Exploring the Ingredients in Soil

Part of the "Sorting Out Soils" Collection


Students will use senses to observe soils by physical attributes.

Estimated Time

45 Minutes

Setting Required



  • SKE2b. Students will use senses to observe soils by physical attributes such as smell, texture, color, particle or grain size, etc.
  • SKE2c. Students will recognize earth materials – soil, rocks, water, air, etc.

a. Ask questions to identify and describe earth materials—soil, rocks, water, and air.
b. Use tools to observe and record physical attributes of soil such as texture and color.


  • Whiteboard or easel, markers
  • Containers filled with soil (4, shoebox-sized)
  • Hand lenses or other magnifying tools


  1. Explain that students will be looking closely at the soil – beyond the color and size of the grains but closer to what else makes up the soil.
  2. In small groups, students can investigate the soil with hand lenses or other magnifying tools to create a list of everything that they find. Their list could include everything from the rock particles, to plant parts, to animals.
  3. As a whole group, students can work together to form a complete long list of all of the things they found in the soil. Provide students with options for vocabulary as different items are described.Then, assist students in groupings similar items based on their similarities and differences until they ultimately create a grouping that may resemble this:
    Natural-made –sand, clay, gravel, rocks, water, air
    Man-made – trash, styrofoam, wrappers
    Plant Debris – roots, bark, twigs, leaves
    Animals – worm, roly-poly, shell
  4. Reinforce to students that soil is made up of both non-living parts (like rocks) and once-living parts (like plant debris) that breakdown with the help of living parts (like animals).