Everything we come into contact with on a daily basis can be traced back to soil!  Yet we often think of soil as dirt, something that is inconvenient, needs to be swept up, dusted, and washed off of our lives. But no matter how hard we try, we cannot separate ourselves from soil, and the role it plays for all of us. It filters our water, grows our plants and trees, and provides something to build houses and roads on.

Soil has deep historical connections to people that go beyond what we often associate with “dirt”. It was used in ancient pigments for paint; it is a source of written songs, a medium to sculpt pots out of, numerous poems, and books from scientists, and others. Soil is a main part for farmers, engineers, archaeologists, ecologists, potters, and geologists. This section provides an overview about the importance of soils to the human world, history, and housing.

The PowerPoint is appropriate for Grades 3+. Though it can be adapted to younger students, and some of the activities listed are appropriate for all age groups.


Soil is Not Dirt


Lesson Objectives:
What is the difference between dirt and soil?

  • Where do you find dirt and where do you find soil? That’s a big difference!
  • Which one is useful and which is not? We get rid of dirt but preserve soil. 

2) What on earth is soil? What is the soil made up of?


  • Minerals (from rocks)
  • Air (let’s gases get in and out of soil)
  • Water (keeps reactions going and makes/helps plants and organisms grow)
  • Organic matter (dead tissue of plants and countless organisms)

3) Why is the soil so important to us? We cannot live without it.


  • Plants grow in soil and animals feed on these plants and we feed on both
  • Soil filters water to keep it clean.
  • We build on soil and with stuff from soil, like clay blocks, stones and rocks!
  • Plants growing in soil provide us with oxygen that we breathe.
  • Soil provides shelter for many animals and insects.

 4) If you were one of these people listed below, how would you think of soil?

  • Farmer 
  • Engineer –
  • Archeologist –
  • Ecologist –
  • Potter –
  • Soil Scientist --


Glossary of terms:

In current glossary:

  • Archeologist
  • Clay
  • Ecologist
  • Organic matter
  • Organisms
  • Minerals
  • Pedologist
  • Pores


Other glossary words:

  • Soil Scientist – a scientist who studies soil, works with and knows much about soil.
  • Engineer – someone who went to the university to learn how to use science to design and make things that we can use, like building a house, car or toys.
  • Farmer –   the person who makes a living by growing plants and raising animals for food.

Activities or information:

1) Soils and Music: Examples, Have Students think of songs that involve soils, food, and farming.





2) Composition of soil:

3) Soil and Art Activities:

  • Soil Crayons  (Grades K-6). This activity provides and appreciation for the variety of soil colors. (Note: To get soils of different colors it is often necessary to dig below the topsoil in several locations.)
  • Soil Painting (Grades K-6) Instructions for how to make paints of wondrous colors using soil. (Note: To get soils of different colors it is often necessary to dig below the topsoil in several locations.)

4) Importance of soil

5) What type of things do people do with soil? -- Careers

  • Soil Forensics - Teachers First  (Grades 6-8) In this activity, students use the unique properties of soil to solve a crime. (Designed for grades 6-8 but adaptable to higher grades).
  • Urban Soils Information - USDA NRCS (PDF) (Grades 6-8) This 77-page document gives information about urban soils for homeowners and renters, local planning boards, property managers, students, and educators.

6) Soil as a Building Material

  • Building a Sod House On-line Game - Smithsonian Museum   After the game click “learn more” for a brief history of early life on the prairie.  There are three activities in PDF form.  “Darkroom Detective” has some great photos of sod and dug out houses.  “Get a Sense of It” would be a nice activity except they use the term “dirt” instead of soil L. “Dakota Dugout” by Ann Turner is about a young couple’s life in a dug out house.  Questions regarding the book are available in the PDF file, but not the book.
  • Colonial Williamsburg Brick Making Game - difficult to see the pictures to sequence.  Hit and miss the pictures can be put in order and then the scenes can be played.  Uses the term “clay”


Study Questions:

1) True or False: Soil is made up of equal part minerals, air, water and organic matter.

  • Answer: (False) Soil composition is 45% mineral matter, 25% air, 25% water and 5% organic matter.

2) True or False: A pedologist is a type of Soil Scientist.

  • Answer: (True) A pedologist is a scientist who studies soil. He/she can also be called a soil scientist although; a pedologist is an expert in the physical aspects of soil.

3) Name two types of people who use the soil to make a living.

  • Answer: Farmer, Ecologist, Potter, Archeologist, Engineer, Soil Scientist.


4) Give three reasons why we cannot live without the soil.


5) What does soil mean to:

  • An Engineer?
  • Potter?
  • Farmer?
  • Archeologist?


6) Which of the following is true?

  • We need soil but don’t need dirt.
  • Soil is important for our existence but dirt is not.
  • Soil is the skin of the earth.
  • All of the above.
  • None of the above.