K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Related pages

  • Getting down & dirty with soils: In this lesson, we will explore different kinds of soil (humus, sand, clay). The students will plant seeds in the different soils as part of further exploration.
  • Archaeological soils: Students will determine components of a soil sample and evaluate how archaeologists use soils to interpret sites.
  • Soil and erosion unit: Section 1: This two week unit will involve descriptive information on North Carolina soil types and how the presence of plants affects soil erosion. Upon completion of Section 1, you may continue to Section 2.

Related topics


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • identify three types of soil: clay, sand and humus.
  • know some characteristics of each types of soil.
  • create a simile poem about one type of soil that they have investigated.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

90 minutes


For each group of four students you will need:

  • three small cups
  • clay, sand and humus to put in each cup
  • hand microscopes or magnifying glasses for each student
  • balance scales with gram weights
  • paper or overhead film for each group
  • colored pencils, markers, or overhead pens for each group
  • chart paper for writing a list poem

Technology resources

Computer with Internet access.


The teacher will to ask the children to write everything they know about kinds of soil in five minutes. The class shares and makes a class chart.


Day 1

  1. After the class has brainstormed what they know about types of soil, put them in cooperative groups of four. Explain that they will be investigating characteristics of three types of soil: clay, sand and humus. Pass out trays with cups of each type of soil, balance scales, magnifying glasses, hand microscopes, eye droppers, and cups of water.
  2. Ask the children what they can find out about the soil by just using their senses. Make a class list. Ask the children to brainstorm ways they can use the equipment to explore characteristics of the soil. Make a list of these ways. Add to the class list.
  3. Ask the children to use the list to explore the characteristics of each type of soil. Make sure that the children talk about how to weigh the same amounts of soil with the gram weights so that they can make a good comparisons. When they use the eye dropper and water, make sure they know to put the same amount of water on the same amount of soil to get a good idea of what happpens with each type of soil.
  4. Give each group of children time to explore and write about the characteristics of each type of soil. Their observations could be recorded on a Tree Thinking Map. At the end of the investigation time, children may wish to share their findings with the group.

Day 2

  1. The next day, put the students back into the same cooperative group.
  2. Have each group take out their Tree Maps from the soil investigations from yesterday. Have them gather around the computer and go to the Soil Science Education Page. Children read information and add to their tree maps. Click “Next” at the bottom of the page the continue the Soil Texture lesson.
  3. Ask the students to make a Double Bubble Thinking map (Venn Diagram) to compare two of the soils they investigated. (Or show students how to use a data chart to compare all three types of soil). This will take some thinking and time to come up with good ones.
  4. Each group should share their Double Bubble Thinking Maps with the class. Use the information from the maps to write a class explanation of the similarities and differences between the three soils.
  5. Have the children look at the Double Bubble Thinking Maps to create a simile poem about one of the soils. For example:

    Sand is. . .as gritty as____________as brown as_____________as heavy as_____________ .


Children will answer the following questions about soil.

  1. Which type of soil could you form into a worm without breaking?
    1. humus
    2. clay
    3. sand
  2. The way a soil feels is called the soil:
    1. type
    2. texture
    3. particle
  3. Which type of soil has the largest particles?
    1. sand
    2. humus
    3. clay
  4. Which soil type has a high content of organic matter?
    1. humus
    2. clay
    3. sand
  5. Which soil weighs the most?
    1. A cup of sand
    2. A cup of humus
    3. A cup of clay
  6. Answer the following questions in complete sentences:
    • You want to make a statue of your best friend. Which soil would you use? Why?
    • You are planting a spring garden. You are planting corn, beans, squash and potatoes. Which type of soil would you use for your garden? Why?

Supplemental information


For more information on Thinking Maps:Tools For Learning (ie Tree Map) contact:
Innovative Learning Group
975 Walnut Street, Suite 342
Cary, North Carolina 27511
(800) 243-9169

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 3

        • 3.L.2 Understand how plants survive in their environments. 3.L.2.1 Remember the function of the following structures as it relates to the survival of plants in their environments: Roots – absorb nutrients Stems – provide support Leaves – synthesize food...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 3

  • Goal 2: The learner will conduct investigations to build an understanding of soil properties.
    • Objective 2.01: Observe and describe the properties of soil:
      • Color.
      • Texture.
      • Capacity to hold water.
    • Objective 2.02: Investigate and observe that different soils absorb water at different rates.
    • Objective 2.04: Identify the basic components of soil:
      • Sand.
      • Clay.
      • Humus.