MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Investigating Earth materials: Collecting and Classifying

Investigating Earth materials: Collecting and Classifying

Michael S. Kempenich
McKinley Elementary School
Ham Lake, MN 55448
Introductory lesson use before starting
Foss Earth materials Kit, Rocks & Charts
Author Profile


What are Earth materials made of? After brainstorming a list of possible Earth materials students will go out and collect non-living earth materials that will fit in a small plastic bag. Students will walk around school property for a 20 minute period picking up Earth materials that are non-living. After collecting materials, we will sort the material to discover ways of classifying what we have gathered. After sorting, students will begin journaling about what we have found using words and drawings. They should begin identifying the main groups: i.e., organic (once living), inorganic (never living). After the first sorting, students will examine inorganic more closely to get to the primary focus of the FOSS unit on rocks. Embedded in this investigation is man made vs. natural materials and how this represents the overall make up of the surface of the Earth. Our class motto came after this activity: We know why we recycle!

Learning Goals

Students should realize that the Earth materials found have undergone change. They should also begin to speculate about how those changes occurred. Hopefully, this will lead them to investigate what makes up the Earth surface and how it changes through the explorations of all of the different inorganic materials collected.

Context for Use

Grade 3-5 classroom, five cooperative groups of five, public elementary school, field experience, 1-3 days, 45-60 minute classes, begin with Brainstorming excercise : Fluency/Flexibility. Sort groups and define procedural goals before collecting Earth materials. Remember to advise about safety as suggested in the teacher note section.

Subject: Geoscience
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12, Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Problem Solving

Description and Teaching Materials

Focus on the primary Question: What are Earth materials made of? Direct students to excercise good judgement as to what to collect and what not to collect. (Hurt no living thing!) Remind students that they will have to report about their collection with words and drawings. Challenge the students to try to find a way to include a graph to represent their collection.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Change is something that is always happening. Students may not hold that view. At elementary ages 8-10, they are in the "now"; they believe that things will be as they are now and that change must be sudden and complete. Helping them to understand the cyclical nature of concepts and relationships in nature will help them change the way they view the world (Freyberg 1985). Understanding what makes up the non-living matter of our Earth surface is fundamental to understanding how the surface and materials are constantly undergoing change as is illustrated in the cyclical nature of life. As a side note, when gathering materials, it is good to advise/guide/brainstorm what might be dangerous to pick up when making this collection, i.e. glass, poison ivy, needles, and stickers.


Students should all be journaling about what was observed. Those journal entries should contain words, drawings, and some attempts at displaying data in graphic form. Students will make a poster and report about their collections and observations.


Minnesota State/loca/core/standards
3.I.A.1. Scientific view of the world
3.I.A.B. Collection project, Students will use science as a tool to discover and answer questions about the natural world. Project 2061 Atlas 4.C.1.2. 4.2.C

References and Resources