) Olivine Magnetite* Hematite* Limonite Pyrite Galena Calcite Halite* Gypsum (satin spar var)* Talc

* indicates minerals used in Lesson 4 on Michigan Geology Map

Optional Resources

Detailed Procedures: Activity 1.1 –Mineral Classification 1. Provide each group with a box of minerals and hand-lenses. 2. Ask each group to make a list of the observable characteristics that all the minerals in the box have in similarities and another list of the observable characteristics that make each mineral different. Students can use a table format to organize their lists.

Similarities Differences

3. Give each group 5 to 10 minutes to examine the minerals in the box. Students should write down their lists.

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Activity 1.2 –Mineral Characteristics

1. When groups have their lists completed, lead a whole-class discussion centered around their observations. Make a whole-class list of the characteristics that all minerals have in common and another whole-class list of the characteristics that are different about each mineral. Examples of student responses include:

Similarities Differences
Solid Color
Looks like rocks Shape
Weight (density)
Shininess (luster)

2. Students will not likely dbsci-ch.orge all five common characteristics of minerals. In fact, some of the characteristics of minerals are not visible to the unaided eye. Therefore, you may have to explain some of the other, less visible characteristics of minerals, providing explanations of the meaning. Note: The first three characteristics are visible, although students may not come up with them on their own. The second two characteristics are not visible. These characteristics are relatively abstract and are not necessary for students to understand at the elementary level.

Naturally occurring - minerals can always be found in nature. Some are very rare and hard to find (like gold) and others are very common and easy to find (like quartz). Humans have figured out how to make some minerals (like diamonds), but those minerals occurred in nature first. Inorganic – minerals are not alive and never were alive. That is why coal, which is made from dead plants, is not a mineral. Sugar is also not a mineral because it come from plants (sugar cane and sugar beets). However, salt is a mineral. Solid – has a definite shape and volume. Regular internal structure – you can’t see it with the unaided eye, but all the elements inside a mineral have a regular, repeating pattern. Characteristic chemical composition –each mineral of the same type is made of the same elements. Quartz always has silica and oxygen. Small amounts of additional chemicals cause color differences among minerals. For example, quartz can have impurities of iron which gives rosy quartz a pinkish color.

Management Details:

All members of the group should have a job. Consider having students write their lists on the chalkboard and then comparing lists across groups. Guide student observations with questions. However, this is an open-ended activity that will elicit lots of student ideas. Ask students to justify their answers. Encourage students to make observations in a safe, accepting environment.


Make sure groups are heterogeneous. Help students help each other. Allow all students to touch and feel the mineral specimens.


On a snowy day, put a stack of black construction paper in the freezer. Take the class outside and give each student or pair of students a piece of cold paper. Allow students to catch snowflakes on their paper. Look carefully at the snowflake patterns. Are snowflakes minerals? (Yes, they are naturally occurring inorganic solids with a regular crystal structure and composition). Ask students to justify their answer to this question.

Using This Activity

Does this activity match your learning goal? What is the function of this activity in your instructional sequence? How will you establish a purpose for this lesson? What modifications do you need to make to this activity to meet the learning needs of your students?