Lesson Plan: A Taste of Soil

Written By: Margaret Johnson
Grade Level: 4th grade North Dakota studies (may be adapted to other elementary grade levels)

Time Allotment

2 or more classes: 50 minute class periods. Further exploration of these concepts can go into additional class times.


Prior to unit study, students will create a sketch book/journal to record their discoveries. Students will watch the Dirt Detectives video clip prior to creating their sketch book as well as a website about soil painting. Students will tour and explore the travel site: “Round America Tour” and end up on “The Enchanted Highway” by Regent, ND or state chosen. Students will learn about one or more regional artists while creating art that supports the knowledge they are gaining about North Dakota or state chosen. In doing so; Science, Math, Social Studies and Language Arts will be integrated into this unit of study.

Supplemental Material
Download Lesson Plan
Download Powerpoint

Subject Matter

Visual Art with connections to Math, Social Studies, Science and Language Arts.

Learning Objectives

Students will
  • learn a very basic bookbinding technique incorporating a dimensional object and simple fastening method.
  • learn how to use “soil” as a painting medium for the books’ cover.
  • recognize that a handmade book is a work of art in itself.
  • achieve step one in the creation of a finished piece of personal value.
    • The art of creating the book will continue as a sketchbook, writing surface or scrapbook.
  • learn about one or more regional artists
  • create a 3D sculpture using recycled materials.
  • create a one point perspective drawing.
  • explore various websites
  • investigate and research a chosen state
  • recognize landscapes in viewing artwork
  • identify specific features of a chosen state
  • understands that seasons change repetitively
  • describes differences between 2D and 3D
  • draws pictures to solve problems
  • investigates soil properties
  • learn about artist Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night


Soil kit from Courtney Kastning Urban Conservationist Cass County (ND) Soil Conservation District (701) 282-2157 x3.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Minnesota Soil Conservation: Minnesota Soil Conservation Moorhead, MN
Round America Tour ( tour the U.S. and learn about each state-even where the best pie is!)
Virtual Tour of the Enchanted Highway
Worlds largest scrap metal sculptures
Roadside offbeat tourist attractions
Facts and photos about the area of Regent, ND and the Enchanted Highway
Soil painting
Painting with Soil—Jan Lang's Images of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Soils and landscapes of MN
Minnesota Legacy Production website featuring one of our local potters; Brad Bachmeier and The Rourke Art Museum; a regional art museum
PBS Teachers “Eco Investigators”

Video Clips
Dirt Detectives – Sid the Science Kid: (1 minute 34sec.)
1.5 minute video clip about the Enchanted Highway:
1 hour video about Vincent Van Gogh:
4 minute video clip about VanGoghs artwork:
6 min. 56 seconds video on regional artwork:
4 minute video of artwork from the region:
5 minute 42 seconds video to view Rourke Art Museum:
http://www.prairiepublic.org/television/minnesota-legacy-productions/rourke-art-museum art to view
3 min. 30 sec. video on regional artist, Brad Bachmeier:

Multimedia Tools
Avervision document camera, Projector, HP Computer, Internet access. Starry Night art print by Vincent Van Gogh (optional)

Materials: 1st session/Setting the Stage There’s more to dirt than meets the eye! - Video Clip of Sid the Science Kid/Dirt Detectives
Soil can also be used to paint with! - Painting with Soil—Jan Lang's Images of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
9x12 gray construction paper (1 piece per student)
12 squares of white toilet paper, torn into 1 inch strips
Soil kit from Courtney Kastning Urban Conservationist Cass County (ND) Soil Conservation District (701) 282-2157 x3 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Minnesota Soil Conservation
Paint Brush (1 each)
Acrylic Medium 16 oz. jar (watered down Elmer’s glue all will work)
3 ounce plastic cups (for mixing soil paints) the number of cups depends on how many different soil types you have to use 3 ounce plastic cups
3 ounce plastic cups (for watered down plain acrylic medium/consistency of cream)
Different types of tree bark

Materials: 2nd Session-Learning
-Small twigs approx. 10 inches long (walk to a park or neighborhood to find these on the ground)
-Twine (2 feet per student) opt. 1 rubber band/student
-White copy paper (10 pieces per student)
-HB Pencil (1 each)
-Magic Rub Eraser (1 each)

Materials: 3rd and/or more Sessions – Learning/Culminating Activities
-9 x 12 construction paper/your color choice (1 piece/student)
-HB Pencil (1 each)
-Magic Rub Eraser (1 each)
-Crayola Oil Pastels (1 box of 24 per 4 students)
-Ruler (1 per student)
-Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night art print and short video clips about Van Gogh
-Chosen videos and/or video clips listed under media resource, depending on what other lessons you are planning to teach.

