Lesson Plans

Create Your Own Soil Profile Activity

Soil Horizon


The purpose of this activity is for students to create a desktop soil profile based on the biome region of the United States where your school is located. They explore concepts of layering and different horizons of the soil, each having their own special characteristics.  

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the biome that their school belongs to
  • brainstorm key features of soil and biomes
  • identify the matching horizon based on biome information
  • collect samples for their community that fit their biome
  • create a soil profile
  • compare their soil profiles to others in their class.

NASA Phenomenon Connection

SMAP (Soil Moisture Active & Passive mission) measures the moisture content of the top ~5 cm of the soil profile. These surface layer measurements will be used in computer models to produce estimates of the soil moisture in the root zone, as well as estimates of evapotranspiration, infiltration/exfiltration, and recharge to groundwater. These quantities are greatly influenced by the characteristics of the soil profile. 

Essential Questions

  • How does soil vary over the United States?
  • Why do these differences occur?
  • Why is soil important?

STEM Career Connections

  • Geoscientists - Research physical properties of the earth, such as rocks, soils, and other materials.

  • Soil and Plant Scientists  - Explore the breeding, production, and management of crops, trees, and plants.

  • Conservation Scientists  - Research, manage and protect natural resources like soil, forests, and water.

  • Atmospheric and Space Scientists - Investigate weather and climate-related phenomena to prepare weather reports and forecasts for the public

  • Earth Drillers, Except Oil and Gas - Explore minerals and soil properties through a variety of drilling and testing measures.

  • Agricultural Engineers - Solve problems that are related to the way farms work.

Materials Required

  • clear glass vase with four sides
  • rocks, dirt (based on biome type and soil horizons)



Land Biome
Figure 2: Land Biomes of the USA map

Modified from SMAP Learning Activity.

  1. To engage students' prior knowledge, do K-W-L (K-What do you know about soil? and W- What do you want to learn about soil?).  Have students brainstorm what they (think they) know about soil and any questions that they have. Discuss their ideas about soil with the class.
  2. Have students locate the land biome that best fits your school location by looking at the map in Figure 2. (For this activity, you will either be Desert, Forest, or Grassland. If you fall within the Tundra biome, please choose the next biome closest to you.)  Discuss the physical characteristics of the biomes.  For more information, visit the NASA Mission: Biomes.


  1. Coniferous Forest
  2. Temperate Deciduous Forest
  3. Desert
  4. Grassland
  5. Rainforest
  6. Shrubland
  7. Tundra
  1. Now, look at Figure 3 and match up your biome with the correct Soil Profile example.
  2. Write down which Horizons are part of you biome’s soil profile (this is very important, as the next step will be to collect soil samples from around your school and home that you can use to create your own soil profile.
Soil Profile


5.Collect samples from around your school and home those rocks and soils that best fit your biome’s soil profile horizons.

6.For each sample, add them in layers to your vase and match them up to the examples in Figure 3.

7.   Your Soil Profile will be complete after you add the final layer to your vase. Compare your soil profile to your classmates.

Discussion Questions:

1.) What do soil profiles tell us?

2.) What is a biome and what is the difference between a desert, forest, and grassland biome?

3.) What effect does the soil type have on the amount of soil moisture it can hold? How might you demonstrate this with your newly-created soil profile?

4.) What role does soil moisture play in the world’s climate?

5.) How will the SMAP mission help us better understand soil moisture? Please see http://smap.jpl.nasa.gov for more information.


Closing Activity

1. Return to the K-W-L (K-What do you know about soil? and W- What do you want to learn about soil?).  Have students add the L Column to their sheet, What did you learn about soil?.  Students record what they have learned about soil, as well as review the questions in Column 2, checking off any questions that they can now answer. They should also add new questions. Direct students to also review Column 1 so they can identify any misconceptions they may have held before beginning the lesson.