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Identifying Rocks

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: Natural History & Geology

Grade Level: 5-12

Common Core Standards:

RI5. 9. Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
W4.8. Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.
SL4. 1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
SL4.4. Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
RS9-10. 3. Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.
RS9-10. 4. Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context.

Content Areas: Science

Recommended Length/Duration: 50 minutes

Learning Goals: Students will learn to categorize rocks into the three basic types by closely examining their characteristics.


  1. Before the activity assemble a collection of 5-10 different rocks and number them with an ID tag. Commercial collections or found samples are fine as long as they represent sufficient variation.
  2. Divide students into work groups of 2-4.
  3. Review the three basic rock types, igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic, and the characteristics they will be looking for.
  4. Distribute the rock identification worksheets.
  5. Give each work group one rock sample and have students examine and identify it according to the identification characteristics.
  6. On their numbered worksheet they should record what they think the rock is.
  7. After each identification, rotate the rocks between groups until each group has identified each rock.
  8. On the board accept all the identifications for each sample first.
  9. Go back and discuss any disagreements and have students make a case for why they identified the rock as they did.
  10. If students are interested, have them use a more formal identification key to identify the specific rock name.

Assessments: Informal Assessment of participation and understanding of key ideas.

Materials/Resources: Hand Lenses, Rock samples, Rock Identification Worksheet (pdf)

Special Considerations: Weak readers may benefit from supportive grouping, pre-reading, or reading aloud.

Extensions: Some students become very interested in rock identification. There are many great field guides and internet rock identification keys available for individual students or teachers who want to explore this area in more detail.