Soil Secrets - What's in Soil?

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Students will conduct an observation and experiment to explore the origins of soil.

Big Idea

Why does the origin of soil matter?


5 minutes

I ring my chime to get the class’s attention.  I announce that we are about to begin the second science lesson in our unit about soil.  I ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’.  Once seated, I show them my cup of tea. “I have a questionWhat’s in this cup of tea?”  I chose this example because tea is a common part my multicultural class.  Additionally, they see me carrying it around all the time.  Anything familiar would be an appropriate choice, so feel free to change this part to better suit your needs.  I wait for answers from the class.  “Water!”  ”Coffee?”  “No….any more guesses?”  “No…”  “My tea is comprised of water and tea leaves.  Everything starts from somewhere…..”  

Whole Group Instruction

10 minutes

I introduce Soil by Natalie Rosinky.  As I read the first two pages, I stop to ask the class different things about soil, “Where did the character find the soil?  What does this tell us about it?”.  I stop after the first two pages.  My intent was to use the book to introduce the subject.  Since the book touches on several different area that we will study, I plan to continue with it later in the unit.

We get to be “Geologists” today.  We’re going to explore what’s inside soil, what makes it.  Any ideas where we can start?”  “Animals?”  “That’s one small part.  Another common thing that makes up soil is decomposed organic matter.  That means that things like wood and leaves get soft and break apart.  The most common part of soil though is broken up rocks.  They bang together for so long that they finally become tiny, pin head size pieces of rock.”   “Like sand?”  “Exactly like sand.  Depending on where it comes from, different kinds of soil support different plant and animal life.”

After the whole class instruction finishes, I tell them “The geologists in this class are going to do two things today.  First, we are going to study the soil that we collected yesterday to see if we can identify some of the things that make it up.  The second thing we’ll do is examine the soil for evidence of plant and animal life.  We’ll look for things like thin roots and insect shells or anything else.  How does that sound?”  “Fun!”  I use the chime to dismiss the students to return to their table.  This instruction piece is much more simple than most of my other lessons because the focus is on the implementation, the study of the soil.  We will apply the information that we gain in today's observation, to several future lessons, setting the table for more learning. 

Small Group Instruction

15 minutes


• Soil Samples (approx. 2-3 Cups would be enough)

• Screens/filters (anything with different sized holes would work)

As they get back to their table, I review the instructions, “We’re going to take some time to look very closely at the dirt on our table.  We’re going to work with our table groups to examine it and list some of the things we see.  Examinations like this give geologists like us the data they need to decide the best ways to use the soil." 

When you look at the soil, take time to do a few things.

  1. Break apart the big pieces so you can look closer at the soil. 
  2. Put the soil in the screen.
  3. Shake the screen to separate the sizes of soil. 
  4. Feel the soil to tell the differences in the origins.                                                           
  5. Look closely at the soil under the magnifying glass.
  6. Draw a picture or list things that you see.


In order to gain new insights, foster curiosity and model real life applications, collaborative examining and recording are essential steps of Science examinations. Consequently, I always work to include this in lessons when applicable.  Students at this age have a tendency to want to be first, establish their own identity. As the groups examine their soil and record the result, I mingle among them and listen to their conversations, helping them clarify what they are observing. 

Wrap Up

5 minutes

After the work at the table is complete, I ring the chime and ask them to head back to their carpet squares.  “Let’s share some of the things we found in our soil.” “Tiny parts of wood”  “Eeeny rocks”  As each idea is shared, I add it to a list I wrote on chart paper from the previous lesson.  After all ideas are recorded, we review the contributions before they are posted near the Science area so the students could refer to it during future Science lessons or drawing/writing activities.