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An Introduction to a Rainforest Theme with Two Starter Lessons

written by: Tracey Bleakley • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 2/8/2012

A tropical rainforest theme makes a great science unit for the primary grades. Use a rainforest theme unit to plan lessons about plants, animals and the environment. Students can even practice map skills and review what they know about weather and the water cycle with a rainforest unit of study.

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    It's Raining Learning!

    Use these two rainforest theme lesson plans to introduce your rainforest unit to your first or second grade students. They will learn what a rainforest is and where rainforests are located in the world. Then, continue reading through the series (see the end of the article) for even more lessons and activities to follow.

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    Lesson One Asks, Where Are the Rainforests?

    Materials

    Science notebooks or journals

    Large world map

    World map, showing the location of rainforests, one per student

    Pencils and crayons or colored pencils

    Procedure

    Ask the students what they know about rainforests. Have them write "What Are Rainforests?" at the top of the next blank page in their science notebooks and answer the question with anything they know about rainforests. Instruct them to write any questions they have about rainforests too. After the students have had a few minutes to write, ask some students to share what they know about rainforests. (Have them answer the same question at the end of your rainforest theme unit for a quick assessment of what they have learned.)

    Tell them that rainforests are forests that have temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees year round and that they receive at least 80 inches of rain each year. Rainforests are wet and warm and have lots of plants and animals living in them. Show your class a large world map and tell them that most rainforests are located near the equator. Ask if anyone knows where the equator is. Show the students the equator and explain what it is if they don't know. Tell them that the areas north and south of the equator are called the tropics and that most rainforests are in the tropics.

    Give each student a copy of the map that shows where the rainforests are located. Have them first locate the equator and then color the rainforest locations with a green colored pencil or crayon. You can also have them color the land yellow or brown and the water blue. When they are finished you can collect the maps or have them glue them into their science notebooks.

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    Lesson Two: Making a Living Rainforest

    Make this living rainforest in a large jar and keep it in your science center for the students to observe. You can do this activity after you finish the rainforest maps lesson or on another day.

    Materials

    A large clear gallon jar with a lid

    A small shovel or large spoon

    Gravel

    Potting soil

    3 or 4 small plants - mosses, ferns and other houseplants - of different heights

    Water

    Procedure

    Tell the students that you are going to make your very own mini rainforest in a jar to keep in the classroom. Let the students help you put a layer of gravel in the bottom of the jar and then cover it with several inches of potting soil. Next plant each plant in the soil. It is easiest to plant all of the plants if you start with the shortest and finish with the tallest. Water the plants lightly. Put the lid back on the jar and place the jar in your science center or other location where the students can observe it. Make sure it is not in direct sunlight.

    Observe the plants daily throughout you rainforest unit. Ask if the plants need to be watered and point out how much moisture collects in the jar. Explain that the plants stay moist because water vapor goes from the plants into the air and since it can't escape the jar it just "rains" again. This is what happens in the rainforest. It stays damp because there are so many plants releasing water vapor into the air. This water vapor falls as rain in the rainforests.

    These two introductory lesson plans about tropical rainforests are a great way to start your rainforest theme unit. There are more to come in the series below.

References

A Rainforest Thematic Unit

Use these lessons to plan a rainforest thematic unit. These plans are appropriate for first and second grade students. You'll find lessons on the plants and animals of the rainforest, rainforest layers and locations, and rainforest resources, as well as books to use during your unit.
  1. An Introduction to a Rainforest Theme with Two Starter Lessons
  2. The Layers of the Tropical Rainforest Lesson Plan
  3. The Great Kapok Tree: A Rainforest Lesson
  4. Teaching How Rainforest Products Sustain Us
  5. Great Books for a Rainforest Unit