Introduction to Rocks

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SWBAT describe the physical properties of rocks in this introductory lesson.

Big Idea

Rough? Smooth? Tiny? Huge? The physical characteristics of rocks tell us a lot - including how it was formed!

Teacher Preparation


This is the first lesson in the unit "Rocks, Minerals, and Soil" which aligns to Essential Standard 1.E.2 - Understand the physical properties of Earth materials that make them useful in different ways. This standard contains two objectives, 1.E.2.1, "Summarize the physical properties of Earth materials, including rocks, minerals, soils and water that make them useful in different ways", and 1.E.2.2 which focuses on soil. This lesson aims to introduce students to the different physical properties of rocks only - we will move on to minerals and soils later in the unit. The reason for this is because it is often difficult to distinguish between rocks and minerals when both are presented simultaneously, so to alleviate confusion we are going to take them one at a time. 

I also post an essential question for each lesson. Today's question is "What are the three types of rocks and how are they formed?" Click here to listen to my Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question.

Teacher background:

Before teaching this unit, I read a few different websites to make sure I can answer lots of questions that will come my way about rocks and minerals. Check these out!

Difference between rocks and minerals

Rocks, Minerals, and the Properties of Both

Scientific explanation of the Rock Cycle

NC teachers click HERE for your rock kit!


*Rock Introduction Journal Page 1 per student

*Variety of rocks

*Magnifying glasses to share

*Printed picture of the three rock types, in color, to add to anchor chart (3 Types of Rocks

and/or Rock types)

*Anchor chart paper/markers

*Access to YouTube videos


Warm Up

15 minutes

I want my students to become really excited about this unit, so I start this lesson at their desks. Each group of 4-5 desks has a paper plate with some rock samples and magnifying glasses. I say to the class,

"Today we are starting to learn about rocks! First, I want to know everything you already know about them! You will have 5 minutes to look at and touch the rocks at your tables. Write down what you already know and what you see and feel in your journals on the recording page for today. Then, we'll meet on the carpet".

Then, I give pretty detailed directions about the recording sheet the students have. This will serve as a preassessment for me, in addition to listening to their conversations. Listen as I  give directions.

As the students begin to explore, write, and draw about the rocks and their background knowledge, I set a 5 minute timer on the Smart Board. This activity could easily take up the whole class time today, but we have to stay on track! While the students work, I walk around and mainly listen to their conversations to clue in on what they already know and what they have questions about. The process of the students writing and drawing their thoughts and ideas, as well as talking to their friends about them, supports Science and Engineering Practice 4. 

When the timer ends, I say, 

"Bring your journals and pencils to the carpet, but leave the rocks at your tables". 

On the carpet, I start a "What we think we know & what we want to learn" chart. This is a great way for my students to share their knowledge and to ask questions like real scientists! This supports Science and Engineering Practice 1 as they ask their own questions that will be answered through observation and instruction throughout the unit and also Practice 8 as they communicate about their thoughts and ideas. 


15 minutes

When I introduce a new unit or concept, I love using songs to get my students involved. It is also a great way to introduce vocabulary with lots of repetition - especially when they start singing the songs on the playground! For this lesson, we watch this song first to serve as the introduction to rocks which tells students there are three types of rocks. This will also give us a way to start thinking about different kinds of rocks as we examine their physical properties throughout the unit.

After the video, I start an anchor chart with the three types of rocks: sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic. This anchor chart will serve as a reminder for students throughout the lesson, so I make sure it is really clear and easy to understand. 

Then to extend the activity and to really focus in on the properties of rocks being partially determined by how they were formed, I use the Powerpoint to show the three types of rocks. I use pictures instead of real rocks for this activity so that everyone can see all three at the same time. I ask,

"What do you notice about the way these three rocks look?"

The three rocks represent the three types we just learned about. I want students to be able to both describe the physical properties but also to understand that the physical characteristics are due to how the rock was formed. So, after we talk about all three, I say,

"One of these rocks is igneous, one is metamorphic, and one is sedimentary. The igneous rock was formed from lava. Does anyone want to guess which one it is? That's right! The sedimentary rock was formed by pressure and lots of different materials coming together, causing layers...who knows which one that is? And of course, the last one is metamorphic, which means it was changed by pressure and heat inside the Earth.

Wrap Up

10 minutes

To end this lesson, we watch this video which reviews the three types of rocks. I chose this video because it is fast paced and it gives lots of images of the different kinds of rocks, which is all building up background knowledge for my students.

At the end of the lesson, I end by asking the essential question for today - "What are the three types of rocks and how are they formed?" This provides a quick review and refocusing on the objective.