Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
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Secrets to Healthy Soils
3 - 5
Students will understand that the diversity of life in soil contributes to soil fertility.
- Ziploc bags for collecting soil samples
- Soil sample from top layer of a soil high in organic matter, 1 per group
- Funnel and capture containers, 1 per group
- 1½" square piece of coarse screen, 1 per group
- Wet paper towels, 1 per group
- Light source with a shade (direct light)
- Hand lenses
- Soil nutrient testing kit (optional)
- Creatures in the Soil handout
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
bacteria: microscopic, single-celled organisms with no nucleus
fungi: spore-producing organisms that lack chlorophyll and often grow filaments (tiny root-like structures)
mutualism: mutually beneficial relationship between different kinds of organisms
mycorrhiza: mutualistic association of a fungus with the roots of a plant
nematodes: tiny roundworms that live in the soil
pathogen: a bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease
protozoa: microscopic organisms with a nucleus that can be multi- or single-celled, animal- or plant-like, and are often motile
intervertebrate: an animal lacking a backbone (insects, arachnids, mollusks, etc.)
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Show your students some soil (a ziploc bag of soil, take them to a flower bed at the school, or show them a picture).
- Ask the students, What is this? Allow students to offer their answers.
- Once students identify the soil, ask them why soil is important. Allow students to offer their answers. Provide guiding questions to help students realize that soil is necessary to provide food to eat. The fruits, vegetables, and grains in our diet are grown in the soil. In addition, the animals that provide our meat, milk, and eggs eat food that was grown in the soil. With little exception, our entire food supply relies on soil.
- Continue with further questions such as Is soil alive? What is soil made of? Do any animals or creatures find their home in soil? etc. Inform your students that they are going to find the answers to some of these questions.
Activity 1: The Living Soil
- Divide the class into four or five groups and provide each group with a Ziploc bag. Each group should designate someone to collect the soil sample or go on a walking trip around the school to make the collection.
- Note: Soil collected between late spring and early fall—not during winter—will work best. Take samples from the topsoil in an area high in organic matter; areas around compost piles or under logs are good candidates. Cultivated gardens or fields may not yield much diversity of life unless compost has been added and tilling has been limited. Students should record observations about the locations from which samples were collected. Keep soil samples moist until they’re used.
- Place the sample on a piece of white paper. Have students record their observations and note the number of different invertebrates they see.
- Instruct the groups to assemble their funnels and capture containers. Each group should label the capture container with their names, place a wet paper towel in the bottom, and place the funnel on top (see the diagram).
- Next, each group should place the screen inside the funnel and fill it loosely with their soil sample.
- Place each assembled Invertebrate Migration Apparatus under a lamp. Make sure the lamp is 1/2" to 3/4" away from the soil. If it is too close, the soil will dry out too fast and cause some organisms to die. If it is too far, the organisms in the soil will not migrate to the container below.
- Turn on the light source, and leave it on overnight. Most soil dwellers do not like light, and they will try to dig deeper to escape the lamp.
- The next day, turn off the light source, and collect the organisms that have been forced into the jar below the funnel. Observe the specimens with a magnifying glass and under a light microscope. Identify as many different types of creatures as you can.
- When finished, return all organisms and the soil to a suitable environment.
Activity 2: What nutrients are in my soil?
- Select the soil sample that had the greatest number and diversity of organisms and the sample that had the least.
- Ask students to predict which one will have the highest plant nutrient value. Perform a nutrient test on the two samples using one of the following options:
- Submit the soil sample to a lab. Every state has a University Extension service, most of which offer affordable soil testing. For more information on your state’s program, simply do an internet search for your state’s name and soil testing.
- Purchase a classroom soil testing kit from a science supply catalog and perform the tests in your classroom.
- Discuss the following questions:
- Based on the amount of soil life in your samples, can you predict the nutrient value? (yes, but not exactly; generally, the more organic matter, the more soil life, and the higher the nutrient value of the soil)
- Why are soil nutrients important? (plants and soil organisms need them to grow)
- Why are soil organisms important to farmers? (many reasons; they improve soil structure and the availability of nutrients)
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Soil is an important natural resource.
- Farmers rely on healthy soil to provide the food we eat.
- Soils contain various forms of life including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi.
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!
Suggested Companion Resources
- A Handful of Dirt (Book)
- Dirt: The Scoop on Soil (Book)
- Life in a Bucket of Soil (Book)
- Mountains of Jokes About Rocks, Minerals, and Soil (Book)
- Rocks and Soil (Book)
- Soil! Get the Inside Scoop (Book)
- You Wouldn't Want to Live Without Dirt! (Book)
- Topsoil Tour (Kit)
- Dirt: Secrets in the Soil (DVD) (Multimedia)
- Soil, Not Dirt (Multimedia)
- Your Day With NPK Online Game (Multimedia)
- SOIL Reader (Booklets & Readers)
- From the Ground Up: The Science of Soil (Website)
- Rocks and Soils (UEN Sci-ber Text for 4th Grade) (Website)
- Soil Center (Website)
- Soil Science Society of America (Website)
State Standards for Utah
Grade 4: Science Standard 3Students will understand the basic properties of rocks, the processes involved in the formation of soils, and the needs of plants provided by soil.
Objective 3Observe the basic components of soil and relate the components to plant growth. Meeting one or more of the following indicators: a) Observe and list the components of soil (i.e., minerals, rocks, air, water, living and dead organisms) and distinguish between the living, nonliving, and once living components of soil. b) Diagram or model a soil profile showing topsoil, subsoil, and bedrock, and how the layers differ in composition. c) Relate the components of soils to the growth of plants in soil (e.g., mineral nutrients, water). d) Explain how plants may help control the erosion of soil. e) Research and investigate ways to provide mineral nutrients for plants to grow without soil (e.g., grow plants in wet towels, grow plants in wet gravel, grow plants in water).
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Explain how the interaction of the sun, soil, water, and weather in plant and animal growth impacts agricultural production (T1.3-5.b)
- Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)
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.2Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
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.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
5-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
5-LS2-1Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.