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Online Rock Identification Key

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: Natural History & Geology

Grade Level: 5-12

Common Core Standards
RI1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
SL1. 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.
RS3. 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.

Content Areas: Science, Language Arts

Recommended Length/Duration: One or two 45-60 minute periods

Learning Goals: Students will consolidate their knowledge of different rock types. Students will use the Identification key to analyze and identify rock samples.


  1. Prior to the lesson, gather a variety of rock samples from field exploration, existing collections, or having students bringing samples from home.
  2. Initiate the lesson by reviewing the three basic rock types. Also discuss the fact that rocks are formed of individual mineral crystals that have recognizable characteristics.
  3. Describe how scientists use identification taxonomies to identify unfamiliar objects by carefully examining their characteristics. Describe the online key that you will be using ( is an example).
  4. Review the procedures for using your key.
  5. Have students work independently or in small groups. Distribute to each group several rock samples. Have them use the on-line identification key to identify each sample.
  6. When all samples have been identified, have students discuss their findings. Guiding questions might include:
    • Were there any discrepancies in how each sample was identified?
    • What were the easiest/most difficult samples to identify?
    • Were there any samples that could not be positively identified?
    • What characteristics made a sample easy or difficult to identify?

Assessments: Informal Assessment based on accuracy and participation.

Materials/Resources: Access to internet, Collection of various rock samples, Hand lenses

Special Considerations: Students not familiar with internet resources may need additional support.

Extensions: Students may want to do more research on a rock that was particularly interesting, explore several identification keys, or create their own identification key.