Grades 3 - 5: The Rock Wall

Lesson plan by Nick Webster


In this hour exercise the students will explore rocks and minerals. Specifically they will study the rock cycle, the three main rock types (Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic), common minerals, and the connection between minerals and rocks. This will be done by a rock/mineral sorting exercise and an activity of having the students stand up and act out the rock cycle.  This will best work with 15 or less students

Grade Level:    3-5


Igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks

Rocky cycle


Scientific observation


Duration: One hour



1. Large examples of Igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks to show the class

2. One small example of quartz, calcite, feldspar, mica, hornblende, and olivine all put into a Rock Bag (for organization purposes). You will need one rock bag per student as they will use this for the sorting exercise.

4. Blank paper and sheets for sorting exercise

5. Large enough space for rock cycle exercise (about 12 by 12 feet)

6. One Quiz per 3-4 students (see attached).



Mineral:The technical definition of a mineral is a naturally occurring, inorganic, homogeneous solid with a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement. In more general terms, a mineral is a substance that is (1) made of a single element like gold (Au) or a compound of elements like salt (NaCl) and (or) (2) a building block of rock (for example, granite is composed primarily of the minerals quartz and feldspar). (, page 1)


Rock: Rocks are made up mostly of different kinds of minerals, or broken pieces of crystals, or broken pieces of rocks. Some rocks are made of the shells of once-living animals, or of compressed pieces of plants.


Rock cycle:The cycle in which rocks transform between Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic via the processes of the earth.


Sedimentary Rock: Sedimentary rocks are formed from pre-existing rocks or pieces of once-living organisms. They form from deposits that accumulate on the Earth's surface. Sedimentary rocks often have distinctive layering or bedding.


Igneous:Igneous rocks (from the Greek word for fire) form from when hot, molten rocks and minerals (magma) crystallize and solidify.


Metamorphic:Metamorphic rocks started out as some other type of rock, but have been dramatically changed from their original igneous, sedimentary, or earlier metamorphic form. Metamorphic rocks form when rocks are subjected to high heat, high pressure, hot, mineral-rich fluids or, more commonly, some combination of these factors.


Magma:Molten minerals or rocks that exist under the soil and sometimes come out  onto the surface in sites like volcanos.



            0-5 minutes

            Start with the students at their desks and the materials covered so there are no distractions. Introduce yourself and then ask the students "How are you doing? How is school? What are there favorite subjects?" This will be a good invitation to get the students talking and involved.



            Inform the students that today we will be talking about rocks and minerals. You ought to tell them what they are, and why they are important to people. One good way to start is to ask, "Has anyone here ever eaten a rock or mineral?" You can inform them that of course they have when eating things like fruits and vegetables, meat, milk and salt. Then ask "Besides small amounts for eating, are minerals and rocks useful? How?" Hopefully this will get more discussion going and you can mention they are used in tons of ways such as creating metals, making roads, glass, chalkboards, decoration, and of course they make up the entire earth itself.   "So we know rocks are useful and all around us, but can any tell me what a rock or mineral actually is?" This will likely get no response, but it is good to get them thinking. Then do a little bit of lecturing on what minerals and rocks are. Discuss the fact they come in all different shapes, colors, and properties and that is how they are able to be told apart. Also discuss the three types of rocks and what their properties are. Now we will go to the sorting exercise.


            17.5-32.5 minutes

            This portion addresses the California State Science Standard that students be able to use a "table of diagnostic properties"(4:4:b). We will hand each student a blank sheet of paper and one Rock Bag (these contain all the necessary rocks/minerals, see Fig1). The students will take all six of their rocks and put them in a pile at the top of their blank page held lengthwise (see figure 2 for this entire process). Then we will use the diagnostic table to slowly separate them by different features. First have them separate the rocks into two groups, as showing in Figure 2, of "Rough and Smooth." Then have them separate the rock/minerals into "Shiny or Dull." Finally have the students now separate it by color.    You may want to ask things like "in what ways can we separate the rocks" in the beginning to get them thinking and in a way let them design the exercise. Also mention that there are even more ways to classify rocks such as density and chemical reactions. Now play a game where you describe what the rock looks like and tell them what name it is so they can write it below the rock on their paper. For example, "we are looking for the smooth, shiny, pink mineral. Everyone find it? Ok under that write Quartz."  Maybe tell them a cool fact about each one. Have them clean up by putting the rocks back in the bags and collecting the paper for recycling.


            32.5-50 minutes

            Now we will address the rock cycle. Have the student come into the clear space you have provided. Tell them that now we a going to do a special performance called the "Rock Walk." Split them into groups of 2:2:2:4:4. Separate the groups of two into a triangle shape with each group making a point (Figure 3). Then assign them group names of  "Volcano," "Ocean," and "Mountains." Then separate the groups of four and say that they are  "Minerals1" and "Minerals2." Put each of the members of the group in a different body position to symbolize that they are different minerals with different properties (Figure 4).

             Tell the students that this is the beginning of the rock cycle, since all rocks are made of minerals or other rocks. Describe an outline of the rock cycle, and that now they will act out the rock cycle. Have group Mineral1 go to the Volcano. Explain that here the minerals are superheated and molded together. Have the Volcano group link the arms of the Mineral1 group together to form a new rock made of many minerals. Then have the Mineral1 group go stand between the Volcano and Ocean. Now have Mineral2 group go through the volcano, and encourage Volcano to arrange them in a different manner then the others.  Have Mineral2, go stand with Mineral1 and explain that these are Igneous rocks. They have been made molten by magma and then fused together in cooling.

            Now have both groups go to ocean. Have Ocean pluck them apart, intermix the groups, and put them in "layers" (Figure 5) by lining them up facing he same way. Make sure they keep their arm positions! Have the two new rocks go and stand between Ocean and Mountains and explain why these are now sedimentary rocks.

            Next have the students go to the Mountains. Here explain that the pressure and heat of being deep underground causes metamorphic rocks to be formed.  Have the Mineral groups stay in Sedimentary formation, but have then have Mountain change their arms positions and move the line into different shapes (Figure 6). We see that the sedimentary rock has changed into a metamorphic rock. Explain that this is the rock cycle, but then ask them why it is called a "cycle?" The answer is that it must go round and round, and so do that! Have both rocks go back to Volcano, then back to Mountain, then to Ocean, to show that the cycle can go different ways. These times you can do it faster with less explanation so its quick and fun for the students. If you have time, have them go back and forth between two stations to show that a mini rock cycle could even happen. Conclude with a last overview of the rock cycle while the students are back in their seats.


            50-60 minutes

            This is the time for the assessment and wrap up. Form them into groups of three or four and hand out the Quiz Sheets. Let them work on it together for five minutes and then go over the answers with the class. See what the students answered and why. You can learn what topics you need to emphasis next time. 


California Standards Covered:

4:4:      a.Students know how to differentiate among igneous, sedimentary, and metamor­phic rocks by referring to their properties and methods of formation (the rock cycle).

            b.Students know how to identify common rock-forming minerals (including quartz, calcite, feldspar, mica, and hornblende) and ore minerals by using a table of diagnostic properties.


Resources/ Bibliography:* All vocab definition are provided by the US Geological Survey Website,