Rainforest Lesson Plan Ideas

For use in elementary school classrooms

Creative writing

  • Write a fictional rainforest story from non-fiction information.
  • Take students on a guided rainforest meditation and have them write about it.
  • Write rainforest poetry. Explore different kinds: haiku, prose, rhyme, limerick.
  • Have students pick a rainforest animal. Ask them to write a journal as if they were that animal living in the rainforest. What is its day and life like? Students can work independantly or in groups.
  • Have students create a personal book that holds all their rainforest creative writing. Have them decorate and laminate a cover and include drawings to illustrate their writings. Bind with brads, string or metal rings. Students can add to book as new things are written.

Spelling

  • Hold rainforest spelling bees.
  • Play rainforest word jumble. Have students break into small groups of 4 or 5. Each group is given five rainforest related words to jumble. Each group then takes turns and writes them on the board. The other groups try to guess what the words spell. Whichever group gets it first, gets a point. After the first group’s words are correctly un-jumbled, the next group gets up to write their words. The group with the most points wins.
  • Play “Wheel of Fortune” using rainforest words.

Reading

  • Have students read a rainforest storybook (The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry or Panther Dream by Bob Weir and Wendy Weir are some good ones) and ask them to write a book report or give a class presentation on it. Students can break into groups and act out the story.
  • Have students research a rainforest topic. Ask them to write a summary or report of what they learned and include a bibliography.\

Letter Writing

  • Have students write different types of letters (persuasive, business, informal, etc.) regarding the rainforests. For instance, they could write a business letter to the president of a corporation responsible for destructive logging in the Amazon and persuade him or her to switch to sustainable forms of logging or alternative fibers altogether. Have students mail the letter as an act of empowerment in making a difference. (Students’ letters are indeed powerful when mailed to corporations. Many items of consumption are targeted to students, and corporations are concerned about their public image and branding.)

Science

  • Have students pick a rainforest animal. What unique features has it acquired for survival in the rainforest? Camouflage? Toxicity? Speed? Claws? What level on the food-chain is it on? Is it endangered? If so, why? Write a scientific report.
  • Put rainforest fruits (banana, orange, tomato) and non-rainforest fruits (apple, peach, grapes) each in separate glasses of water. How long does it take for them to decompose? Which ones decompose faster? Why? Since it rains a lot in the rainforest, what qualities help a fruit survive in all that water and humidity?
  • Make a rainforest terrarium out of 2 liter soda bottles or a fish tank. Explain how transpiration works using the terrariums as an example.
  • Discuss global warming and how this effects climate change. Have students pick any part of our nation and ask them to research climate changes over the past hundred years. Have them look at: El Nino, increased hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, flooding and blizzards. Is there anything significant to report? Have major changes occurred in recent years? Do they think this might be a result of global warming?
  • Assign one rainforest area for the class to study (S. America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, New Zealand). Discuss the different layers of the rainforest: the floor, the understory, the canopy and the emergent layer. Have students break into four groups and assign each group one layer. Have them research and discuss with the class all the qualities of their layer. Which plants and animals live there? Which classification are the animals? How much sun does it get? How does their layer interact with the layers above and/or below them? Put up a tall piece of butcher paper and have each group re-create their layer as accurately as possible. Have them draw in the animals found there, the plants, insects and trees, etc. Discuss the people who live in the rainforest from the region each group is studying.
  • Discuss the nutrition found in different rainforest foods. What foods will make a balanced diet? Create a menu of rainforest foods to eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Discuss interdependency and the “web of life.” Use a ball of yarn to illustrate point. Gather students into a circle. Keeping a hold on the beginning of the thread, have one student throw the ball of yarn across the room to another student. Have that student throw it to another, etc., until a web has been formed. Ask the first student to pull on their piece of yarn. Do the other students feel the pull? Explain how in the web of life, everything is interconnected. Have students explore this issue further, especially as it pertains to the rainforests.
  • Have students research rainforest species that have become extinct. How has this extinction affected the rainforest and life on earth? Make a classroom list of all rainforest animals currently endangered with extinction. Write a letter to your congressperson encouraging them to strengthen endangered species protection here in the United States.

