Types of Soil Activities

Instructor: Jennifer Smith

Jenn has been an educator for 10 years. She has a master's degree in Teacher Leadership and a bachelors degree in Elementary Education and English Language Acquisition.

Soil comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and can be found every where in the United States. These soil activities will reinforce the idea that not all soil is the same and it is important for our every day living.

Background Knowledge

When you say the word soil, people typically tend to think dirt. But soil is so much more than dirt - it is vital to life on Earth because of its complex mixture of water, air, minerals, and organisms that are decaying. The following activities will help reinforce the idea that soil is Earth's skin and that it is so much more than the stuff we get underneath our fingernails.

Activities and Games

Soil filtering


  • different types of soil elements
  1. dirt
  2. gravel
  3. salt
  4. diatomaceous earth (can be found at the local pet store)
  5. magnetite
  • different types of filters (enough for 1 of each per group)
  1. a screen with large holes
  2. a screen with small holes
  3. a funnel
  4. a coffee filter
  5. a magnet
  • 4 paper plates per group
  • a small cup of water per group
  • medium size tub for separation to take place in.


Soil comes in all different shapes and sizes. This activity will show students that soil is made up of all different kind of elements. This should be completed in a small group.

Ahead of time, mix all of the soil elements and have small cups of the soil mixture ready to go for each group. Distribute the different filters to each group as well. Tell the students there are 5 different elements in the soil mixture and it is their job to figure out how to separate all of the elements. They are to use the filters in order to separate the mixture, and when they believe they have done it they are to put the individual elements onto a separate plate. The water must stay in a cup; they may not pour that onto a plate.

  • The larger items, the dirt and gravel, will be easily separated with the filters, the magnetite will require the use of the magnet, and to find the salt they will have to mix it with the water in order for it to separate to the bottom of the cup.
  • Let groups work for a bit and then give hints as needed.

Soil Color

Students must have background knowledge that different colored soil can be found throughout the United States due to the different elements within the soil.

Reddish, yellowish, or brownish: Iron oxides, including hematite (red), goethite (yellowish brown), and ferrihydrite (reddish brown)

Grey: Quartz and silicate minerals

White: Carbonates or other salts

Green: Potassium

Black / very dark brown: Organic matter

Black: Manganese oxides


  • Blank United States map
  • Key map: a non-color coded map with the names of types of elements found in the soil (see list above)


Students use the key map in order to help them fill in their own map colors. For example, if both Oklahoma and Texas have the word HEMATITE written next to them on the key, then students would need to label Oklahoma and Texas on their map with the word HEMATITE and color them red, because hematite turns soil red. They would complete their entire United States map following the same process.

Mud painting


  • different types of soil, either just from around the area you live or from across the United States (some gardening places carry all sorts of soil)
  • blank paper
  • water
  • lined paper
  • writing utensils
  • cleaning materials


Ahead of time be sure to mix up the different soils and the water in order to create a mud-like mixture.

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