Sand Analysis Lab Activity

Tarin Weiss, Westfield State University
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An in-class introductory level activity for science and non-science majors that explores the properties of sand in order to identify depositional environments.

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Appropriate for introductory level undergraduate geoscience courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

A basic understanding of types of depositional environments and general stream geomorphology. Students should be able to manipulate and measure sand grains and interpret information from graphs and diagrams.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity enhances learning about sediment, sedimentary rock, stream geomorphology, and sedimentary depositional environments. It can be extended to explore deposition of flood sediment.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

This activity is intended to provide students with an introductory-level exploration of how to analyzie sand grains in order to interpret depositional environments and the energy of those environments. Students determine how well a sand sample is sorted, grain shape, size, and composition.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Using basic information about sand grains (sorting, grain shape, grain size, composition), students apply their understanding of a samd sample's characteristics to the interpretation of the sample's depositional environment. Students compare sand samples, test their interpretations, and draw condlusions from observations.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students recored and organize simple data from observations, estimate percentages of mineral composition, measure grain size, and explain conclusions in writing.

Description and Teaching Materials

Sand Analysis Lab (Microsoft Word 71kB May18 12)

This file is the student handout for the Sand Analysis in-class activity. It is a stand-alone activity that does not require additional handouts. A list of materials is provided on the student handout. The handout can be modified based on the sand samples intructors can collect or have access to. It is important to provide students with samples derived from a variety of high to low consistent and fluctuating energy environments. This activity (as written) supplies samples from a high energy beach environment, a medium energy side channel environment with a wider range of grain sizes, and a fluctuating energy deltaic environment (with a broad range of grain sizes).

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students may have trouble visualizing the depositional environment of the sand samples. A diagram of sedimentary environments may be helpful to have available to them as the complete the activity.


Student hand-outs are collected and assessed. Students can be provided with an additional sand sample at a later date to investigate and interpret. This activity leads into students' investigations of sedimentary rocks and the identification of depositional environments from sedimentary features, which has its own set of assessment opportunities not included here.

References and Resources

A good site for background information on depositional environments