Introduction to County Soil Surveys

Mark Bowen
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
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Initial Publication Date: November 21, 2014


Students use the Natural Resources Conservation Service's county-level soil survey to answer a series of questions about the soils their campus has been built on.

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The activity is used in an undergraduate introductory physical geography course that includes a 2-hour laboratory session that meets once per week. The focus of the course is landforms and soils. The course is predominantly composed of non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

This exercise is the second part of a three-part series of soils exercises.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Navigate a county soil survey
Determine properties of soils
Link soil properties to geomorphic processes
Understand how soil properties are related to land use suitability

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Students use the soil survey to familiarize themselves with physical geography of the county and the basic soil properties of the soils their campus is built on. Students navigate all the major parts of the table including the introductory narrative, soil series descriptions, tables, and maps. This exercise is used to prepare students for a subsequent exercise describing the soils on campus by collecting a bucket auger profile.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students complete the exercise during a 2-hour laboratory session. Students are expected to work independently or in pairs. Upon completion of the laboratory exercise, students must complete an online quiz that consists of the same questions in the exercise before the next lab meeting. The online quiz is within the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) online learning platform, so answers are automatically graded and imported into the student's grade book.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

PDF versions of county soil surveys are available at