MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Investigating Minnesota Rocks: The Properties of North Shore Rocks

Investigating Minnesota Rocks: The Properties of North Shore Rocks

Jean Karschnia, Valley Crossing Community School, Woodbury, MN.
based on an activity from MnSTEP Elementary Earth Science Course, June 2008.
Author Profile


Students will investigate rocks from the North Shore of Minnesota. Students will begin by forming questions that they have about the rocks. They will use observation skills to identify attributes of the rocks. The students will use available resources to "test" the rocks. They will document their findings and use their information to help them identify the rock types. Students will compare their findings in small and large group settings.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to use observation skills to identify attributes of the rocks. They will practice their skills in questioning by writing questions that they have about the rocks. The students will be analyzing the information they recorded in order to identify the rocks.
A concept that will be taught in this activity will be how to do tests on rocks. One concept that will be reviewed will be the three types of rocks. The types of rocks, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic, will be vocabulary words to review. We'll also review what "attributes" are. New vocabulary will include "acid test", "hardness test", and any other words that may come up in the brainstorming portion of the activity.

Context for Use

This activity is based on grade 5 standards, although it will be used in a multi-age classroom for grades 4-6. The activity is a guided inquiry that is done in the classroom. The anticipated time needed is two 60 minute class periods. Special equipment needed includes: collection of different rocks from the North Shore of Minnesota, hand lenses, ceramic scratch plates, nails, pennies, glass plates, vinegar (or other acid based liquid for acid test), rock resource books or internet availability. This lesson is planned to be used as an initial inquiry into a unit on landforms. The students have learned the basic types of rocks in previous instruction in earth science. The activity is done after students have worked on observation skills and basic inquiry skills. The activity could easily be adapted to using rocks from any geographic region. Students will be following up this activity with an in-depth study on landforms.

Subject: Geoscience
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity will begin on day 1 with a 15-20 minute lesson on the day. The lesson will focus on reviewing rock types and brainstorming different ways to describe rocks. The teacher will get ideas from students and record prominently so students can refer back to ideas. The teacher will introduce different ways to "test" rocks. Students will then have approximately 35 minutes in which to work with a partner on their observations. In that time, they will write questions they have about the rocks, observe the rocks, test the rocks, and record their observations. The last 5-10 minutes of class will be for wrap-up.
Day 2 will begin with a 10 minute mini-lesson on the day. The lesson will focus on reviewing the expectations of the activity. The teacher will introduce resources that are available for rock identification. Students will work in small groups and, using resources and their prior day's work, classify the types of rocks they have. The groups will have approximately 30 minutes to complete their analysis and work to answer their questions about their rocks. The final 20 minutes of class will allow time for a group sharing of their findings and discussion on how they were able to answer their initial questions about the rocks.
The activity is adapted from an activity that was done in the MnSTEP Elementary Earth Science Course, June 2008.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity has not been done in my classroom at this time. There are some issues that may be important to consider prior to implementing in my classroom. Observation skills and recording skills will be very important in this activity. Modifications may need to be made for students that have learning plans around these skills. Students may need support with organizing their data, although many will not; therefore, I may do a small mini-lesson on that topic with a select group of students.
This activity is different from some of my past practice in that the students have an opportunity to write their questions about the rocks prior to the start of the activity. The activity allows the students to bring their ideas for how to describe the attributes into the observation. Finally, they are going to be using available resources to compare to their observation data to try and answer their question prior to the whole class discussion.


Students will be recording their questions, observations, and analysis in their scientific journals, which will be used for assessment purposes. Classroom observations will also be used as an assessment tool.


5.III.A.3-rock type formation
5.III.A.4-rock type formation

References and Resources

See more MnSTEP Activities »