quartz in sandstone

Feeling Rock: A Hands-On Rock Cycle Activity

In this activity, students identify sedimentary and metamorphic rock based on the feel of the rock.

This activity came from a documentary that we watched about a man who is blind who hiked the Appalachian trail. He had never been a hiker or even a Boy Scout, but was motivated by a meeting about a hiker who is blind who had hiked Everest.  

He mentioned that as he traveled through the trail, as others took pictures to remember the experience, he collected rocks from each portion of the trail.  He then remembered his hike by these rocks.  This brought to my mind the importance of providing tactile “memories” for students as they learn and the idea for this activity was born.


S&S Worldwide offers a kit for $9.99 which includes these and other samples of rock.  I recommend ordering one for each student.


This activity is appropriate after an introduction to the rock cycle.  Students should already have been given a basic understanding of what causes the formation of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock.

Warm Up: (10 minutes) 

As students enter the room, give each student a sample of sandstone and a sample of quartzite.  As this is an individual activity, it is important that each student have his own sample. Have 2 small paper cups set up on the desk for each student.  

Say, “Yesterday we learned about the rock cycle.  Why is it considered a cycle?”  Discuss the Rock Cycle briefly.

“Today you will have a chance to observe a transformed rock and the rock that it transformed from.  You have each been given 2 samples of rock.  Your task is to decide which of these samples is sedimentary rock and which is the metamorphic rock formed from that sedimentary rock (as we spoke of yesterday) by heat and pressure in the Earth.”

“When you have decided which is the sedimentary and which is the metamorphic, place the sedimentary rock in the cup on the left and the metamorphic rock in the cup on the right.”

“Compose a sentence or two about why you made the choice that you did.”

Discussion: (5-10 minutes) 

How did the two samples of rock feel and look differently?  Talk about the sandy feel of the sandstone.  What does this mean? 

Ask the students to discuss why they made the choices they did.  

After at least 5 minutes of discussion before revealing the correct answer, talk with the students about the formation of sedimentary and metamorphic rock.  Review the rock cycle lesson, as necessary.  

Ask:  “What major player in the rock cycle is missing from this activity?”  Igneous rock

Pass out a sample of igneous rock to each student.  Have students work in groups of 2 to describe how each type of rock forms.  As each group describes its type (sedimentary, metamorphic, or igneous rock) have the other students all find the appropriate sample and hold it up high.


Have students either complete a review from the text or define the related terms below:


The Warm-up activity could be completed in groups of 2. 

NGSS Standards:

2nd grade – Earth’s systems: Processes that shape the Earth

ESS2.A: Earth Materials and Systems

Middle School: Earth’s Systems

ESS2.A: Earth’s Materials and Systems

By Laura Hospitál

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