What is Soil? Preassessment and Exploration

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SWBAT make observations about soil and compare soil samples.

Big Idea

Students discover that soil looks, feels, and even smells different when it comes from different places!

Teacher Preparation

This is the first lesson in this unit about soil, so it starts with a preassessment activity that aligns with the Essential Standard 1.E.2.1 "Summarize the physical properties of Earth materials, including rocks, minerals, soils and water that make them useful in different ways". Watch my explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question to find out why I teach the Essential Standards.

I post an Essential Question with each lesson as I begin, and today's question is simple: What is soil? This lesson serves both as my preassessment, to find out what my students already know and what misconceptions they may have, and also to find out what they want to know. So, I built in time during the first lesson for each part of that process. When we started to learn about rocks and minerals in the previous unit, at first they thought it was going to be boring...but as they found out, natural sciences are really amazing!


*1 copy of the Soil Pre Test per student

*1 copy of the Soil Sample Exploration - Dry per student

*1 copy of the Soil Sample Exploration - Wet per student

*Different soil samples (This won't be as effective if everyone has plain, boring soil! One way to do this is to bring several of your own samples that are different - some with grass, weed roots, sand, rocks, etc. Also, give students a small Ziploc bag the night before and a Homework Note that asks them to bring a cup of soil for tomorrow's science class!)

*Hand lenses

*White paper plates

*Popsicle sticks (for students to poke and move the soil with - some students will not want to touch it!)

*Water droppers (1 per table is enough)

*Dixie cups (1 per table to give a really small amount of water per table)


10 minutes

Before the exploration, I give the pretest for soil because I want to find out what my students already know about the topic. I try not to help or give hints - and for that reason, I also do not have any posters up about soil in my room yet! Since my students are in first grade, I read the test to them and we move along fairly quickly because I feel that they either know the answers or not- and my job is to teach it to them!



20 minutes

After I collect the pretests, I gather everyone on the carpet and show them the template for the soil exploration and briefly explain how to draw the diagram in the "Sample 1" box. I show them how to use the Q-tip as a tool for seeing what is in the soil.

As my students look at the soil sample, they draw a detailed diagram, labeling if they can, and coloring with accurate colors --all skills we have worked on in our science journals throughout the year. The goal of this exploration is for my students to look closely at the sample with the hand lenses and to simply see what they notice about the soil. Since their sample is potting soil and I have already taught about plants, I want to formatively assess what they remember about plants before we really move into our unit about soil - and we did our plant until about 4 months ago! As the students work, I listen to their conversation to see who is making really detailed observations and may be a soil expert or have an interest that I can capitalize on in other ways - maybe we can have a student master gardener! The exploration part of this lesson supports Science and Engineering Practice 3 as students engage in making hands-on observations and collecting data--even though it is not numerical data--because they are recording the properties of the soil which is still a type of data. Writing, recording, and then sharing the information in the Wrap Up section supports Practice 4.

After about 5 minutes, I say,

"Do not forget to draw a diagram of your soil sample - you have about 5 minutes left!"

If my class is moving slowly because they are so interested and they are not really tending to the recording part of the activity, I set the digital timer on the projector which helps them to keep track of the time as well.



Wrap Up

10 minutes

To end the lesson, I ask students to share some things they noticed about their soil samples and to share their diagrams. As students talk and share, I write down any misconceptions I hear that I may need to address later in the unit. After a few students share, I say,

"Now that you have had some experience with soil and have looked at it closely, think like a scientist. We know that scientists always....ask questions! Think of a good question about soil and write it in your journal. Take 2 minutes and do this all by yourself".

Science and Engineering Practice 1 requires that students ask and answer questions about science building on prior experiences and observations to find out more information about the natural world.

After students finish, I ask them to share them. Due to time, I do not write them on an anchor chart this time but after class I take everyone's journals and type up a list of the questions to post on our science wall to refer to throughout the unit.

Note- The essential question that was written for today was "What is soil?" and I never go back and answer it with my class because this entire unit builds towards an understanding of that question, so it is not directly answered. At the end of the unit, we will directly answer the question.