National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
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The Soil We Grow In
K - 2
Two or three 50-minute class sessions
In this lesson, students will gain an understanding and appreciation for the importance and complexity of the Earth’s soil.
For each student:
- Plastic knife
- Cutting board or plates
- Paper towels or wet wipes
For each group:
- Glass jar with lid
- Permanent marker
- Paper towels
For the teacher:
- Soil samples from a variety of locations
- Paper cups
For each group:
- Two or three paper cups with a different soil sample in each
- Plastic spoon
- White paper
- Hand lenses
For each student:
- What's Soil Made of? handout
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
Clay: fine granular material composed of closely packed particles.
Loam: ideal garden soil that has a well-balanced mixture of sand, silt and clay
Sand: coarse granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles.
Silt: sedimentary material composed of fine mineral particles in size between sand and clay.
organic: a substance of, relating to, or derived from living matter
inorganic: not consisting of or deriving from living matter
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Ask students, "What is a natural resource?" Allow students time to answer the question. Build upon their answers to teach or clarify that natural resources are substances that occur in nature. Give examples of natural resources such as minerals in the ground, forests, water, and fertile land and soil.
- Ask students, "Where does our food come from?" If needed, give specific examples of food such as an apple, lettuce, corn, etc. Point out that each of these foods grow from plants in the soil.
- Ask students, "Is soil a natural resource?" (Yes)
- Inform students that they are going to be learning about the importance of soil, a natural resource and how important it is to farmers in order to grow and produce the food we eat.
Activity 1: Comparing Apples and...Earth?
- Hold up an apple to the class and tell the students that it represents Earth.
- Slice the apple into fourths. Set aside three of the fourths, as they represent water on the Earth’s surface.
- Cut the remaining slice in half. Set aside one of the halves as uninhabited deserts, swamps and Arctic areas.
- Divide the remaining piece into fourths. Set aside three of the pieces for land that is too rocky, wet, hot, or poor for crop production.
- The remaining piece is 1/32 of the original apple. Carefully, peel this section. Hold up the peel and explain that it represents the thin layer of soil that is available for producing all of the world’s food crops.
- Have a classroom discussion using the following questions:
- What is the key message underlying the activity?
- What actions can students take to care for their patch of this precious Earth—as individuals, as a class and school, with their families, in their community?
- How are farmers stewards of the land?
- What is sustainability? Introduce the concepts without using the word itself, which can be difficult to define. Produce concept maps based on discussion.
- How do natural resource management, farming techniques, feeding the world, land care, and environmental management play a role in food production in your hometown and state?
- A demonstrator could cut one apple and students eat an approximate amount
- Watch the tutorial video, Comparing Apples and... Earth?
Activity 2: Shake, Rattle, and Roll
- Explain to the class that soil is made of three different types of particles: sand, silt and clay. The perfect soil will contain an even mixture of all three. This is called a loam soil.
- Give each student a small sample of sugar, representing sandy soil. This soil does not usually grow plants well, as it dries out quickly and does not let the roots get enough water. Have the students describe the texture. Next, allow students to feel a small sample of dry flour and rub it between their fingers. This is the powdery, silky texture of silt. Finally, add a small amount of water to the flour. This is the texture of clay. Clay particles clump together and compact when dry and drain poorly when wet. Have the students describe the texture.
- Determine the type of soil in the garden by filling a large jar half-full with soil. Fill the remaining space with water. Have the students take turns vigorously shaking the jar until the larger clumps are broken apart. Let the jar sit for two minutes. Use a permanent marker to draw a line to mark each layer. Allow at least 24 hours for the soil to settle completely. The top layer will be clay, which includes the smallest, lightest particles. The middle layer will be silt, and the heaviest particles fall to the bottom, sand. Have the students identify the thickest layer to determine the soil type.
- Have students measure and graph the separate layers in centimeters. Divide the class into groups to duplicate the activity with soil from different areas of the campus. Students can record, graph and compare their findings. Ask the students how this activity might influence where they plant a garden.
Activity 3: What's Soil Made Of?
- Gather samples of soil from a variety of places around your school or home garden. You can also have the students bring samples of soil from home. Do not use purchased potting soil for this activity.
- Divide soil samples into paper cups, with two to three different soil samples for each student group.
- Distribute the student handout, What’s Soil Made Of? and read as a class. Demonstrate the procedure for the class, then divide students into groups. Walk younger students through each soil sample one at a time as a class.
- Instruct one student from each group to obtain cups of soil samples.
- Use the questions that follow as a class discussion for younger students. Have the older students complete the answers to the questions in their groups. Discuss why it is important for farmers to understand the properties of the soil on their farms.
- Note: This lesson uses various models to illustrate concepts. Remind students that models incorporate approximations that may not represent the exact properties of soil.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation:
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Soil is a natural resource.
- Fertile soil that can be used to grow our food is a limited resource and it has value.
- Soil is important to farmers who grow our food.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Complete the activities on pages 4, 16, and 23 from the Fun With the Plant Nutrient Team student activity book.
Suggested Companion Resources
- A Handful of Dirt (Book)
- Dirt: The Scoop on Soil (Book)
- Planters and Cultivators: with Casey and Friends (Book)
- Soil Painting (Kit)
- Soil Science Videos (Multimedia)
- Soil, Not Dirt (Multimedia)
- Fun With the Plant Nutrient Team Student Activity Book (Booklets & Readers)
- Under Your Feet: Exploring Soil Science (Booklets & Readers)
- From the Ground Up: The Science of Soil (Website)
- Soil Health Education Resources (Website)
- Soil Science Society of America (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
- Identify the importance of natural resources (e.g., sun, soil, water, minerals) in farming (T2.K-2.e)
Agriculture and the Environment
- Describe the importance of soil and water in raising crops and livestock (T1.K-2.b)
- Identify natural resources (T1.K-2.c)
Education Content Standards
K-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
K-ESS3-1Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live.
K-ESS3-3Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Writing: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
Mathematics: Practice Standards
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP4Model with mathematics. Students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. Students who can apply what they know are comfortable making assumptions and approximations to simplify a complicated situation, realizing that these may need revision later. They are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions.