Soil Does More Than Get You Dirty - Conservation of Soil and Water Play

Conservation of Soil and Water Play


In Kansas, the majority of our soils are used to grow crops. Sometimes our soils are not treated with enough care so they remain productive for crops in the future. In the past, land was considered to be a resource that would never end. When a piece of land became unproductive, the farmers simply moved and settled on another piece of land. Finally in the 1930s, these farming practices led to blowing of billions of tons of soil commonly known as the "Dust Bowl." When the clouds of dust reached Washington, D. C., the Congress acted to stop the erosion by starting conservation programs under the direction of the Soil Conservation Service. Today, part of the soil erosion problem has been corrected but much more still needs to be done. Conserving our soils will benefit all Americans by maintaining a resource which provides us food, as well as wildlife and a healthy environment in which to work and play.

Student Outcome

This activity is a great way to culminate the unit on soil at either the primary or intermediate level. As the students walk through this activity, they can have fan adding sound effects of rain and thunder.


  • 2 balls of yarn: one red, one green
  • Construct the following signs (use imagination to decorate): punch two holes in signs and attach a small length of yarn so that students can wear around neck
    • 1 - Rain (12"x8") can be posted on chair or board. Students could also have the sign around their neck.
    • 10 - Raindrops (circle)
    • 2 - Plant (8"x4") for two students
    • 1 - Conservation (8"x4")
    • 10 - Soil (circles)
    • 2 - Lake (8"x4") for two students
    • 1 - Ocean (12"x8") can be posted on chair or board. Students could also have the sign around their neck.
  • Two pint jars of water can be used to help explain the process of conservation on the green side and without conservation on the red side. In one jar, have only water to represent the green yarn side. In the other jar, mix some soil with the water. Shake the jar to represent the water running to the lake on the red yarn side. When the jar is allowed to sit, the soil will settle out just like in the lake.


The following drawings show classroom set up and movements of students. Students who are the 10 "raindrops" move along paths as shown by the yarn down to the "ocean."

It really works best if you have the red yarn side do their actions first. Be sure you have your jar of soil/water ready to shake when the raindrops, that have been moving quickly, picking up the "soil" people and carefully (be sure to remind them!) take the soil students with them. The water drops can also uproot the plant (again, carefully). The raindrop students and the soil students then move on to the lake, where the teacher needs to have the group pause while you shake the soil/water jar. Questions like, "How would you like to live in this environment?" (as you shake the jar) "What will happen to the lake when the soil and water stop moving?" (let the jar remain still for a few moments) Ask again, "How would you like to live in this? What will happen to the plants/fish/small organisms that live in the lake. What do you think will happen to the lake? Have you ever seen a place that used to be a lake and now it is all plants?"

Now it time for the green yarn side to go through their actions. Ask, "Do you think the same thing will happen when it rains on this (the conservation) side? Why?"

The group of five "raindrops" moves from the "rain" sign along the green yarn. They encounter a student wearing the "conservation" sign. They are let go one at a time, at intervals, to continue along the green yarn. "Why would conservation keep the water drops from moving fast? What kinds of things could keep the water from moving so fast and carrying soil with it?" (grass, trees, mulch) Because they are slowed down or held back by the "conservation," they are not able to pick up or take the "soil" signs from around the feet of the student who is wearing the "plant" sign. "How will this plant react differently to just a gentle rain drop compared to the rushing raindrops on the red side?" (plant could smile, hold up arms to indicate growth, any action that would indicate a happy plant) They continue along the green yarn to the "lake" student where they are again held back for a short time. This is when the teacher holds up the clear jar of water, shakes it and asks, "How does this water in this jar compare to the jar of water on the red side?" and "Which water would you rather live in if you were a fish, etc?" They then proceed to the "ocean" sign at the far end of the green yarn.

At the end of the play you might use these questions for discussion:

  1. What held back the raindrops at the "Conservation" student?
  2. What are some examples of conservation practices?
  3. What is the loss of soil called? (erosion)
  4. On the green yarn side, what would happen if you removed the plants?
  5. If you put lots of plants on the red yarn side, what would happen if you removed the plants?
  6. What happens to plants that lose part of their soil?
  7. How would the students like to swim or boat in the dirty lake? What would they do with it? Can the soil in the lake be reclaimed?
  8. Which lake will have better fishing? The one on the green yarn or the one on the red yarn and why?
  9. How can we keep from having erosion around the schoolyard and at home?


Conservation. The protection or improvement of soil, air, and water. Common conservation practices which protect soil from erosion include grass, dead plants (residue), terraces, and minimum tillage. See the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office for pictures of these practices. Conservation practices which retard water for a short period of time can be illustrated by placing a sponge in a cup of water or in a trough of trickling water.

Erosion. The wearing away of soil by wind or water. See Lesson 2, Activities 1 and 2. A way to help explain erosion could be to cut a small Styrofoam ball into eight to 10 irregular shapes. Then take these pieces and put them back together with toothpicks. To explain erosion or wearing away, pull pieces off one at a time as they are acted on by wind and water.

Terraces. An embankment or combination of an embankment and channel constructed across a slope to control erosion by diverting and temporarily storing surface runoff instead of permitting it to flow down the slope.

Minimum tillage. A practice which leaves the residue or dead plant of the previous crop on the surface at planting time.


This is how the classroom and students will be positioned at the start of the activity. It works best if the red yarn group do their actions first, then have the green yarn group (conservation) do their actions.

classroom set up for conservation of soil and water play

Step 1
(red yarn group)

Raindrop students as a group start along red yarn.

Step 1 - rain drops fall
Step 2

Raindrop students pick up Soil signs from plant who cannot defend against the onslaught of Raindrop students.

Raindrops pick up Soil
Step 3

Raindrop students with soil signs are held back at lake and must drop their soil as raindrop students must continue.

Raindrops leave soil in lake.
Step 4

Raindrop students continue on to the ocean and the soil remains in the lake.

Raindrops continue on to the ocean
Step 5
(green yarn group)

Raindrop students move down the green yarn and stop at Conservation student.

Raindrops fall on conservation practice
Step 6

Conservation student lets Raindrop students proceed along the green yarn - one at a time. They continue past the plant student but cannot pick up any Soil signs.

Conservation slows down raingdrops; plant is able to hold onto soil.
Step 7

Raindrop students are held back for a short time by the Lake student.

Raindrops enter lake.
Step 8

Raindrop students continue to the Ocean sign.

Raindrops move on to Ocean