Teacher Preparation

  1. Preview and set up media components.
    • Computer
    • Avervision
    • Lesson on hard drive or flash drive
    • Projector that will allow computer hook-up
    • Screen or wall on which to project image
  2. Prepare materials – Prior to starting unit
    • Cut construction papers into 9x12
    • Cut twine into 2 foot lengths
    • Tear off 12 squares of toilet paper per student
    • Have websites bookmarked on computer
    • Put 1-2 Tbsp. of soil into each cup (approx.. 2/3 full)
    • Add enough water to each cup to make a batter the consistency of a “mud brownie”. Stir until combined
    • Add about one tablespoon of acrylic medium to each cup. Stir until combined and smooth. More medium can be added to get the right consistency. (Add liquids sparingly so not to dilute the soil too much so the color does not come through well when painting). Cover until needed.
    • Dilute plain acrylic medium with water in 3 oz. cups to a creamy consistency. Cover until needed.

Introductory Activities

Day 1
  1. Overview of North Dakota unit:
    • Students will create a hand- made sketch book using soil painting techniques on the book cover to mimic tree bark. (observation of tree bark-science)
    • Students will explore the Soil Painting site which includes a Regional Historical connection with Lewis and Clark (social studies)
    • Students will tour and explore the travel site: “Round America Tour” and end up on “The Enchanted Highway” by Regent, ND or state chosen. (Students may go to the computer lab with the teacher; each student can search and explore on their own computer. OR. Teacher may explore the site on the Smart Board or Avervision/overhead projector on screen as a whole class.
    • Students will learn about one or more regional artists while creating art that supports the knowledge they are gaining about North Dakota or state chosen.
    • Students will view and discuss Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
    • Students will draw pictures to solve problems whether 2D or 3D (math)
    • Students will write facts they have learned to improve comprehension (language arts)
    • In doing so; Science, Math, Social Studies and Language Arts will be integrated into this unit of study.
  2. Activities
    • Observe different examples of tree bark from different trees. Look closely at the colors and textures of each example.
    • Observe the different soils from ND and MN, looking closely at the different colors of the soil and its properties (science). *Soil is one of our most important natural resources.
    • Create sketch book covers to mimic tree bark. Explain that these sketch books will reference our learning throughout the unit as well as planning out our artwork ideas.
  3. Demonstration on creating sketch book covers begins our learning activities.
    1. Pass out materials:
      • 9x12 gray construction paper (put name on back of paper), paint brushes-1 each
      • 12 squares of toilet paper per student
      • Soil paint mixture in cups- 4 different types of soil per 4 students/table
      • Watered down acrylic medium – 1 small cup for 4 students/table
    2. Demonstrate as students follow along:
      • Tear the 12 squares of toilet paper into 1 inch strips all at the same time
      • Paint gray construction paper with watered down acrylic medium
      • Overlap the 1 inch strips of toilet paper on top of the acrylic medium, covering the entire piece of gray construction paper.
      • Using one or more colors of soil paint, paint soil paints on top of the toilet paper strips, covering the entire page once again. Put on drying rack to dry. (Opt. When dry, more layers can be added to make the covers look more like tree bark.)

Learning Activities

Learning Activities

Day 2.
  1. Demonstrate how to put together sketch books, following these directions:
    • Take your soil painted “faux” tree bark sketch book covers, fold in ½, cutting off any excess toilet paper strips off that may be hanging around the edges.
    • Pass out 10 white copy paper pages to each student, fold in ½.
    • Pass out one 10 in. twig and one, 2 foot piece of twine to each student
    • Put the 10 papers inside the sketch book cover, folding all papers in ½. Cut approximately a one inch slit on the top and bottom of the books fold.
    • Place twig on the outside of the folded book and wrap twine around the top and bottom of the twig while also wrapping the twine around the middle of the folded book.
    • Tie book together in a bow tie/double tied so it does not come apart.

