The Relationship Between Geoscience Processes and Mineral Distribution

A Carolina Essentials™ Activity

Total Time: 20-30 mins

Prep: 15 mins | Activity: 20-30 mins

Earth and Space Science


Middle School


Minerals are naturally occurring substances with a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement. This unique structure gives many minerals a crystalline shape. Minerals are inorganic, meaning that they are not made up of carbon chains but are usually a metal combined with a nonmetal or polyatomic ion. Minerals are grouped by their chemical composition and include silicates, oxides, sulfates, sulfides, carbonates, native elements, and halides. Generally, minerals have economic value and are used commercially in many manufactured products. Minerals are obtained through a variety of mining processes, and many can be recycled, reclaimed, and reused to minimize the impact on Earth’s natural resources. This is a short activity that uses a series of USGS maps to allow students to visually establish the relationships between tectonic boundaries, geologic features such as volcanoes and earthquakes, and mineral deposits. Once relationships are established, students will develop an explanation for the uneven distribution of mineral resources.

Physical Map of the World

Image courtesy of the Nations Online Project

Map of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Modified from “Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments and Seashores,” by Robert J. Lillie, New York, W. W. Norton and Company, 298 pp., 2005,

Essential Question

What is the relationship between global mineral deposit distributions and geoscience processes?

Activity Objectives

  1. Explain the distribution of major global mineral deposits and critical mineral deposits.
  2. Explain the relationship between mineral deposits and geologic processes.

Next Generation Science Standards* (NGSS)

PE: MS-ESS3-1. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distribution of Earth’s mineral, energy,and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes.

Science & Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS3.A: Natural Resources

Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and Effect


Safety Procedures and Precautions

No PPE required. No disposal precautions.

Teacher Preparation and Disposal

Copy or upload the student activity sheets. If time is a concern, you may wish to pre-cut the tissue paper, copy paper strips, and card stock. Models can be saved for additional classes or the materials can be recycled.

Student Procedures

      1. Place all of the maps in a group on your desk. You need to see all the maps so you can compare them.
      2. On the volcanoes and earthquakes map, sketch where you think the tectonic plate boundaries are located.
      3. Use a “D” for divergent (pulling apart) and a “C” for convergent (colliding) to label the plate boundaries.
      4. Use the volcanoes and earthquakes map as a reference and repeat steps 2 and 3 for both mineral maps.
      5. On both mineral maps, shade in the locations of major mountain ranges.

Teacher Preparation and Tips

  1. You may want to make copies of the 3 maps and laminate them to serve as resources for additional activities.
  2. Review types of plate boundaries with students. Use the “Dynamic Earth: Plate Tectonics” map as a reference, if needed.
  1. As an extension, assign each student a major mineral and critical mineral and report on the following items:
    • Mineral uses
    • Mineral value
    • Is the mineral found pure or as an ore?
    • If the mineral is found as an ore, how is it processed?
    • Can the mineral be recycled/reclaimed? If so, how is it reclaimed?
    • Identify the mineral location on the maps.

Major Mineral Deposits of the World

Major Mineral Deposits of the World

Analysis & Discussion

  1. In 2–3 sentences, describe the distribution of minerals worldwide and how the distribution is associated with geoscience processes like mountain formation, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tectonic plate boundaries.

    Mineral deposits are found worldwide but are not equally distributed. Deposits seem to clump in the mountain ranges. Most of the mountain ranges appear to be on or close to convergent plate boundaries and volcanoes.

  2. Explain, based on evidence, how the uneven distribution of Earth’s mineral resources is the result of past and current geoscience processes.

    The evidence shows that mineral deposits are found worldwide but are not equally distributed. Deposits are found mostly in mountain ranges on or close to convergent plate boundaries and volcanoes. As colliding plates subduct and are uplifted, minerals are ejected by volcanic eruptions, crystalized in magma tubes, or brought nearer the surface through uplift and folding. Mineral deposits are not found in places where these geologic processes do not occur. Greenland, the Sahara Desert, and a large part of China are examples.

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of, and do not endorse, these products.

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