Teaching students how to identify minerals is joyful and challenging! The variety and beauty of minerals serves as an effective hook for teaching. Bringing in larger samples of minerals from home to showcase during class is a favorite aspect about the mineral unit, and I recently added a few samples to my personal collection as I made a trip to the Gem and Mineral Show in Denver just a few weeks ago. A rose quartz cluster of crystals; a nice polished Jasper, which is a sedimentary rock; and a purple fluorite crystal were the purchases of this year.
The most difficult aspect about teaching students how to identify minerals is describing the difference between minerals samples that cleave, and minerals samples that are crystals. Both will have flat sides and for amateurs, determining which is which is a very frustrating task! Over the last few years I have developed a handout that allows students to compare their unknown mineral samples to sketches of minerals with a variety of appearances including, not just cleavage and crystal faces, but conchoidal and irregular fracture, geodes and broken crystals as well. The field of Geology is a very visual subject, and I have found this handout to be very useful. If students are unsure of which image best matches their mineral sample, I can point it out to them by setting the sample next to the best sketch. I have also started to include this handout at each station of the mineral-sample test. It seems to have improved test scores from previous years when this handout was not available.
I have added this new item to my store this month, which also includes the answer page for the physical properties of minerals that students fill out as they identify their samples. I have made this handout to be editable so that teachers can add or subtract the number of samples that they have students identify, as well as remove or alter columns to suit their depth of knowledge for mineral identification. I hope this helps, and happy mineral teaching!