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Dirt by any other name still smells!


Are you ready to get your hands dirty? Let's find out a little more about soil.


  • One or two cups of dirt from your yard or garden
  • Paper towels
  • Magnifying glass or microscope
  • Pencil and paper


  • Very carefully place the soil on the paper towel. Be sure not to spill any on the floor.
  • Examine the soil carefully. What do you see? Use a magnifying glass or microscope to more closely examine the soil.
  • Record your observations on paper. Be very detailed.
  • Take a small amount of the soil and place it between your fingers. Rub your fingers together. What does the soil feel like? Record your observations.
  • Smell the soil. What type of smell does the soil have? Again, record your observations
  • You have just performed an experiment. Scientists do this so they can learn more about the world around them. After scientists have studied something for a while, they often form a hypothesis. You have just studied soil. So here is your chance to be a scientist. Write your hypothesis (guess)?
  • CLEAN UP YOUR MESS! But keep your soil for later.
Soil Smart

So far we have talked a lot about dirt and not a lot about soil, but maybe we should mention that there is a difference between the two. Although many people use both words to mean the same thing, we want you to be "soil smart," so pay attention.

Soil a mixture of rock and minerals, organic material, moisture, and air.

Dirt is misplaced soil. Dirt is found everywhere. It's found on the bottom of your shoes, on the kitchen floor, and under your fingernails.

So...what exactly is soil? Highlight the box below to see if you are correct.

Soil is a mixture of rock and minerals, organic material, moisture, and air. In simple terms, soil is made of three components; solid, liquid, and gas.
Now ... what does that word organic mean? Organic refers to any material that is alive or was once living.

Organic matter is mostly composed of dead plant and animal remains. That's right, when you dug through your soil, you probably touched some of the dead things! But before you get too grossed out, remember that the dead and decaying material in the soil is very important to plants and other organisms that live in soil. Plants use nutrients found in the decaying material.. For plants to be healthy, they need lots of nutrients. Organic material improves soil in the following ways:

  • It makes soil more fertile by providing food for the countless bacteria and other living things in the soil.
  • It does not compress tightly. It allows room for more air spaces.
  • It holds in the moisture by absorbing water like a sponge.
  • It produces acids that help break down minerals in the soil.

Inorganic material in the soil comes from rocks that have been broken down into smaller pieces. The solid part of soil makes up about 50 percent of the volume in soil.

Now look at your soil sample again. Do you think your soil is healthy? Does it appear to have plenty of organic material or does it need some doctoring? Write a short summary about your observations and how healthy you consider your soil to be. Be sure to check for organic material, inorganic material and space.

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Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE 4th grade science core.

Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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