Roofing slate is a fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock derived from an original shale-type sedimentary rock composed of clay or volcanic ash through low-grade regional metamorphism. It is the finest grained foliated metamorphic rock. Foliation may not correspond to the original sedimentary layering but instead is in planes perpendicular to the direction of metamorphic compression.
A very strong foliation is called "slaty cleavage". It is caused by strong compression causing fine grained clay flakes to regrow in planes perpendicular to the compression. When expertly "cut" by striking parallel to the foliation, with a specialized tool in the quarry, many slates will form smooth flat sheets of stone which have long been used for roofing and floor tiles and other purposes. Slate is frequently grey in colour, especially when seen, en masse, covering roofs. However, slate occurs in a variety of colours even from a single locality; Slate from Jiujiang can be found in many shades of grey, from pale to dark, and may also be rusty, green.