Five Tips for Teaching Mineral Identification to Elementary Students

PIN 5_1Identifying mineral samples can seem daunting to young students. The colors are often similar and they find it difficult to distinguish between the subtle differences in the samples. Teaching children a few basic properties with a small sample set can help them to begin to distinguish the small differences in the minerals and develop their confidence as they move into rock identification and into middle and high school where the mineral identifications become more complicated.

Tip #1:  Use a hands-on learning method where you give the students physical samples that they can touch and test. A picture or poster is not as effective at teaching with hands-on learning. Allow the children to test the samples without worrying about damaging the minerals. Some of the tests that they will perform will scratch, rub or even break the samples but that is okay and part of learning to identify the properties.

Tip #2:  Use the proper tools when you have children perform the mineral tests. When young children test mineral samples, it is important to have good materials such as high quality mineral samples that are a single mineral and not a mix of one or more which may give conflicting and incorrect test results. Also, having materials such as streak plates, metal paper clips, strong vinegar and pennies older than 1982, will help the children easily achieve the correct test results. Mini Me Geology has articles in the Dig Into Geology section to help you properly use a streak plate and focus your hand lens. Allow your children to take some time with these tools to learn their proper use before starting your exercises to give them confidence in their testing abilities.

Tip #3:  Use flow charts that are easy to read with limited arrow options so the choices are obvious. Mini Me Geology has free, downloadable flow charts that you can use for identifying common minerals. The flow charts work by sorting the minerals with streak, color and special properties going from left to right across the chart. This basic chart is perfect for elementary students because there are only three steps to finding the name of the sample. After students find the name of their sample, have them test the samples to observe the other properties of the sample.  All of Mini Me Geology’s samples come with an information card that give the mineral properties such as hardness, luster, and color plus fun information such as common locations and uses of the mineral.  Children can test minerals for calcite by dropping a strong vinegar or lemon juice on the sample and looking for bubble and use the Mohs hardness scale to determine the hardness of mineral samples.

Tip #4:  Limit samples to two minerals of each color or each streak color that have a distinguishing property between them. For example, you can use a white calcite and a green fluorite that both have white streak colors. They look very similar but their distinguishing characteristic is that calcite will fizz if you drop an acid, like vinegar, on the sample and they are different colors. Here are some suggested parings for mineral identification for elementary students.

Group 1                Group 2                Group 3              Group 4           Group 5

Fluorite                  Magnetite          Gypsum                 Halite                 Beryl

Calcite                  Augite                   Amethyst             Olivine                Sodalite

Tip #5:  Allow children to work on their own before walking them through the solution. Identifying mineral samples helps develop logical thinking skills that transfer from science to other subjects. When you give the samples to the children, explain the properties that they will use to identify their samples and show them how to walk through the flow chart to find the answers. As the kids determine each property, they can physically move the mineral sample from one block to the next until they reach the name of the specimen.

If you need help choosing mineral samples for your students or explaining the properties of each, you may want to check out our book Help, I Have to Teach Rock and Mineral Identification and I’m Not a Geologist!, which is available on our website.

If you have additional questions, please contact us at and we will help you have a successful mineral lesson.

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