Identifying Your Soil

Earth Partnership for Schools and Community
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Experiment/Lab Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This activity involves students collecting, feeling, and describing different types of soil from a known location based on properties. The students are guideded to learn that soil can have different properties depending on the different materials that it is made up of (sand, silt, clay and organic materials). 

The full resource is available (Rain Gradenb Curricular Sampler) as it provides added support that a teacher might want to use at a later time -

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Elementary School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

2-PS1-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties.

Clarification Statement: Observations could include color, texture, hardness, and flexibility. Patterns could include the similar properties that different materials share.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This is a innovative way to meet this Performance Expectation while at the same time addressing core ideas in Earth Science and Engineering. The resource does not invite the students to plan the investigation. The teacher could include this part of the Performance Expectation by asking the students the investigation question ahead of time and develop a plan. As a warm up exercise, practice determining soil type with samples that are clearly comprised of sand, silt, or clay. This suggestion will improve the chances of the students being successful with the unknown soil type.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The students and teacher use a flow chart worksheet to guide for soil identification. As students discover one property, they then move the next item to make the identification (i.e., loamy clay, etc). They should record observations about the various properties of the soils. They may write their observations down, discuss them, and/or have the teacher record them on the sheet. Another option is using technology to record pictures and descriptions of the soil.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The teacher will be introducing the observable properties of the matter in soil and students will be using these properties to make the identification. This is an explicit connection to the PE, but with one specific example. There are many similar kinds of investigations with matter that will need to be introduced to the students with other materials before they will have a deep understanding of the Core Idea.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The teacher may ask questions related to the correlation between structure and function of the different materials in soil. For example, she may ask if there is one kind of soil that would stick together more, and why you might want a soil that can be shaped and stays in that shape. Or she may ask questions about why soil like sand allows water to pass through it, while soil made of clay does not. The notes will have more impact to the students if the students include where the soil that they are testing was found on their campus. After the testing it is suggested that the students go back to the locations and record the physical features of the environment that the soil came from. This will promote higher order thinking about the structure of the soil and its function..

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This is an innovative application of a familiar Performance Expectation. Each of the three dimensions are present and most of them are explicitly addressed. The most important aspect is that this lesson provides an interdisciplinary connection to other Performance Expectations.

  • Instructional Supports: The teacher may need to read the lesson a few times prior to using it. Reading the background information contained in the lesson is very important. The teacher may need to simplify the task to be appropriate for lower grades. This could be hard to do without some background knowledge. The lesson contains supports for Spanish language as well as assessment ideas within the lesson.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson includes assessment suggestions, but the teacher would need to adapt for a large group as well as younger students.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is no technological component to this lesson.