ALEX Lesson Plan


Investigating Properties of Soil

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Emily Blackstock
System: Homewood City
School: Edgewood Elementary School
The event this resource created for:NASA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34262


Investigating Properties of Soil


This is a 4th grade science lesson that requires students to investigate the capacity of different soils to retain water and to categorize the types of plants that will grow in different compositions of soil through the use of inquiry, technology, and reading skills. 

This lesson was created as part of the 2016 NASA STEM Standards of Practice Project, a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 4
13 ) Plan and carry out investigations to examine properties of soils and soil types (e.g., color, texture, capacity to retain water, ability to support growth of plants).

NAEP Framework
NAEP Statement::
E4.4: Earth materials that occur in nature include rocks, minerals, soils, water, and the gases of the atmosphere.

NAEP Statement::
E8.6: Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers with each having a different chemical composition and texture.

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Planning and Carrying out Investigations
Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns
Disciplinary Core Idea: Earth's Systems
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Identify the properties of soil.
  • Plan and carry out an investigation that examines the various types of soil and soil properties.
  • Describe the data collected that will serve as the basis for the evidence.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • color
  • absorbency
  • texture
  • capacity
  • properties of soil
  • types of soil ( sand, silt, clay, humus)
  • infiltration
  • particle size
  • structure
  • consistency
Students know:
  • Soil properties (particle size, color, texture).
  • Soil types ( sand, silt, clay, and humus).
  • Relationship between soil types and water.
Students are able to:
  • Plan and conduct simple tests using various soil types.
  • Collect, describe and evaluate data.
  • Articulate and explain from evidence the properties of soil and soil types.
Students understand that:
  • Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort and classify soil types by property.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Water and Landforms

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.4.13- Observe the properties of soils (e.g., color, texture, capacity to retain water, ability to support growth of plants); Identify different types of soil (e.g., silt, clay, sand).

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will evaluate the ability of different types of soil to retain moisture. 

Students will discuss and determine the importance of monitoring soil's moisture content.

Students will comprehend and analyze informational texts. 

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

31 to 60 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

  • small, equal amounts of each of 3 types of soil:
    • loam (potting soil),
    • clay (gathered from outside, or a combination of clay and potting soil)
    • sand (a mixture of potting soil and sand)

  • 300 ml of water (3- 100 ml portions)
  • 3 funnels
  • 3 paper coffee filters
  • 3 graduated cylinders or other containers with at least 100ml capacity that funnels can rest on top of
  • paper and pencils for students (graph paper optional)
  • Copies of assessment sheet for each student (see attachments)

*Note: these materials are for a teacher-led demonstration; the lesson could also be completed in small groups if the teacher has access to more materials.  

Technology Resources Needed:

NASA's Climate Kids: Keeping track of water in the soil

NASA's Climate Kids: Water-wise Landscaper 

  • computer(s) with internet access 
  • Google Form, Schoology quiz, or other teacher-created electronic copy of assessment (optional; see attachments for copy)


Materials preparation prior to lesson:

The teacher will gather or prepare the 3 types of soil beforehand, labeling them Samples 1, 2, and 3. The teacher will also line each of the funnels with the a single coffee filter, placing one funnel above each cylinder.

Student preparation/prior knowledge:

Students will require background knowledge of what soil is (dirt and organic matter).

Students will need to know how to use a browser to access a website.

*Note: this lesson could also be completed in small groups if the teacher has access to more materials.  



The teacher will present the students with the two guiding questions for this lesson:

1) What kind of soil best retains moisture?

2) Why is it important to keep track of the moisture content of soil?

The teacher will introduce the three types of soil as Samples 1, 2, and 3 and tell students that the purpose of this lesson is to investigate which soil will best hold water. 

Give students time to observe and describe the properties (texture, appearance, etc.) of each soil and generate a hypothesis as to which will retain the most water. 


The teacher will deposit the soil samples into separate funnels and pour a half cup of water over each. Students will observe and measure the amount of water that is not absorbed by each sample, graphing the results.

If time and materials permit, the teacher can repeat more trials of the experiment.

Students will conclude which soil best retains water (which sample has the least amount of water that has dropped into the cylinder), and the teacher will reveal the compositions of each sample (sandy, loamy, and clay). Student will accept or reject their hypotheses.


The teacher will bring students back to the question "Why is it important to keep track of the moisture content of soil?" and give students an opportunity to think-pair-share their predicted answers with a partner.

Students will read the NASA article "Keeping Track of Water in the Soil." 

After reading, students should respond to the questions:

1) What kind of soil best retains moisture?

2) Why is it important to keep track of the moisture content of soil?

Student response can be written out on paper, or, if the teacher prefers, collected through a teacher-created Google Form, Schoology quiz, or other electronic platform.



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Assessment Strategies

This lesson will be assessed through student responses to the questions: 

1) What kind of soil best retains moisture?

2)Why is it important to keep track of the moisture content of soil?

 These responses will will be assessed according to the rubric found in the attachments.


As an extension, students can read the NASA Climate Kids article "Water-wise Landscaper," about a landscaper specializing in drought-resistant plants. 


LEP students or those with a reading interference can read the article with a higher-ability partner. The teacher can also read the article aloud, or Google Translate can be used to translate the article into languages other than English.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.