An Inquiry-Based Approach to Rock Classification and Identification

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:40pm CC Building Circadian
Share-a-thon Part of Tuesday


Sabrina Brown, Defiance College


At the Rendezvous, I will demonstrate the activity with hands-on samples and provide both digital and print copies of materials.


This series of three laboratory activities focused on igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks, respectively, encourages inquiry-based interaction with the concepts of rock classification and identification. To begin, students are tasked with sorting an unlabeled set of rocks into 2-4 groups based on rock properties. Then, students are presented with second set of different unlabeled rocks. They are tasked with fitting these new rocks into their previous classification scheme or modifying the scheme to fit all the unknown rocks. Students share with other groups or as a class (depending on time and number of students) to synthesize the physical properties important to identifying that group of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic). Then, students are provided with a short, applied lesson over the rock characteristics important for classification before being tasked with properly identifying the set of samples they have been working with throughout the laboratory period.


I use this series of laboratory activities in my introductory geology course for non-majors, which focuses on developing critical thinking skills.

Why It Works

This inquiry-based activity is particularly effective because it enables students to discover the important patterns and characteristics associated with rock classification before introducing textbook classification schemes. This keeps students invested in the content and is worthwhile for developing critical thinking skills.