Resources Details

Preventing Soil Erosion

This activity teaches students about the role of plant growth in protecting the Earth from soil erosion. Students observe and discuss examples of soil erosion in photographs and in their own environment. They develop hypotheses connecting plant growth and erosion prevention, then conduct experiments to test the hypotheses. Class discussion and team activity encourage cooperative scientific inquiry. The use of science journals teaches students the importance of careful record-keeping. Soil erosion on the Blackfeet reservation exemplifies the causes and effects of environmental destruction tied to lack of protective vegetation.

Key Concepts

Life Science, Plants, Erosion Control


Multicultural Classroom Activities  View All »


3 - 50 minute periods, 1 month data collection




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Earth Science

Resource Type

Extended Lesson Plan





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The Blackfeet are northern Plains people whose reservation in northwestern Montana stretches over both prairie land and mountains. Forest fires are relatively common on the steep mountain slopes, stripping hillsides of protective vegetation. Logging operations also can increase risks of soil erosion.

Soil erosion caused by water or wind carves natural structures of stunning beauty, like those covering the canyon lands of the American Southwest. It also can have serious economic and esthetic consequences. Gullies cut through fields affect agriculture and images of houses sliding down hillsides after heavy rains are not uncommon. Adequate vegetation growing in an area can prevent this erosion; plant roots help hold the soil in place. The threat of soil erosion increases if vegetation is destroyed by fire or human activity such as logging. Plants are important throughout our daily lives -- sources of food, clothing, and building materials -- but they also protect our environment from erosion with their root systems and fertilize the soil with decaying plant matter.


The purpose of this activity is to give students an understanding of soil erosion and the importance of plant growth in protecting an area from erosion. Students will look for examples of erosion in their school yard and their own yards. A class activity encourages students to develop hypotheses, conduct experiments, and make scientific observations related to soil erosion. Through photographs and discussions, students also learn about other instances of erosion, including those on the Blackfeet reservation of Montana.


Toni Gray
Cultural Consultant - Blackfeet

I am presently the GED Tutor for the EvenStart Family Literacy Program in Browning, Montana. I have received 3 AA degrees in Education, Early Childhood, Elementary, and Blackfeet Bilingual, from the Blackfeet Community College. I will be moving to Bozeman in May where I will finish my BS degree in Early Childhood Ed. in December of this year. I will then begin a Master's program in Adult/Secondary Ed. By the time I have finished I will be "well-rounded" in the Education field.


  • Erosion - the gradual wearing away of rock or soil
  • Blackfeet - a North American tribe of Indians of Algonquian stock.

Learner Outcomes

  • Develop a hypothesis about soil erosion; do an experiment to test the hypothesis.
  • Realize that plant roots help prevent soil erosion.
  • Understand that lack of plant growth coupled with water or wind can lead to serious soil erosion.

Content Standards

  • Science as Inquiry Content Standard A: Abilities to do scientific inquiry
  • Life Science Content Standard C: Organisms and environments
  • Life Science Content Standard C: The characteristics of organisms
  • Earth and Space Content Standard D: Property of earth materials
  • Earth and Space Content Standard D: Changes in earth and sky


  • Photographs of examples of soil erosion
  • Empty cardboard egg carton (one/student)
  • Potting soil
  • Grass seed
  • Science journal (one/student)
  • Rulers

Lesson Procedures

  • Discuss with the class what water erosion does to soil. Show photos of erosion (e.g., the Grand Canyon, deltas of sand deposited in gutters, mudslide areas in southern California, historic Depression-era Dust Bowl scenes, hillsides after forest fires, sand dunes, field or mountain gullies, Missouri River breaks).
  • Take a mini-field trip to the playground and see if anyone can spot signs of erosion. Have students watch for signs of erosion on their way home after school and around their homes.
  • The next day, discuss the signs of erosion that students found around their homes. Introduce the concept that some yards did not show signs (or obvious signs) of erosion. Have students develop their own ideas to explain absence of erosion.
  • Instruct students to set up an erosion experiment, designed to test whether plants can help stop water erosion:
    • Give each student an egg carton and a cup of potting soil. Students may get more soil if needed.
    • Ask students to place soil in each section of the egg carton. Each section should be three-quarters full.
    • Place grass seed in every other cup or at random cups (some cups will have grass seeds and others will not).
    • Remind students to not press on the grass seeds. Grass seeds do not have to be buried to germinate.
    • Have students start a daily science journal. The first entry should be their prediction of what effect the grass will have on erosion. Then students will record information for each day of observation. Day 1 should be a drawing of the carton with marks to indicate which cells were planted with grass. Each day the students will record changes to their carton. There will be no change for 14-21 days, depending on the type of grass seeds used. If you want to shorten the experiment, use radish seeds that sprout in 3-5 days. Any seed can be used but the best are those with a well-developed root structure that better prevents erosion.
  • On day 14-21, when the grass has sprouted, have students measure the height of the grass. Have students record the results in their journal. They should collect daily height data for at least a week. Students should make a graph of the growth of their grass seeds, plotting height of the plant versus day of measure.
  • Instruct students to investigate erosion by slanting their egg carton lengthwise. One end of the carton should be on the ground (it is best to do this activity outside). Students begin by pouring two cups of water over the carton, starting at the top. Have students work in groups of two. Have students experiment with different ways of pouring the water, such as slowly, rapidly, large amounts, small amounts, all in one cell, etc. Make certain that students record the results from each of their experiments in their science journal. Drawings or digital photographs also are good ways to record this information.
  • Ask students to write a paragraph in their journals about their hypotheses. Were the results what they expected? What did happen?
  • Discuss the experiment results as a class. Emphasize the time element of the experiment. For example, if a fire removed all vegetation from an area, followed shortly by a heavy rainstorm, what would happen? How long would it take before vegetation protects the area from erosion?


  • Plant roots help hold soil in place and thus prevent water or wind erosion.


  • Participation in class discussions
  • Participation in field trip
  • Student science journals (hypothesis, graph, daily entries, discussion of results)


  • Leave some of the egg cartons with grass growing for an extra week. Then pour water on the egg cartons. Are the results the same as for the earlier experiment, or different?
  • Use the Internet to research “reforestation” projects begun after either forest fires or logging operations.
  • Watch for areas where people use plants to prevent erosion (e.g., hillsides along highways, grain stubble left in farm fields, etc.).


  • Encarta World Dictionary (