Car board game.

CareerStart lessons: Grade six

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Learning outcomes

Students will gain an understanding of the cycling of matter by studying the life processes of earthworms and the careers of soil scientists.

Teacher planning

Materials needed

Time required for lesson

Approximately 50 minutes


  1. Pass out two copies of the “Earthworm Problem Statement” to each group of 4–5 students.
  2. Pass out the “Earthworm Student Sheet” to each student.
  3. Read the directions to the students:

    Use your own inquiry skills to make up questions and write them on the paper. Ask yes or no questions about your life as an earthworm, and record the answers. If you form a question that is not a yes or no question, I will ask you to restate the question.

  4. Use the following facts for background information during the lesson:
    • Earthworms break up the soil.
    • Earthworms let in air and water.
    • Earthworms help mix up the soil.
    • Earthworms pass out the soil they eat as waste. The waste is made up of substances such as nitrogen that plants need to grow.
    • Earthworms mix up humus with other materials in the soil.
    • Worms decompose dead organic material and help mix it in the soil.
    • Earthworms love moist soil.
    • Sometimes earthworms come out at night if it is damp enough.
    • Sometimes earthworms go deeper to avoid droughts or winter freezes.
    • Worm tunnels have been found to go at least 16.5 feet below the surface.
    • Their body is made up of many small segments.
    • Each segment has small hairs that assist the worm in moving. The hairs are hard to see.
    • Earthworms do not have a skeleton.
    • They have lots of muscles.
    • Earthworms have a mouth and a tiny brain at the front.
    • Earthworms do not have eyes or a nose.
    • They can detect light and vibrations.
    • In North America the biggest worms are thought to be about 30 cm long.
    • Earthworms eat decaying matter in the soil, then they let off castings that are good for plant growth.
    • They sometimes look white, gray, pink or reddish brown.
    • Some earthworms have red blood that you can see through their skin.
    • They have a front and back end.
    • The earthworm plays an important role in soil ecology.
    • They are a source of food for many animals.
    • Earthworms are great organisms because they are very common and they have adapted very well to their environment.
    • Soil scientists actually study the chemical, physical, biological, and mineralogical composition of soils as they relate to plant or crop growth.
    • Soil scientists can even help people who are having erosion problems.
  5. At the end of the activity, write the words “soil conservationists” on the board. Ask the students the following questions and record appropriate suggestions on the board. If necessary, you can help students answer the questions using the responses provided.
    1. Describe a soil conservationist’s job.
      • Soil and water conservationists provide technical help to farmers, ranchers, forest managers, State and local agencies, and other people who are concerned about the conservation of soil, water, and other related natural resources.
    2. Who employs conservation scientists?
      • The USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service employs many conservation scientists. Some conservation scientists are self-employed. They help private landowners, Federal and State governments, and forestry-related businesses.
    3. What type of degree do you need to be a conservation scientist?
      • Most colleges do not offer a degree in soil conservation. Many soil conservationists have degrees in environmental studies, agronomy, general agriculture, hydrology, or crop or soil science.
    4. What type of activities do you need to enjoy being a good conservation scientist?
      • You need to like working outdoors. You need to be physically fit to handle the job and be willing to move where the jobs are located. You have to have good people skills.


Optional resources for more information on the topics covered in this lesson

What is soil conservation?
An educational site by the National Resources Conservation Service to explain the basics of soil and soil conservation. Appropriate for reading level grade 3 and up.
Careers in Soil Science
The National Resources Conservation Service describes soil scientists’ job activities and required education.
The Dirt on Soil
Discovery Education’s informational website about soil includes sections on the layers of soil, a field guide, and a journey underground.
Scoop on Soil
This interactive website by the United States Department of Agriculture includes educational games and learning activities to teach students about soil conservation. For grades 4-6.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 6

  • Goal 4: The learner will investigate the cycling of matter.
    • Objective 4.02: Evaluate the significant role of decomposers.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 6

        • 6.L.2 Understand the flow of energy through ecosystems and the responses of populations to the biotic and abiotic factors in their environment. 6.L.2.1 Summarize how energy derived from the sun is used by plants to produce sugars (photosynthesis) and is transferred...