A Lesson for Teaching Students About Rainforest Layers

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The Four Layers Lesson Procedures

Students will watch you model how to draw the rainforest layers in this lesson. I have used this lesson with both first and second graders.


Book about the rainforests like Nature’s Green Umbrella by Gail Gibbons

12” x 18” white or manila construction paper, one per child

Ruler, one per child

Pencils, colored pencils, crayons


  1. Read a book about the rainforests. Talk about the layers of the rainforests as you read.
  2. Give each student a piece of paper and a ruler. tell them that they are going to be drawing a model of the four layers of the rainforest. Attach a piece of paper to the chalkboard or an easel, so that the students can see. Have the students turn their papers so that the short side is at the top and bottom.
  3. Ask the class if anyone remembers what the bottom layer of the rainforest is called. Show them how to measure 2” from the bottom of their papers and make a small mark. Tell them that this part of their paper will represent the bottom layer, called the forest floor. Talk about what kinds of plants they would see on the forest floor. The forest floor is very dark and mostly bare. It contains mostly fallen leaves, seeds and fruits which decay very quickly and contain a few mosses and ferns. Draw in the vegetation of the forest floor on your paper and have the students do the same.
  4. Continue to measure and draw in the layers one by one following the process in step 3.
  • Understory - Measure 7” and draw in small shrubs, bushes and seedlings. Many of the plants in the understory have very large leaves to soak up as much sunlight as they can in this dark layer.
  • Canopy - Measure 13” and draw in trees that leaves and branches form an umbrella or canopy over the other layers of the rainforest. The branches may have other plants and vines growing on them.
  • Emergent - Measure 17” and draw in a few trees that poke out of the canopy.

5. When the students have finished their drawings, let them use colored pencils or crayons to color them.

6. Collect the drawings and save them for another activity.


Have the students write the layers of the rainforests in their science notebooks and describe each one. You can also individually ask each student to show his picture and name and describe each layer of the rainforest.


On the following day talk about the animals that live in each layer of the rainforest. Bring in pictures or a book to show the class and then have them draw a few animals in each layer of their rainforest layer pictures.

  • Forest Floor - anteaters, giant armadillos, earthworms, beetles, ants
  • Understory - spiders, emerald tree boas, tree frogs, bats, owls
  • Canopy - toucans and other birds, jaguars, sloths, iguanas, butterflies, spider monkeys
  • Emergent - Butterflies, harpy eagles, hummingbirds, bats and monkeys

This rainforest layers lesson is a great way to introduce your students to the plants and animals that live there today.


  • Classroom experience.

This post is part of the series: 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