Questions for ‘The dirt on soil’

soil hands

An employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture examines a soil sample. At this Virginia farm, scientists study conservation practices that can protect and enhance soil and other natural resources.

Lynda Richardson, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

To accompany feature ‘The dirt on soil’


Before reading:

1.    Why is soil a natural resource?

2.    What do plants need to grow?

During reading:

1.    List the ingredients that make up soil.

2.    What is the purpose of declaring 2015 the “International Year of Soils?”

3.    What percentage of a healthy soil is made up of air and water?

4.    What role do hyphae play in forming aggregates?

5.    Explain why aggregates are important for soil (and plant) health.

6.    Define “rhizosphere.”

7.    According to the article, what is one way that plants obtain nitrogen?

8.    Provide some examples of commonly eaten legumes.

9.    Why can storm runoff be a problem?

10.  Why is topsoil especially vulnerable to erosion? What would be one way to reduce that vulnerability?

After reading:

1.    Create a list of the different types of outdoor surfaces on and around your school. Which are permeable? Which are impermeable?

2.    How did this story increase your awareness of the importance of soils? Name at least three new things that you learned about the benefits of soil. Rank them in order of importance to you, and describe why you ranked them that way.

3.    Farmers will often rotate their crops. For example, farmers may plant corn one year and soybeans the next. Why would farmers do this? Support your answer using details from this story.



1.    Create a soil composition pie chart that illustrates the relative proportions of each of the components found in healthy soil. Now show how that pie chart might change after a serious drought or after the soil becomes seriously compacted (refer back to the story for hints about this).