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Soil Layers Activities

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Students are sure to 'dig' the activities found in this lesson. The ideas outlined here will engage students in learning about soil layers in meaningful, hands-on and minds-on ways.

Soil Layers: So Much Below the Surface

It's not surprising that many students think of soil as a homogeneous mixture of organic and inorganic factors. In fact, even that is a nuanced view of soil compared to how some students think of it. Instead of being single-faceted like many students believe, soil below Earth's surface is actually quite complex and multi-layered (pun definitely intended!). Each soil layer (also called a horizon) has its own properties and means of formation. The activities that follow are designed to help students learn about these horizons in fun, engaging ways. A list of materials is provided for each activity for your planning convenience.

Soil Layers Speed Puzzle

Materials:

  • A soil column graphic, cut along each boundary (one for each student)

To better understand how soil layers form atop each other, it is best to start students with a simple activity in which they order the layers appropriately. Provide each student with a small 'puzzle' that is made of a soil column graphic cut along the boundary lines between layers. Then, have students time each other to see how quickly they can put the graphic back together accurately. At first, students will have to think about the order of each layer. Over time, though, students will start to piece the puzzle together more intuitively. This is a great way to help students memorize the order of soil layers so that they can more deeply engage in other activities in future lessons about soil.

Eating Soil for Dessert Activity

Materials:

  • A variety of dessert foods that resemble different soil layers (see table below)

This is a tasty way of helping students understand the properties of each soil layer. Start by preparing a large amount of each of the materials listed in the following chart (or similar materials, as anything sweet will work just fine). Then, have students assemble the materials in a small, clear plastic cup in the appropriate order. You can have students label each layer with a marker on the outside of the cup as they go in order to build a model that they can learn from. When they are finished, hold a whole-class discussion about soil layers and their properties, then tell students they can dig in!

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