Relevancy and Engagement

The Soil Chain

Grade Level
3 - 5

Students recognize their relationship to soil and model the connections between common objects and the soil. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
90 minutes
Materials Needed

Activity 1: My Soil Family

Activity 2: The Yarn Web Game

  • Index cards or construction paper cut in half, 1 per student
  • Markers or crayons
  • Hole punch
  • Yarn for necklaces
  • Ball of yarn

Activity 3: Ranking the Importance of Soil


civil engineer: a person who designs roads, bridges, and buildings

dirt: misplaced soil, such as that found on your clothes, your kitchen floor, or under your fingernails

soil: a mixture of minerals, organic matter, water, and air, which forms on the land surface and can support the growth of plants

Background Agricultural Connections

Soil is one of our most useful natural resources. From the soil we get food, clothes, and materials for the homes we live in. Plants thrive when grown in healthy soil. From the plants grown in gardens and on farms we get fruits and vegetables. Trees grown on farms or harvested from forests give us valuable lumber, and their wood can be used to make paper, paints, and numerous other products. The soil anchors tree roots and provides nutrients that the tree needs to grow tall and strong. Farmers recognize the value of soil and prepare it carefully to plant crops of wheat and corn that will be ground into flour to make bread, crackers, pasta, and other foods.

Our animal food also comes from the soil. Cows eat grass, hay, silage, and grain to produce milk, meat, and leather products. All animals eat plants, or other animals that eat plants, and plants grow in the soil. In addition to the products listed above, animals supply us with by-products that are used in paints, camera film, pet food, rubber, crayons, lotions, soaps, leather, medicines, and much more.

The fuel that warms our houses comes indirectly from the soil. Coal is made from plants that grew ages ago. Oil and gas also originate from organic materials, possibly including the remains of animals. Many of the ancient organisms that formed the basis for fossil fuels once grew in the soil or ate other organisms that grew in the soil.

Fish from oceans, rivers, and lakes live on plants (or on other fish who eat plants), and these plants require dissolved minerals that are washed into the seas, rivers, and lakes from the soil.

There are a few things that cannot be linked directly back to the soil. Even most of these can still be related to the soil in some way. Here are a few examples: a volcano (its flanks will turn to soil over time), the ocean (even though plants are part of the water cycle), and the sky (although plants give off oxygen for the air in the atmosphere). 

  1. Ask your students the following essential questions:
    • What's the difference between soil and dirt?
    • Why is soil important in your life?
    • Why is soil an important resource for farmers?
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: My Soil Family

  1. Show the students the list of 30 objects on the Soil Flow Chart handout. For a variation, you may ask students to help you make a list of 30 common objects they use every day.
  2. Ask students to pick five of the objects (or more) to create a flow chart that links the objects back to the soil like the one on the bottom of the Soil Flow Chart handout. The flow chart should illustrate the relationships or direction of flow between an object, its intermediaries, and the soil.
  3. Many of the objects will be easily linked back to the soil, but some may not. That’s okay. The charts on the handout depict two of the more difficult objects that students may try to link to soil.
  4. After the students have completed their flow charts, have them select one object (or pick a new one) to create a soil chain.
  5. Instruct students to cut out strips of paper that will become links in a chain, and label each link as one of the “connections” showing the object’s relationship to the soil.
  6. Staple or glue the ends of the links together, interconnecting them to form a chain. Consider challenging students to create the longest chain or the shortest chain possible. 

Activity 2: The Yarn Web Game

  1. Ask each student to pick one of the items from his or her soil chain and write the item’s name on a half sheet of paper or on an index card. They should write the name as large as possible, preferably with marker or crayon. You may want to assign the students their “parts” so you don’t get ten cows and ten wheat plants. Then, using a piece of yarn and a hole-punch, make a necklace to hang the sign around each student’s neck. One student or the teacher must wear a sign that says SOIL
  2. Pick any student to begin by tossing a ball of yarn to someone else that they are related to in the food web. If they are not related to any one of the other items, the yarn can always be tossed to the person wearing the SOIL sign. An intricate web should be woven. Several students should receive the yarn more than once. When everyone has been included in the web, take a look at how they are all connected to the soil. 

Activity 3: Ranking the Importance of Soil

  1. Display the statements on the Ranking the Importance of Soil handout. Ask students to rank the statements in order of importance.
  2. Form groups of five or six students, and ask the groups to rank the statements. Ask them to be prepared to explain why they ranked them in that order.
  3. Next, display the What Does Soil Mean to a... handout. Working in their groups, ask students to discuss the different roles that soil plays in the lives of people, plants, and animals.
  4. Discuss what students have concluded about the role that soils plays in our lives and its importance to agriculture. What would life be like without soil? 

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Soil is an important natural resource that helps produce food, clothing, and the materials we build our homes with.
  • All of our basic necessities of life can be linked back to the soil.
Debra Spielmaker
Utah Agriculture in the Classroom
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