MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Investigating Soil-Which soil help plants grow?

Investigating Soil-Which soil help plants grow?

Kyle Johnson, Jordan Elem. School, Jordan, MN
Based on an original activity Unit A, Organisms and Where They Live, Macmillan McGraw-Hill Life Science, Fourth Grade.
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In this guided inquiry lab, students will investigate what type of soil let plants/grasses grow the best. Students will answer the question by conducting an experiment using five different soils found in our area, school soil, potting soil, clay, sand, and compost soil. Students will gather data on each plant over a week period of time and compare the results of each type of soil. Students will come to a conclusion based on the data collected and generate further questions to investigate. The students will then determine which soil they will use in their terrarium in the upcoming unit based on their soil conclusions.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to inquirer about soil types? The goal for this unit would be for students to determine soils have different characteristics that help plant or hurt plant growth. Higher order thinking skills would be for students to question how soil types effect: farms, crops, housing developments, wildlife, and engineering design for water areas.

Context for Use

This activity would be appropriate for third or fourth grade level, with 20-30 students. The setting could be a classroom or an outside the classroom activity. I would say a two-day lesson with 45 minutes each day to set up the experiment and start observation (one week). The investigation might lead to further questions by students, which would make another day an option at the end of the week investigation. The students should have some background on the water cycle and introducing vocabulary words in the context of the lesson. Words like: ecosystem, habitat, absorption, pore spaces, runoff, and water cycle, would be introduced throughout the lesson. Equipment for the lesson would include: dirt from surrounding classroom grounds, clay, sand, potting soil, compost soil, measuring cups for dirt, contains for each soil type for growing, plant or seeds to grow in each container, water for plants, ruler for measuring, science notebook, and natural sunlight or growing light, and water. Divide class into cooperative groups and have each group come up with a prediction on which soil they think will make the best growing soil. Then each group will draw a number, and choose one of the five soils on which they will observe for a week. Each cooperative group will have a different soil type that will be used to compare which soil had the best plant growth.

Subject: Environmental Science:Soils and Agriculture, Geoscience, Soils
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Soil, Environmental Science

Description and Teaching Materials

In this activity student will investigate soils in Minnesota and determine which soil is the best for growing plants/grasses. The lesson will be a lead in activity for building a terrarium. This discussion will hopefully lead to further inquiry questions, which could be done in class or on the student's own time for an enrichment activity.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I think the set up and the measuring of soil will be the most difficult for young students. Making sure that all the soil experiments are the same except for type of soil in each container. Making sure the plant or seeds are the same amount in each container so an accurate comparison can be made. I have not done this lesson with my classes yet, but I am looking forward to the inquiry part for students. In the past we have just done the terrariums without the soil inquiry part.


Students will be accessed on how they worked in a group on this activity and be graded in their science notebook on the details recorded in them. Each student should be able to come up with a conclusion based on the data collected in their group and how that relates to our world today (farming, wetland, housing, flooding, lawn care).

Standards The Nature of Science and Engineering

References and Resources