Science corner

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Sophie Duncan shows how to find out what soil is made of

Exploring the soil in your school grounds makes an interesting activity that pupils can repeat at home. In this experiment they can find out what soil is made of, and compare different types.

Collect a selection of soil samples. Make sure one is from under fallen leaves, and another is from an area where there is little vegetation. Take some clay and sand to make comparisons with your soil samples.

Fill a jam jar three-quarters full of water, and add soil until the jar is almost full. Put the lid on and shake it. Leave the jar on a table while the soil settles. Ask pupils to make observations of what they see, noting the time that has elapsed since the jar was shaken.

At regular intervals, mark on the jar the top of the layer of soil that has settled. Repeat the experiment using your different soil samples, and the clay and sand. Label each jar and make a note of the time it takes for the water to clear.

Initially, the water looks muddy. Stones in the soil settle at the bottom quite quickly. Over the next few minutes the larger particles settle, but the water still looks muddy. Over time the smaller sand particles settle, too, leaving the smallest clay particles and plant material floating in the water. After a few hours the clay particles and other material settle, leaving the water clear.

This helps pupils see how soil is made of different particles. Explain that some particles come from rocks that have been weathered or damaged by rivers, and some from animal and plant matter that has been broken down, and that these processes take a long time. Samples of soil collected where there is little vegetation will have more rock material and less plant matter than the samples collected from under leaves.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today