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What Is Soil Made Of?

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


Have students work in groups of 2-4 to conduct the activity. 

Materials per Student Group

  • 2 cups of natural soil
  • 2 paper plates
  • 1/2 tsp of alum
  • Clear soft drink bottle with screw-on cap, 2-liter size
  • Measuring cup 
  • Metric ruler 
  • Newspapers to cover work area 
  • Copy of “Soil Observations” student sheet

Materials per Student

  • Craft stick, toothpick or coffee stirrer 
  • Hand lens (magnifier)


This activity works best with a sample of natural soil dug recently from a field, yard, garden, playground, etc. About one large shovelful of soil will be enough for an entire class. Collect the soil 24 hours or less before conducting the activity and store it in a large plastic bag. Do not seal the bag completely. 

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