Teaching Rocks and Minerals
Depending on your curriculum, you will be teaching many objectives in the rocks and minerals unit. From how rocks are formed to rock and mineral characteristics, your students will be learning these concepts and more. Many teachers have built their own collections over the years. Students will start bringing in “special” rocks they found and asking you to help identify them. These are all wonderful and worthwhile rocks and mineral activities. But get your students excited about this unit and provide them opportunities for interacting with the material by holding your First Annual Vote the Rock! election. Not only will you be covering your science objectives, but you may be working in social studies and language arts concepts, too.
Before the Activity
Before the rock election, you will need to make sure students have a basic understanding of different types of rocks and minerals, what they are used for in everyday life, how they are formed, and some of their characteristics. In order to campaign for a specific rock, students have to have enough information to write and speak about their rock. Some lesson plan ideas for teaching rocks and minerals are:
- Bring in examples of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks as well as some minerals. Let students see and feel the differences between them. As you show each type of rock to students, write the characteristics on the chalkboard for students to copy down. You should also include how rocks are made, and some common examples of this type. Students are using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning in this lesson.
- Bring in photos or find them on the Internet of different buildings that are made of rock. Describe to students what materials the buildings are made out of and talk about what types of rocks these are. This activity will show students the use of these materials in everyday life. Ask students to go home or to their neighborhoods and write how rocks are used at home.
- Use a Venn diagram or a T-chart to write the differences and similarities between rocks and minerals. Make sure to ask students to include examples of both.
These three lessons will give students a background in the concepts, so they can do the election activity easily.
Vote the Rock
To start this activity, students will each choose a rock or mineral. You can either have them do this randomly by drawing a name out of a bowl or students can choose their own. Once students know which one they are trying to get elected, students will research and find out as much information as they can about their rock or mineral. For example, if a student is researching marble, he will find out what marble is used for, what type of rock it is, where it can be found, what it looks like, and any other information. This is the research part of the activity.
After students research, they create an election poster. The poster should have pictures and facts about the rocks. Show students examples of campaign posters and set how many facts or photos they must include. For example, younger primary grades might need two photos per poster with five facts. Older elementary students might need four photos and ten facts. These should be done on large poster board and hung up for display.
Students also create a short, campaign speech, regarding the subject: Why should my rock or mineral be elected as the best in this classroom? Each student delivers their campaign speech, which will also work on public speaking skills and most likely cover some Language Arts objectives. While speeches are being delivered, students should be encouraged to take notes, so they can make an informed decision on which rock or mineral they are going to vote for.
Finally, students will have voting day. You will need to make the rule that students may not vote for their own rock, or you may have each candidate in the election receiving one vote. Tally up the votes and announce the results of which rock was voted the best in your class election. Create a large display, where this rock is really celebrated. You can also have runner-ups if you would like.
What Students Learn
You can modify this one of the rocks and minerals activities to fit your specific curriculum, which is one of the best parts about it. If your students need to learn about the different layers of the earth, then require facts about this concept as part of the election poster. If your students need to master the three types of rocks, then only have rocks as candidates and not minerals, too. Students can work together in groups if you want to make this a cooperative group activity. Take the basic idea here, Vote the Rock!, and create a lesson that fits your needs. Students will learn in the geology unit and have fun at the same time!
Kennesaw State University: https://edtech.kennesaw.edu/web/rocks.html
University of Oregon: https://jersey.uoregon.edu/~mstrick/AskGeoMan/geoQuerry13.html