What's in Soil?
Grade Level: 
This lesson invites students to experience soil and get to know the living critters that live in it, and the nonliving things that make up soil. These activities can be taught indoors with large butcher paper on the floors.
Student Learning Goals & Objectives: 

Students will:

  • Identify the basic components of soil.
  • Categorize parts of soil as living and nonliving.
Materials & Prep: 
  • Plastic containers with mixtures of soil, compost, plant materials, and rocks
  • Water pitchers
  • Sample of amended soil
  • Garden Journal


Procedure Steps: 
Activity Preparation
  1. Fill plastic containers with mixtures of soil, compost, plant materials, and rocks.
  2. Fill water pitchers.
  3. Prepare a sample of amended soil from the garden in a mason jar.
Sorting Soil
  1. Show students soil samples.
  2. Ask:
    • What do you know about soil?
    • What is soil made of?
  3. Pull out the different components from the prepared soil sample. Invite students to feel the soil and share out what they observe: feel, see, smell, etc.
    • Make a list on the whiteboard of all the items found.
  4. Explain that soil is mostly composed of nonliving things, like clay, fine sand, tiny rocks, and dead plants.
  5. Ask:
    • Can you find the clay, rocks, and plants that are brown in the soil? It also has some living things, like fresh leaves and bugs.
    • Can you find the insects in the soil?
  6. Create a T-chart with a "Non-Living" column and a "Living" column. Have students share out the different materials they find in the soil.
    • Students create a similar T-Chart in their garden journal for when they explore the soil in their 
Collecting Soil Samples
  1. Demonstrate how to collect a soil sample.
    • Students pair up to collect soil samples in clear containers.
    • Demonstrate how to sort out the living and nonliving items into separate containers.
  2. Students write in their garden journals the items they find as living or nonliving.
  3. Ask
    • What did you find?
    • Is it living or nonliving?
    • Did you find anything that isn’t on our T-diagram?
Student Reflection
  1. What is soil made of?

Academic Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas


Biodiversity and Humans: There are many different kinds of living things in any area, and they exist in different places on land and in water.

Science & Engineering Practices

Planning & Carrying Out Investigations

Planning and carrying out investigations in 6-8 builds on K-5 experiences and progresses to include investigations that use multiple variables and provide evidence to support explanations or solutions. Conduct an investigation to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that meets the goals of an investigation. Make observations and/or measurements to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence for an explanation of a phenomenon or test a design solution. Test two different models of the same proposed object, tool, or process to determine which better meets criteria for success

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Use observations (firsthand or from media) to describe patterns and/or relationships in the natural and designed world(s) in order to answer scientific questions and solve problems. Use and share pictures, drawings, and/or writings of observations.

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Use counting and numbers to identify and describe patterns in the natural and designed world(s).