Related National Standards
Grade Level: 5-9
Estimated Time: One class period to watch each of the videos and take notes. Three days to research each animal and determine what information will be placed on the bulletin board. Two days to construct the display. Several days to complete the student descriptions.
The Amazon basin is filled from top to bottom with life. New species are discovered each year in the rainforest, and scientists guess that less than half of the existing species have been described. Many of these organisms have remained unknown due to the remoteness of their habitat. For example, many rainforest species live only at the tops of tall trees unseen from the ground, while others live about half way to the top, making it extremely difficult to stop and look for them.
In this activity, students will research the characteristics of a variety of rainforest organisms and present their research findings to the group. As a class, they will construct a bulletin board that places the animals by their position in the environment, gives information about each animal, and shows their interrelationships.
- Research a plant or animal from the rainforest and identify its physical location within the rainforest (e.g., canopy, etc.).
- Understand that different organisms live in different layers of the rainforest.
- Contribute information to a group project about the organisms in a rainforest.
- Make a presentation about their organism to the class.
- "Journey Into Amazonia" video
- Construction paper in various colors
- Art tissue paper (especially browns and greens but other colors also)
- Markers, colored pencils, crayons
- Tag board
- Scissors, rulers, glue
- Reference materials: encyclopedias, magazines, Internet
Students will research one of a number of organisms that live in the Amazon rainforest. For younger students, a list of organisms should be provided, though older students should be able to identify appropriate organisms on their own through reading or by watching the video. A list of possible plants and animals is provided below.
Students should collect information on index cards that are labeled with general topics on the top, factual information on the lines and bibliographic details on the back. It is recommended that you consult with your school's English teachers so that the cards are consistent with the research format being taught in students' other classes. A collection of between 10 and 30 cards should prove sufficient information. The cards should then be condensed so that each organism is represented by one index card on the bulletin board display.
The bulletin board should have a dark green background. Tree trunks are made from rolled newspaper covered with brown tissue paper. Rolled paper bags resemble vines. Construction paper backed with florist's wire with tissue paper fronds represent ferns. Bromeliads may be made from toilet paper rolls with layers of construction paper and tissue. Flowers are constructed from tissue. Animals are usually represented by drawings.
The plant materials should be attached to the board first and the animals last. The information cards are placed along the outside edges with a string running from the organism to the card.
After completion of the display, students should present a short description of their research to their class or to classes of younger students.
Selected Organisms For Research:
- Plants: Fern, Brazil Nut, Banana, Cecropia, Strangler fig, Palm trees (many varieties), Coffee, Kapok, Cocoa, Orchid, Vanilla, Bromeliad, Passion flower, Philodendron, Breadfruit, Cashew, Manioc, Yucca, Heliconia, Mahogany, Rubber
- Animals: Anaconda, Ant, Anteater, Beetle, Boa constrictor, Pit viper, Butterfly, Fer de Lance, Capybara, Caiman, Coatamundi, Cockroach, Electric eel, Catfish, Frog, Pink dolphin, Katydid, Grasshopper, Monkeys (many varieties), Jaguar, Kinkajou, Puma, Macaw, Parrot, Crow, Manatee, Mosquito, Bot fly, Parrot, Tarantula, Bat, Termite, Sloth, Quetzal, Toucan
The rainforest exists through nutrient recycling. The soil is extremely poor, and thus doesn't always supply the nutrients required for plant growth. As plants die, their parts are quickly decomposed and the next generation of plants recycles the nutrients they contained. Without this process, the soil is too poor to support sustained plant growth.
Near the rivers, plants grow quickly into a dense mass of vegetation that absorb the available sunlight. Trees reach to the sun and spread wide branches with large leaves to absorb the energy. Away from the rivers, the floor of the rainforest is dark with less than 5% of the available sunlight filtering to the ground at noon. Thus the forest floor is fairly clear of thick vegetation and the tree trunks rise high to the canopy above.