Math

  • Identify how many acres of rainforest are being destroyed in a day. Have students figure out how many acres are destroyed in a week, month, year. How many acres get destroyed an hour, minute, second? At this rate of destruction, when might all of the rainforests disappear if no one does anything to save them? (Hint: 100 acres of rainforests are being destroyed every minute)
  • Study the amount of rainfall that falls in the Amazon basin year-round. Graph findings and compare with yearly rainfall in your local area.

Drama

  • Ask students to pick a rainforest animal to study. Have them act out the sounds and movement of their animal for the class. At the end, have the class come together to act our their animals in unison. If everyone’s doing it properly, it should sound like a real rainforest!
  • Create a play based on The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry and present to other classrooms or the entire school. Create the costumes, make-up, stage set and music. Perform it for parents and turn it into a fund-raiser to help raise money for Protect-An-Acre.

Music

  • Create a rainforest song. Identify the beat you want to follow and have students come up with words that are based on the rainforest and why we should all care about protecting them. Emphasize the power people have to save the rainforests.
  • Make musical instruments by filling cans (potato chip cans work great) with a handful of beans, seeds, rice, or pebbles. Experiment how different fillings and different amounts make different sounds. Decorate the cans with reused or tree-free paper and rainforest cutouts or stickers and use them to do the rainforest rap.
  • Come up with a familiar song (“On top of Old Smoky,” “America the Beautiful,” etc.) and change the words so it will be about the rainforest.
  • During a school assembly, sing your special rainforest song(s) for the whole school.

Art

  • Draw the different animals in the rainforest on big pieces of paper. (Ask your local print shop if they’ll donate large, leftover scraps.) Paint them and post them around the room.
  • Create a papier mache rainforest animal. Give the animal a name and write a story to go with it.
  • Cut out patterns of big rainforest shapes. Staple them and stuff them with newspaper for a 3-D effect. Decorate the classroom.
  • Mix paints to come up with as many different shades of green as possible. Use them to paint a picture of the rainforest.
  • Make collages of the rainforest using old magazines and organic matter like twigs, leaves, feathers, even dirt!
  • Make masks of rainforest animals. Use paint, feathers, glitter, etc. and use them in a rainforest play, or wear them in class during special rainforest related activities.

Turn Your Class into a Rainforest!

Many teachers have decorated their entire classrooms to look like a rainforest. While this endeavor certainly takes time, creativity and energy, it’s a very exciting way to engage the students with their classroom environment while teaching them about the rainforest too. One class even spent the night in their rainforest! Cassettes of rainforest sounds complete the ambiance.

There are a myriad of ways to proceed. Some ideas follow:

  • Stuff and paint butcher paper for 3-D trees and animals. Post the trees all along the walls and attach animals to the appropriate level (understory, canopy, etc.). Put a flock of colorful birds at the top. Papier mache animals can be placed at various places in the room as well.
  • Hang strips of green fabric from the ceiling and use construction paper, tissue paper, crepe paper, etc. to make the leaves, and canopy. Hang big leaves from strings or the strips of green fabric.
  • Cut out big, colorful orchids to place on the walls and create a waterfall and pool in a corner with cellophane and/or glitter paper. For the very ambitious, make a volcano in the middle of the room with chicken wire, papier mache and paint. Use dry ice and water to make steam.
  • Ask a local nursery if you can borrow some tropical plants and palms to place around the room.

If you’d like to remind the students that the rainforests are in peril, set aside one corner of the room to have tree stumps and barren land to represent the destruction. You can even bring in an oil drum or create an oil spill in that section. Have a list of the four main reasons the rainforests are being destroyed (large scale agriculture, logging, mining, cattle ranching, ) and put up a graph that shows how many of acres disappear each day.

  • When you are done, invite other classrooms and parents to come take a tour of the rainforest!