National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Soil Texture and Water Percolation
3 - 5
Two 30-minute activities
Students will determine the water holding and draining capacities of different soils and investigate how organic matter affects the amount of water soil will hold.
- Funnels (2-liter bottles cut in half, 1 per group)
- Coffee filters (cupcake-shaped, 4 per group)
- 2 cups each of 4–5 different dry soil samples (use a variety of textures from sandy to clayey)
- A Soil Samples Kit is available for purchase from agclassroomstore.com.
- Measuring cups
- Stopwatches or a clock with a second hand
- Comparison Graph activity sheet
- 4–5 cups of potting soil
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
humus: thoroughly decomposed organic matter
organic matter: products derived from the decay of living organisms, like plants and animals
pores: the spaces between soil particles and between soil aggregates; pores can be filled with air or water
soil structure: the arrangement of soil particles into aggregates, which contain solids and pore space
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Ask students to think about what happens when it rains. Where does the water go? Where do puddles form first?
- Allow students time to think about why some areas have puddles after a rainstorm while in other areas water drains quickly away.
Activity 1: Mark, Get Set, Go
- Prepare the funnels made from 2-liter bottles as shown in the picture (make a mark 5½ inches up from the bottom of each bottle, cut each bottle in half at the mark, invert the bottle tops, and nestle the tops into the bottoms).
- Divide the class into four or five groups, depending on how many soil samples you have. Provide each group with a funnel and bottom, 2 coffee filters, 1 cup of a soil sample, a measuring cup, and water. Make sure each group has a different type of soil sample.
- Instruct students to place one coffee filter into the funnel and then add 1 cup of soil into the filter. Cover the sample with another filter. This will ensure even coverage and avoid splashing.
- Designate one person in each group as a time keeper and another as the water pourer. When the time keeper says “go,” the water pourer should pour 1 cup of water into the funnel.
- Time should be kept until most of the water has gone through the soil sample. Some samples will drain quite quickly, while others could take 30 minutes or more. Proceed with Activity 2 while keeping an eye on the samples and waiting for them all to finish draining.
- Compare the time it took for water to percolate through each sample. Add the data to the Comparison Graph activity sheet.
- Pour out and measure the water that percolated through each sample. Record this on the activity sheet as well.
Activity 2: Adding Organic Matter
- Instruct the students to return to their groups and empty out their funnels. Starting with new, dry soil will ensure consistent, representative results.
- Proceed to duplicate the experiment with one change: after placing a new, dry coffee filter into the funnel, add ½ cup of dry soil into the filter and ½ cup of potting soil (to increase organic matter; most potting soils are largely made up of organic matter). One student should mix in the organic matter with his or her finger, being careful not to puncture the filter. Cover the sample with another new filter.
- Duplicate steps 4 through 7 in Activity 1. Be sure to record the data on the Comparison Graph activity sheet.
- Discuss the background material and ask students to identify which sample had the most sand and which had the most clay. Add this evaluation to the graph.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- The mineral component of soil is composed of sand, silt, or clay particles.
- Some soils drain very quickly, and others drain very slowly.
- Soil drainage and water percolation is determined by the texture of soils.
- Adding organic matter to soil improves soil quality.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Suggested Companion Resources
- Compost by Gosh! (Book)
- Diary of a Worm (Book)
- Dirt: The Scoop on Soil (Book)
- Mountains of Jokes About Rocks, Minerals, and Soil (Book)
- Rocks and Soil (Book)
- Sand and Soil: Earth's Building Blocks (Book)
- Soil! Get the Inside Scoop (Book)
- You Wouldn't Want to Live Without Dirt! (Book)
- Farming in a Glove (Kit)
- Sandpaper Texturing Kit (Kit)
- Soil Samples (Soil Texture) (Kit)
- Topsoil Tour (Kit)
- 'Sorption Virtual Lab (Multimedia)
- Dirt: Secrets in the Soil (DVD) (Multimedia)
- Soil Science Videos (Multimedia)
- SOIL Reader (Booklets & Readers)
- Dig In: Hands-On Soil Investigations (Teacher Reference)
- Learn How To Compost (Website)
- Rocks and Soils (UEN Sci-ber Text for 4th Grade) (Website)
- Soil Center (Website)
- Soil Science Society of America (Website)
- The USGS Water Science School (Website)
- Water Cycle (UEN Sci-Ber Text for 4th Grade) (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)
Education Content Standards
5-ESS2: Earth's Systems
5-ESS2-1Develop a model using an example to describe ways in which the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.
5-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
5-LS2-1Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
Common Core Connections
Mathematics: Practice Standards
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP4Model with mathematics. Students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. Students who can apply what they know are comfortable making assumptions and approximations to simplify a complicated situation, realizing that these may need revision later. They are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions.