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Sedimentary Rock Classification

Sedimentary rocks are classified by how they formed and by grain size.

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Sedimentary Rock Classification

Can you tell which type of rock these are?

If you look up close, you would be able to see grains of sand. From this distance, you can see different layers from where the sand was laid down. This rock is sandstone. The sand grains are cemented together to make sandstone. Sandstone is a common type of sedimentary rock.

Types of Sedimentary Rocks

The main types of sedimentary rocks are clastic, chemical, and bioclastic. Clastic sedimentary rocks are made of sediments. The sediments differ in size. Chemical sedimentary rocks are made of minerals that precipitate from saline water.  Bioclastic rocks ("bio" means life) come from the solid structures (homes) of living organism such as compressed sea shells or coral.  

Clastic Sedimentary Rocks

Clastic sedimentary rocks are grouped by the size of the sediment they contain. Conglomerate and breccia are made of individual stones that have been cemented together. In conglomerate, the stones are rounded. In breccia, the stones are angular. Sandstone is made of sand-sized particles. Siltstone is made of smaller particles. Silt is smaller than sand but larger than clay. Shale has the smallest grain size. Shale is made mostly of clay-sized particles and hardened mud.

Rock Sediment Size Other Features
Conglomerate Large Rounded
Breccia Large Angular
Sandstone Sand-sized
Siltstone Silt-sized, smaller than sand
Shale Clay-sized, smallest

When sediments settle out of calmer water, they form horizontal layers. One layer is deposited first, and another layer is deposited on top of it. So each layer is younger than the layer beneath it. When the sediments harden, the layers are preserved.

Bioclastic sedimentary rocks form in the ocean or a salt lake. Living creatures remove ions, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, from the water to make shells or soft tissue. When the organism dies, it sinks to the ocean floor to become a bioclastic sediment, which may then become compacted and cemented into solid rock (Figure below).

Fossils in a biochemical rock, limestone, in the Carmel Formation in Utah

Fossils in a biochemical rock, limestone, in the Carmel Formation in Utah.

Chemical Sedimentary Rocks

Sedimentary rocks formed by the crystallization of chemical precipitates are called chemical sedimentary rocks. Dissolved ions in fluids precipitate out of the fluid and settle out, just like the halite pictured below (Figure below).

The evaporite, halite, on a cobble from the Dead Sea, Israel.

Living creatures can help chemicals become sedimentary rocks. Limestone is an example.

Some Common Sedimentary Rocks

Listed below are some common types of sedimentary rocks (Table below)

Picture Rock Name Type of Sedimentary Rock
Conglomerate Clastic (fragments of non-organic sediments)
Breccia Clastic
Sandstone Clastic
Siltstone Clastic
Shale Clastic
Rock Salt Chemical precipitate
Rock Gypsum Chemical precipitate
Dolostone Chemical precipitate
Limestone Bioclastic (sediments from organic materials, or plant or animal remains)
Coal Organic


  • chemical sedimentary rocks: Rocks that form from the hardening of chemical precipitates.
  • clastic sedimentary rocks: Rocks that form from hardening of sediments by compaction and/or cementation.
  • bioclastic sedimentary rocks: Rocks that form from the shelled remains of once living organism.


  • Sediments settle out of water in horizontal layers.
  • Clastic sedimentary rocks are classified based on how they form and on the size of the sediments.
  • Chemical sedimentary rocks precipitate from fluids.


Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. List the three types of sedimentary rocks.
  2. List the characteristics of clastic rocks.
  3. How do clastic rocks form?
  4. Contrast conglomerates and breccia rocks.
  5. What can be found in clastic rocks?
  6. Explain the difference between layers and bands.
  7. What can we learn from sedimentary rocks?
  8. How do chemical rocks form?
  9. What are bioclastic rocks?
  10. List the two types of biocalstic rocks.


  1. Describe the two main types of sedimentary rocks.
  2. Compare and contrast chemical sedimentary rocks and clastic sedimentary rocks.
  3. List sedimentary rock types by grain size, from small to large.

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