National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Color in the Garden
3 - 5
2 hours over 3 days
Students will use the art of soil painting to explore science and the natural world while learning about the color wheel, the importance of soil to agriculture, and why soils have different colors.
Interest Approach – Engagement:
- Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
- Soil Profile Images
Activity 1: Garden Color Classification
- Paper or resealable plastic quart bag, 1 per student
- Access to an outdoor area with a variety of vegetation
- Color Wheel handout
Activity 2: Soil Painting
- Utah Soils Map
- Non-Utah alternative: Soil Orders Map of the United States
- Elmer’s Glue diluted with 2 parts water
- 8.5" x 11" white or gray construction paper, 1 per student
- Roll of toilet paper (separate at every third perforation—enough for each student to have three strips of this length)
- Containers (bowls or jars) for diluted glue
- Paintbrushes, 1 per student (½" brushes work best)
- Containers (disposable cups or bowls) for mixing soils with diluted glue
- Various soils prepared for painting (very finely ground and sifted)
- Soils may be found and prepared locally, or you may purchase them in a Soil Painting Kit from agclassroomstore.com
- Plastic table covers (optional)
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
organic matter: the component of soil made of plant and animal material that has decomposed to varying degrees
parent material: the bedrock or minerals from which soils form
primary colors: the main group of colors (typically red, yellow, and blue) on the color wheel which can be mixed together to obtain all the other colors
secondary colors: colors (such as green, orange, or violet) produced by mixing two primary colors
tertiary colors: produced by mixing two secondary colors
topsoil: the upper layer of soil in which plants have most of their roots and which is most affected by vegetation
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- 95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced from soil.1
- Soils store and filter water, improving food security and our resilience to floods and droughts.1
- Soil is one of the most diverse habitats on earth, hosting a quarter of the world's biodiversity.1
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Read the book Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin.
- Ask students if they think all soil a worm might travel through is the same color. Hypothesize with the students why soils are different colors. (The minerals in the parent material/bedrock contribute the color; organic matter in the topsoil makes the soil look darker.)
- Use the Soil Profile Images shown below to illustrate different colors in the soil.
Activity 1: Garden Color Classification
- Provide each student with a paper or resealable plastic bag. Ask them to go into the garden (or a park or schoolyard) and collect, observe, or take photographs of at least 5-10 items that are different colors.
- Display the Color Wheel for the students to reference, and ask them to match the items they collected to the closest color on the wheel.
- Point out that half of the color wheel, ranging from red to yellow, is labeled warm. These are colors we associate with warm things like fire or the sun. The other half of the wheel, ranging from green to purple, is cool. These are colors we associate with cool things like water or a shady forest. Ask the students to group the items they collected into cool colors and warm colors.
- Use the information in the Background Agricultural Connections to discuss the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors and how artists and designers use particular colors to evoke different feelings and show contrast or depth. Ask the students to classify the color of each item they collected as primary, secondary, or tertiary.
- Remind the students about the soil color discussion you had after reading Diary of a Worm. Share the information about soil color from the Background Agricultural Connections with the students. Discuss the importance of organic matter in soil and how it colors the soil. Where does organic matter come from? Organic matter is not alive, but it comes from living things.
- Discuss the differences between living and nonliving things.
- Have students sort and categorize the items they collected into living and nonliving things. Ask the students if they can describe some relationships that exist between the items they have collected (e.g., rocks become soil by freezing and thawing; plants become part of soil when they die and decompose; soil anchors and provides water and nutrients to plants; insects may eat plants or help plants by eating other harmful insects, etc.)
Activity 2: Soil Painting
- Use the information in the Background Agricultural Connections to discuss the value of soil and what we can learn by observing soil color.
- Share the Utah Soils Map. Discuss various locations where students have seen different colors of soils.
- Note: If you are not in Utah, you may want to share images of Utah landscapes with students to familiarize them with the varied geography of the state, find an alternative map of soils in your state, or use the Soil Orders Map of the United States.
- Tell the students that they are now going to make a journal cover by painting with different colors of soil.
