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What Is Soil Made Of?

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD, and Barbara Tharp, MS.

Session 1: Looking at Soil

In this activity, students will explore a sample of natural soil, and will identify and separate its different components. In a second session, students will examine the texture of soil. By the end of the activity, students will discover that soil contains a variety of things of different sizes. 

Direct students to cover their work areas with newspaper. Have the Materials Manager from each group measure about 2 cups of soil onto a paper plate and bring the soil back to his/her group. Have students place about 1/2 of their group’s soil in the center of their work area. Have them take turns describing the soil, using all of their senses except taste.

Ask, What does the soil look like? How does it smell? How does it feel? Have students write three words on their “Soil Observations” sheets that describe some aspect of the soil sample. 

Next, direct students to spread out the sample (using toothpicks, popsicle sticks, etc.) and observe the different components of the soil sample. Have students list or draw the different things they find in their soil samples, and then classify the different components of soil as coming from living or nonliving sources.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932