Introduction to Mineral Identification

Suzanne M (Suki) Smaglik
Central Wyoming College
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"How do I start?" Students are often stymied when faced with a box of minerals to identify. Although we give a careful lecture and demonstration, they still don't know where to start once the box is on the table. The following exercise uses an inquiry-based approached to overcome the fear of tackling mineral identification. Few instructions are given and students discover for themselves how to approach identification. This activity is followed by a standard lecture on the physical properties of minerals and a traditional mineral identification lab.

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Learning Goals

This exercise emphasizes a fundamental part of the scientific process: observation, then interpretation. Not only do the students gain confidence at identifying minerals using physical properties, they gain a better understanding of how science is done. Once they have completed this exercise their minds will be more open to a detailed lecture on physical and chemical properties and they will be more willing to take on the given task.

Context for Use

This activity is inquiry-based and assumes no prior knowledge. It is to be used in a lab or lecture setting and takes about 45 minutes to complete. Mineral samples and a standard test kit are required. This activity is to be used as an introduction to using observation of physical properties to identify minerals. It should be easy to adapt to other settings.

Description and Teaching Materials

The file contains two pages of background and instruction as well as copies of the two activity sheets used in the exercise. Introduction to Mineral Identification (Acrobat (PDF) 103kB Jun11 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Notes and teaching tips are included in the file.


There is no formal assessment for this activity. Students are judged by determining the correct identity of four common minerals and participating in a discussion of their physical properties.

References and Resources

The idea for this activity was inspired by an exercise in Todd, Investigations in Physical Science (Exp. 25), Saunders Pub., 1991.