Question Sheet: Getting the dirt on carbon


Before reading:

  1. What do you think carbon is?
  2. Where could you find a lot of it?
  3. Is it a good thing?
  4. If it got into us, would that be good or bad?

During reading:

  1. What’s the “building block” of all life on Earth?
  2. What happens to the carbon in leaves when they fall off of trees and begin

    breaking down?

  3. What’s the source of Earth’s carbon?
  4. Can you get too much carbon in the environment? (Hint: What do climate

    scientists worry about?)

  5. Why are trees sometimes called carbon “sinks”?
  6. Name at least two things that can change the amount of carbon that a tree

    collects in any year.

  7. What’s biochar?

After Reading:

  1. Why do scientists care about the carbon cycle?
  2. Coal is made from carbon. Oil is rich in carbon. Where does their carbon

    come from? (Hint: They’re both considered “fossil” fuels.)

  3. Why is there so much interest in keeping carbon on Earth (and even in its

    soil) — and out of Earth’s atmosphere?

  4. Extra credit: Where is carbon made?


  1. Contrast the good and bad of carbon. (Hint: Why is there so much carbon

    dioxide spewing into Earth’s atmosphere each year?)

  2. Many people owe their lives to mining or drilling carbon-rich energy

    resources. Now that carbon sinks are becoming more attractive, what other energy

    jobs might the miners and drillers consider doing?

  3. If trees store carbon, then is harvesting trees to build houses a good thing

    or a bad thing? What about using trees for paper-making, home heating or fence



  • Write a small poem describing a small quantity of carbon as it cycles

    through the environment — at times finding a home in at least three living


  • Write at least four paragraphs defending the idea that trees are important

    to Earth’s environment. Include the role of these big plants in helping limit

    the buildup of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. (Hint: Imagine you were

    explaining this to a parent, neighbor or classmate.)