The rainforest is layered with the thickest layer being the highest. At the floor is the herb layer that contains small grasses and other plants up to several feet high. The shrub layer rises above the herbs to a height of about 20 feet. This is composed of short trees and bushes. Far above is the understory, an area of medium height trees. At the top is the canopy, a wide and unbroken expanse of leaves at a height of 100 feet or more.
Most of the animals in the rainforest live in only one of the vegetation zones. The canopy is the most populated area. Due to the difficulties in reaching and moving through the canopy, much of the life in this region is unknown. Even more difficult to reach is the understory layer. Trees in this area are relatively far apart, will not support much weight and hard to climb. Some contain nests of biting ants. Since the canopy prevents studies from being done from above and the weak trees prevent researchers from climbing, a lot of life in the rainforest is virtually unknown. Most of the exploration of the rainforest has occurred in the herb and shrub layers.
- Teachers should begin with a review of the biomes of the earth. Using either a wall map or smaller printed maps and research materials, identify the areas of rainforest around the world. If students need help identifying rainforests in other areas of the world, they might visit the Rainforest Action Network site at http://www.ran.org/ran/info_center/factsheets/k1.html. A Fact Sheet at this site will inform students that tropical rainforests are located around the equator, from the Tropic of Cancer in the north, to the Tropic of Capricorn in the south. The largest rainforests are in Brazil (South America), Zaire (Africa) and Indonesia (islands found near the Indian Ocean). Other tropical rainforests lie in Southeast Asia, Hawaii and the Caribbean Islands. The Amazon rainforest in South America is the world's largest, covering an area about two-thirds the size of the continental United States.
- Watch all or parts of the "Journey To Amazonia" videos. To select appropriate segments of the film for your class, visit "About The Series" on this Web site. Because all the episodes of the program contain information about plant and animal life in the rainforest, teachers may want to narrow the focus to aquatic life, life in the canopy, etc.
- While watching the video(s), students should note the wide diversity of plants and animals in the Amazon basin by listing in their notebooks the names of plants and animals and the portion of the rainforest they inhabit.
- Students will select or be assigned an organism from a list of organisms to research. Research may be done in books, magazines or over the Internet. Begin with the sites listed below and with the content elsewhere on this Web site.
- Students will prepare a color drawing and/or model from the provided materials for use on the display board.
- Students will prepare a 5x8 inch card giving information about the organism.
- Students will post their organism in the proper position on a classroom bulletin board. The information card will be placed on the perimeter of the board with a string connecting the information to the organism model.
- Students will prepare a 2 to 5 minute presentation for the class about their organism. The presentation should provide general characteristics and identify the organism's diet.
- Colored yarn may be used to connect organisms to one another to illustrate the concepts of a food web, commensalism, symbiosis, competition for resources, or predator-prey relationships. Different colors can be used to represent different relationships.
Student assessment should be done on a matrix grid. Students' note cards should have subject headings, bibliographic information and factual information. These may be evaluated by completeness of the card and by the number of cards in an objective manner. The bulletin board portion should be assessed subjectively with the emphasis being on the proper placement of the organism. The presentation should be graded with an emphasis on the characteristics of the organism and its relationship to its surroundings.
- In schools with computer labs, technology may be integrated with the use of presentation software. These presentations emphasize organizational and outlining skills. Most of them allow the presentation to easily be published in the HTML language for use on a school Web site.
- Students might play the Amazon Explorer game found on this Web site and use this game as a model for their own online game. Using their newfound rainforest knowledge, students might create a "choose-your-own-adventure" type of game, or a game more closely tied to one particular layer of the rainforest.
Related National Standards
This lesson addresses the following national standards found in the McRel Standards Database at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/ :
- Knows that plants and animals have features that help them live in different environments
- Knows that animals and plants have a great variety of body plans and internal structures that serve specific functions for survival (e.g., digestive structures in vertebrates, invertebrates, unicellular organisms, and plants)
- Knows that living things are found almost everywhere in the world and that distinct environments support the life of different types of plants and animals
- Knows ways in which species interact and depend on one another in an ecosystem (e.g., producer/consumer, predator/prey, parasite/host, relationships that are mutually beneficial or competitive)
- Knows relationships that exist among organisms in food chains and food webs