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Is Soil Alive? (K-2nd) | Series 1, Lesson #1

Is Soil Alive?

Key Topics/Vocabulary: Soil, Soil Formation, Food Web, Decomposition, Bacteria, Sand, Clay, Humus, Silt

Grade Levels: K-2nd

Click here for #1 Series Description

Spanish Lesson Plan

Science Framework

Lesson Bridge:

Begin this series by emphasizing that soil is the foundation of all life. Because of this, we need to ensure that our soil is healthy so our plants can grow big and strong!

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will learn that soil is home to billions of organisms that play vital roles in decomposition and ecosystem health. Students will use their senses to discover the qualities of different soil types and understand what these qualities provide for plants regarding food, water, and shelter. They will then practice setting up an experiment to test which mixture of soils helps support plant growth best!

Learning Objectives by Grade Level:

Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose.

Essential Question(s) that Connect CCCs and SEPs:


Soil - Mixture of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and microorganisms.

Soil Formation - The process of rocks and minerals breaking down and becoming soil that plants can grow in

Soil Food Web- The community of organisms that live in the soil

Decomposition - The breaking down of organic matter with help from decomposers

Bacteria - Microscopic organisms or living things

Sand- Mixture of very small particles or pieces of rocks and minerals

Clay- Mixture of tiny tiny particles or pieces of minerals

Silt - Small particles or pieces left as sediment from water

Loam - A blend of sand, silt, and clay that is ideal for plant growth



Find good examples of clay, silt, and sand, to bring to the school for demonstration (or, identify which soil types already exist in your garden). You should be able to gather some humus/organic matter from your compost in the garden Arroyos like the Salinas River, are good places to find sand. Silt can be found in creek beds. Look for clay from the soil gophers bring up from their holes or the edges of lakes.

Activity Procedure:


What are germs (Think, Pair, Share)? Germs are living things that are too tiny to see that can make us sick. Bacteria is a type of germ that is found in the soil. Some of the bacteria found in soil can make us sick which is why it is good to wash our hands after gardening. But most of the bacteria in soil actually help our plants to grow! Who can guess how many bacteria live in a spoonful of soil? Over 10 billion!!! More bacteria than people who live on the earth.


Gather students into 4 groups, direct them to the different tubs of soil, and observe using their eyes, hands, ears, and noses (not tongues!) If you choose,  you can also have the same soils in wet and dry form so the kids can experience the differences … but be prepared for a mess!

Alternatively, you can also identify and mark different soil types throughout your garden. As one group, tour around and have students make observations together.


There are different types of soils because of the size of the rocks that break down to make soil, come in different sizes. For example, looking closely at the sand, you can see the tiny rocks. In clay, the rocks are so tiny you can’t see them. Another important part of the soil is the humus. Repeat after me “HUE-MUSS.” This is the living part of the soil made up of dead leaves, sticks, and tiny living things.

Think, Pair, Share:  What tiny living things might you find in the soil?

 Bacteria, mushrooms, and bugs all can be found in soil. All of these things help plants in our garden to grow. It is always good to have soil that is rich in humus. 

Take this opportunity to define and connect the rest of the vocabulary words. (Keep in mind that defining soil types might be difficult for the younger students, so focus on how the different soil types look and feel).

        Thumbs up/down: Do you think there is hummus in the soil in the garden?

Action: Garden Soil Exploration

  1. Review your Garden Agreements
  2. Provide each student with a trowel and encourage them to dig around and explore different parts of the garden. *If you do not have enough trowels, break students into groups (taking turns with the trowel) or complete this step as one large group and ask for volunteers to take samples.
  1. If you have a compost pile, invite the kids to dig around! Have them dig under bushes and under rocks to see how the soil changes.
  1. Encourage students to look closely at what they see in the garden; maybe they can even identify some decomposers that help make soil! If you have magnifying glasses, instruct students to look for soil creatures.


What did you notice about the soil you looked at in the garden (Think, Pair, Share)? What were places where the soil was wet? What about dry? Did you find any bugs?

What kinds? Could you see tiny rocks in the soil? What else did you see in the soil? Do you think the soil had a lot of humus? Would plants grow well in the soil?

Extension Activities:

This lesson was prepared by One Cool Earth under award

NA20NOS4290033 from the Bay Watershed Education and Training Program

of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S.

Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and

recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect

the views of NOAA or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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