- Prepare a mixture of watered-down glue (about two parts water to one part glue). The mixture can be sealed in a jar to use again. Place some of the diluted glue in containers for adding soil to make the soil paints, and some in separate containers to keep plain for applying the toilet paper strips. Note: You may wish to do this step prior to class to save time.
- Provide each student with a single piece of 8.5" x 11" construction paper (light gray or white works best), three strips of toilet paper, a paint brush, and access to a container of the diluted glue.
- Ask students to initial or write their names on the back of the paper.
- Instruct them to tear the three, three-square lengths of toilet paper into horizontal thirds (this is easiest to do if the three squares are folded and then torn).
- The students should place the horizontal pieces across the construction paper so that it is covered. Then they will use their brushes and the plain diluted glue to wet/texture the toilet paper to the page, one strip at a time. Allow the pages to dry overnight.
- After the pages are dry, provide the students with access to each different color of soil, and allow them to experiment with the amount needed to achieve color (not grit!). A good starting point is ½ tablespoon ground soil to 4 tablespoons watered-down glue, but the students may choose to use more or less soil to create darker or lighter paint.
- Give the students time to paint their journal covers. This can be done in a variety of patterns.
- If possible, avoid moving the pages while they are still wet by leaving them to dry where they were painted. Allow pages to dry overnight.
- The following day, instruct the students to fold the pages in half, and place a hole-punch at the top and bottom of the fold.
- Have the students write or draw on pages to put in the journal, or fill it with visuals related to soils, life science, or color in the garden. For example, you may have the students place inside the journal a hole-punched Utah soils map, a soil profile, and a page where they’ve written what they learned about soils.
- String a piece of twine through the holes to attach any pages that are placed inside.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation:
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Soil is the foundation of agriculture.
- Soil anchors plants and provides them with the water and nutrients they need to grow.
- Living plants die and decompose to become nonliving organic matter, which makes soil dark and fertile.
- Different colors of soils are created by different parent materials (mineral content) and different levels of organic matter.
- The color wheel is a tool used to understand how colors relate to each other.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Gather 30 living and nonliving items. Divide the class into two relay race teams. Provide each team with 15 items, and then ask students to race a short distance and sort the items into a living or nonliving box. Check the boxes after the race to re-teach incorrectly placed items.
Using the soil painting images by Jan Lang as an example, ask students to use the soil paints to paint a teepee, a tree, or a mountain. Be sure to ask them to draw the shape first.
Create a soil profile in a jar or cup using local soils of different colors to make the different horizons of the profile. Once the profiles are complete, use a stick to poke the soil on the edges to create a type of soil jar or cup art. Use the lesson plan What Makes Up Your Profile to further explore soil profiles.
Classify the texture of soil samples that students collect locally. Use the Types by Texture lesson plan to familiarize yourself and students with the process of soil texturing.
Suggested Companion Resources
- A Handful of Dirt (Book)
- Diary of a Worm (Book)
- Dirt: The Scoop on Soil (Book)
- Harvesting Friends, Cosechando Amigos (Book)
- Jump Into Science: Dirt (Book)
- Sand and Soil: Earth's Building Blocks (Book)
- Seed, Soil, Sun: Earth's Recipe for Food (Book)
- Soil! Get the Inside Scoop (Book)
- The Curious Garden (Book)
- The Extraordinary Gardener (Book)
- You Wouldn't Want to Live Without Dirt! (Book)
- Soil Painting (Kit)
- Soil Samples (Soil Texture) (Kit)
- Dirt: Secrets in the Soil (DVD) (Multimedia)
- Soil, Not Dirt (Multimedia)
- SOIL Reader (Booklets & Readers)
- From the Ground Up: The Science of Soil (Website)
- Soil Center (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Explain how the interaction of the sun, soil, water, and weather in plant and animal growth impacts agricultural production (T1.3-5.b)
- Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)
Education Content Standards
4-ESS2: Earth's Systems
4-ESS2-2Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.
5-LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
5-LS2-1Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
Common Core Connections
Language: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.