Is it a Mineral?

Sara Harris and Brett Gilley
University of British Columbia
Author Profile

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: Dec 12, 2013



Undergraduate introductory-level geosciences lab for majors and non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

No prior experience needed.

How the activity is situated in the course:

This is part of a sequence of activities in the first lab of the term.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
1. Classify common objects as either minerals or non-minerals
2. Justify classifications based on an object's characteristics
3. Define "mineral"

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

Other skills goals for this activity:

Description of the activity/assignment

In small groups, students make decisions on how to classify seven common objects as either minerals or non-minerals. The objects are: quartz, glass, wood, granite, copper, plastic, and ice. Students receive no prior instruction, and thus need to use their observations and their current conceptions of minerals in order to make and justify their classifications. After small groups have completed their classifications, a full-class discussion ensues, revealing differences among the groups, from which emerges a definition of "mineral".

Determining whether students have met the goals

Give students additional common objects and ask them to classify them as mineral or non-mineral, and justify their classification (to see if they are right/wrong for the right/wrong reasons). Examples could include: bone, coal, steel, oil, salt, sugar, paper, gold ring, etc.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14), Introductory Level