  2. Explore “Round America Tour” website- touring 50 states:
    • Complete information about the trip Round America is detailed as part of the web site. To begin reading, I recommend that you read the Trip Overview to learn about what prompted the trip, the planning and Rules of the Road. Then click on any link on our toolbar to read about what's most important to you. If you want to take the trip, go to the Daily Journal page, and start at Day 1 and work your way through to Day 148. If you want to read about a specific state, go to the Cities & States page, and click on the state or states of interest to you. If pie is your thing, the Pie We've Eaten section includes complete details on the 181 pieces of pie consumed. If you like statistics, the Trip Scorecard page is interesting and fun.
    • Focus on day 107, in ND, touring the Enchanted Highway: http://www.roundamerica.com/trip/journal/day107.htm
    • Begin a 2D or 3D artwork-Demo/Discuss/View
    Discussion Topics
    • 3D sculptures created by recycled materials
    • Seasons, life cycles, animals in the area
    • Landforms
    • Soils
    • Climate
    • Compare and contrast 2D and 3D
    • Lewis and Clark

Day3 and more (options)
  1. Take a Virtual Tour of the Enchanted Highway: http://www.learn360.com/Search.aspx?SearchText=Enchanted%20Highway%20artist
  2. In sketch book
    • Define one point perspective in writing
    • Plan out One Point Perspective landscape of ND.
  3. Draw, using pencil, the finalized plan onto 9x12 construction paper (final paper)
  4. Demonstrate how to use oil pastels, blending color into color to create depth and value (darks and lights of objects)
  5. Students colorize landscape using oil pastels.
  6. View Starry Night art print by Vincent Van Gogh, focusing on the night time sky.
  7. View short video clips about Van Gogh
  8. Learn 360
  9. Create their sky in the same manner as Van Gogh using swirled and segmented lines
  10. Sign artwork on bottom right.
  11. Explore 3D art using recycled materials
  12. Research travel brochures.
  13. Write to organize and develop ideas
  14. Visualize and verbalize in sketchbook for understanding and comprehension

Culminating Activity

After creating the hands-on artwork assignment(s), students will:
Visual Art
- Display finished artwork within their school.
- Using their hand made sketch books; students can share and reflect with peers. Option: Sketch books may be used throughout the year as a journal to document other assignments.
- Each student can verbalize about their artwork using academic terms (terms to be taught in a given course) (e.g. composition the arrangement of parts in an artwork to create unity, one-point perspective a way of showing depth in a picture).

Language Art
Write in their hand made sketch book:
- the objectives of the lesson
- soil properties
- facts about ND and the Enchanted Highway (or state chosen)
- use academic terms (art words) to describe their finished artwork
- use for reference
- Thumbnail sketches (small) to plan and/or write other ideas

- Describe repetitive and irregular changes in seasons and erosion – verbal and/or written.
Social Studies
- Identify the location/region of the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota
- Use a variety of strategies to solve problems; drawing pictures to plan out the finished artwork.
- Describe the attributes of two- and three-dimensional shapes

Cross-Curricular Activity

• Visual Art - paint with soils, one point perspective drawing, composition, graphic design (travel brochures)
• Science - recycled materials (3D art), seasons, soil properties
• Social Studies - land formations, climate, characteristics of significant features of ND
• Math - Draw pictures to solve problems, describe 2D and 3D shapes
• Language Arts - write to understand and improve comprehension

Community Connections

• MN Soil Conservation: http://www.co.clay.mn.us/Depts/SoilWatr/SoilWatr.htm
• ND Soil Conservation soil kit: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
• Plains Art Museum: http://plainsart.org/exhibits/ Students in North Dakota and northern Minnesota can relate to many of the artworks found at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, ND. The art exhibits change throughout the year, so I am providing this link that could be used to preview and select an art work that will complement the lesson. (Art works always need to be previewed for appropriateness before displaying them for students.) North Dakota artist, Walter Piehl, would be a good artist choice because he has art work in the Plains Art Museum’s permanent collection. One of Piehl’s rodeo prints is available through the museum and has educational information on the back. Fargo art teachers use this print as a fourth grade teaching tool
• The Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, MN (regional museum)
• Brad Bachmeier - local potter (soil connection) http://www.prairiepublic.org/television/minnesota-legacy-productions/brad-bachmeier