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Soil Does More Than Get You Dirty - A Close-up Look at Soil (Part 2)

A Close-up Look at Soil

Guiding Question -
What do we find in soil? Part 2

Time - 55 minutes

Student Outcomes
Given the materials, student will be able to:

  1. Locate different particles in the soil.
  2. Observe and record what particles they find.
  3. Identify the properties of soil and recognize the phase of matter.                  
  4. State the observation that a physical change has taken place when water and soil are mixed.
  5. Classify substances within the soil.


  • jars - enough for each group (preferable quart)
  • *soil
  • water
  • paper
  • hand lens (one for each student)
  • plastic spoons
  • paper towels
  • smaller jars or cups
  • chalk
  • chalkboard
  • handout - "What is in the soil?"


  • humus
  • clay
  • soil
  • silt
  • film
  • sand
  • decay
  • classify
  • substances
  • phase of matter
  • physical change


Show the students some soil. Ask, "What is this?" After obtaining answers explain to the students that we will call it soil and it will be our focus for the next few weeks. Before going any further with the discussion - get started with the first activity - it will need 15 to 20 minutes in order to be ready for observation.


  1. Divide class into groups of 4 - Provide each group with a jar (large). Have each group fill its jar half full of soil - or have the jars with soil already in them, pour in water nearly to the top. Cap the jar. Shake it twenty times. Let it stand until the soil settles. (15-20 minutes) It will settle in layers, each one different.
  2. While waiting for the soil to settle, start a class discussion. "What is soil?" Refer to brainstorm in Lesson #1. Keep a record of what is said. What do they know? What would they like to know? What is in soil? What is its purpose?
  3. Get back into small groups. Handout "What is in the soil?" for observations, newspapers, paper towels, spoons and smaller cups for water.
  4. Have students observe what they find in their jars.
  5. Record answers to the questions on handout. (sample below)
  6. "How many layers are there?" (record on handout)
  7. "Next skim off the floating bits with a spoon and spread them on a paper towel."
  8. "Slowly pour water into a smaller jar or clear cup. Use the spoon to scoop up the grains in the top layer. Spread them out on another paper towel."
  9. "Do the same with the grains in the next layer. If another layer, dump it on a paper towel."

Begin with the floaters. (record and discuss) "What do they feel like. Look at them with the hand lens. What do you see? (Explain that these bits of wood, leaves, and roots rot slowly, as they decay, they form black, gooey humus.) Write this on the board. "What are the other layers like?" (Explain that the fine grains are silt, the coarse grains are sand.) "What do you think made the water cloudy?" (Explain that those tiny particles in the film are clay.)


"What did we find in the soil?" (humus, silt, sand, pebbles, clay) "So we see that soil is made up of many different things. The humus usually floats. Sand and pebbles are heavier and they sink."


*Recycle soil when lesson is completed.

See Appendix for a Soil Recipe and Kansas State Soil Harney Silt Loam fact sheet.

Sample handout
sample handout


Lesson #3
Grade 2-6