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Identifying Rocks and Minerals for Kids

based on 22 ratings
Author: Tricia Edgar

Can you be a mineral detective? In this cool experiment on identifying rocks and minerals for kids, you’ll develop an understanding of some of the characteristics of different minerals. Minerals look, feel, and react differently when you test them in different ways. Check out your rock identification skills by conducting tests on mystery rocks.

Problem:

Based on mineral tests, try to solve to determine the properties of different mystery rocks.

Materials

  • Several samples of unknown minerals
  • Magnifying glass
  • Penny
  • Lamp
  • Steel nail
  • White bathroom tile
  • Glass plate (one from a picture frame works well)
  • Small yogurt container (emptied and dried)
  • Kitchen scale
  • Small bowl
  • Water
  • Measuring cup

Procedure:

  1. Collect several minerals. You can either get different rocks from the area around your home, or you can get pure minerals from a rock store. Choose minerals that have not gone through a rock tumbler. Make sure that you get mystery minerals – it’s more fun to test them if you don’t know what they are.
  2. Create a chart that has six columns. In the first column, you will place the number of your mineral. The second will be for color, the third for luster, the fourth for hardness, the fifth for streak, and the sixth for specific gravity. Put this chart on a big piece of paper so that you have lots of room for notes.
  3. Minerals are different colors. What color or colors are in each of your samples? Write it down in your chart in the color column.
  4. Minerals also look different when you put them under a light. This is called luster.  Use the light and the magnifying glass and look at the surface of the mineral. Does the mineral look dull, metallic, shiny, glassy, resinous, pearly, oily, or silky? Resinous means that it looks like tree sap, and pearly means that it looks like a pearl.
  5. Put the piece of glass, the coin, and the nail on a flat surface. Now you’re going to test to see how hard your minerals are. Believe it or not, rocks can be soft! First, use your fingernail to see if you can scratch each one. If you can, it is less than 2.5 on the hardness scale. Now use the coin to see if you can scratch each mineral. Does it make a mark? If so, it’s under 3.5 on the hardness scale. Try scratching it with the nail. If it gets scratched, it’s under 5.5 on the scale. Finally, if your mineral didn’t get scratched by any of the first three items, use it to scratch the glass. If it does, it’s over 6 on the hardness scale.
  6. Take the piece of white tile and put it on a flat surface. Push each mineral down onto the surface and rub it across. Does it make a streak? Write down the color of the streak.
  7. Finally, you’ll test the specific gravity of your minerals. This is a little messy, so find a place that can get wet. First, weigh each mineral and write down its weight. Fill your yogurt container to the brim and place it in a bowl. Gently place your mineral into the yogurt container. Collect the water the pours over the top of the container, and measure it in a graduated cylinder. Divide the mineral’s weight in grams by the volume of water in milliliters to get the specific gravity of each mineral.

What are the properties of your minerals? Do you know what they are? How do they compare to the properties of some of the most common minerals (below)?

Results

Your results will be different depending on what minerals you used in your experiment.  

What are the properties of the different minerals that you have, and how do they compare to other common minerals? Can you identify what rocks you might have based on their properties?

Some Common Minerals and Their Properties

 

Mineral

Luster

Hardness

Streak

Specific Gravity

Graphite

Metallic

1

Black

2.1-2.3

Halite

Glassy

2.5

No color

2.2

Calcite

Glassy

3

No color

2.7

Magnetite

Dull

5.5-6.5

Black

5.2

Pyrite

Metallic

6-6.5

Gold

4.9-5.2

Feldspar

Glassy

6-6.5

Different colors

2.5-2.75

Quartz

Glassy

7

Different colors

2.6-2.7

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