Soil Secrets - Collection Time!

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Students will be able to explain what geologist study by collecting soil samples outside.

Big Idea

How is soil connected to the earth?


5 minutes

I ring my chime to get the class’s attention and ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’.  Once seated I announce that we are about to begin the first Science lesson in our unit about..something.  While I want it to be a bit of a mystery, I given them a clue and hold up a handful of soil and ask, “Who knows what is in my hand?”  “Dirt!”  “Right, some people call it ‘dirt’.  Let’s write that down on a chart.”  I really feel that it’s important to teach the habit of recording what we learned because it’s connected to real Science practices (completed chart is included in Wrap Up section).  “Does anyone know another name for it?”  “Ground?”  “Ground is like the surface that you walk on, created from dirt.  Any other guesses?”  I wait for answers from the class.  “No more guessesWell, people who study and work with it call it soil.  Let me write ‘soil’ on the chart so we remember the two terms when we study it.”  This line of question is intended to access prior knowledge and introduce new vocabulary so it’s familiar going forward in the unit.

Whole Class Instruction

15 minutes

Many years ago, I discovered a great line of Reader’s Digest Books that I often use as a resource in the classroom.  One of them is How the Earth Works.  While it is out of print, it is readily (and inexpensively!) available on Amazon.  It has a great section on soil (amongst many other subjects!) that provides me with guidance as I teach this unit. 

I start the instructional piece with and interesting fact.  “People who study soil for a living are called ‘geologists’.  Let’s practice that word…ge..ol..o..gist.”  “Geologist”  “Each part of the word means something.  ‘Geo’ relates to the earth.  ‘Ologist’ is someone who studies something.  So geologist is someone who studies the…”  “Earth!”.  “With this unit, we’re going to be geologists!”  “Let me start by asking you geologists a question.  How much of the earth is covered by soil?”  “10%”  “Nope..more.”  “20%” “ Nope, way more!”  “50%??”  “Did you know that almost every part of the earth is covered by soil?”  “No. Way.”  “Way.  That’s true.  Even when it's covered by water..or ice..or snow, there is some form of soil underneath.  We’re going outside to explore sources of soil at our school and collect a sample to use later.”  While all students at this age don't understand the concept of fractions, some do.  In this case, these immediate answers to my questions.  To make this concept accessible to everyone, I used my hands visually illustrate the fractions (bringing them together and moving them out as the guesses grew).  The question and answer both provide a good starting point to the lesson, as well as integrating the concept of quantity, an important part of the Math CCSS.

After the brief instruction finishes, I tell the class, “It’s time for us to go outside and look for soil.”  Based on what we know about it, where is a good place to locate it?”  “On the ground!”  They may remember, guess, or else just want to go outside!  I use the chime to dismiss the students by table group to line up at the back door.  

Individual Instruction

15 minutes


• Plastic containers for soil collection (one per group)

• Spoons or Scoops (optional)

Once they line up, I say, “Let’s review some rules first.  First, walk in the assigned area.  Second, stay on the ground.  Third, be gentle to the environment and each other.”  We straighten our line as I remind them “Lines are…” “Straight”  “And…” “Together”  “And..”  Calm”.  I prepare several clear plastic containers to use to collect soil and put them next to the back door.  We gather them and begin our walk to the school playground. 

When we arrive outside, I model what I would look for by thinking out loud “Where would I find soil?  Let’s look on the ground, next to the tree.  Look!  There is a pile of soil!”.  I show how I use my fingers to slowly scoop up the soil “In slow motion, so it won’t spill.” and put it in the container.  I dismiss the children one at a time to look for one handful of soil.  Once they find some soil, they put it in a plastic container and join me back at the gate.  The soil collection essentially acts as a pass/fail formative assessment because they showed mastery over the material by looking in the right place and finding, gathering, and depositing soil in the container correctly.  The collection takes about five minutes by design since we now have an adequate amount to use for future observations.  I give them a one-minute warning with a hand clap pattern.  I assign one person per table group to carry the containers.  We line up again, checked our form (“straight, together, calm”) and head back.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

Once we are back in the classroom, I have the assigned students put the plastic containers on the tables.  After everyone washes their hands, I ask them all to head back to their carpet squares.  “Let’s share some of the places we found our soil.”  “Next to the tree”  “Under the pine needles.”.  As each idea is shared, I add it to a list we wrote on chart paper at the beginning of the lesson.  Past experience has shown me that charts are a great way immediate process the material we just covered.  After all ideas are recorded, we review the contributions before posting it near the Science area so the students could refer to it during future Science lessons or drawing/writing activities.