The properties of Amphiboles, Micas, Pyroxenes, and Olivines and an Introduction to Mineral Properties in Thin Section

Dexter Perkins
University of North Dakota
Author Profile


Students look at mafic igneous minerals, learning to distinguish and identify them in hand specimen. They also look at a few of the minerals in thin section.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This exercise is designed for a mid/upper-level undergraduate geology course on the principles of mineralogy.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have knowledge of basic chemistry and of minerals equivalent to what they would learn in an introductory geology class.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is the 10th of 36 mineralogy exercises and is used towards the beginning of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Learn to identify mafic minerals.
  • Learn the basic techniques of optical mineralogy.
  • Be able to identify and describe properties of minerals seen in thin section.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Learn to group and classify minerals according to their physical properties.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

In this four-part exercise, students look at mafic igneous minerals, learning to distinguish and identify them in hand specimen and thin section.

  • Part one - Box of Rocks: Students examine a tray of minerals and record their physical properties, composition, and habit. They note chemical and physical similarities and differences and why there are several varieties of minerals in each group.
  • Part two - Observing Optical Properties: Students learn how to use a microscope to observe thin sections.
  • Part three - Defining optical microscopy and light ray terms
  • Part four - Answer questions using thin sections

Determining whether students have met the goals

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs