Businesses interested in working with us, or already doing so, can now visit our business resources site »


Second Grade, Lesson 1: Rainforest Complexity and Diversity

Second Grade, Lesson 1: Rainforest Complexity and Diversity


Maintaining interdependence and diversity among plants and animals is essential in sustaining rainforests.

Essential Question 

How can so many plants and animals share such a small space?

Informational Introduction for the Teacher

Biodiversity is the total number and variety of plant and animal life found in an ecosystem. The rainforests are complex and have extraordinary amounts of biodiversity. This biodiversity is a result of the environmental conditions (rainfall, sunlight and temperature) present in rainforest areas.

A typical 10km square area contains 1,500 kinds of flowering plants and 750 tree species. These plants form a system of layers in the rainforest called the forest floor, understory, canopy and emergent layer.

The rainforest is an ideal place for many types of animals to live. There is plenty of water, shelter and food, and it is warm all year. These conditions mostly benefit the insects that can grow and reproduce the year round, unlike in colder climates. Some insects grow very large. "Walking sticks" reach lengths of over 12 inches. Beetles can be as large as your hand and some moths are the size of small birds. But the really amazing thing about them is their variety. One tree in the Amazon can house 200 different types of insects; not 200 insects but 200 different types! Scientists believe many insect types have yet to be named and catalogued.

Rainforest animals play a vital role in maintaining their habitat. Because there is no wind in the lower layers to carry pollen from one flower to another, many plants depend on insects, birds and bats for pollination. The 900 varieties of fig tree is a good example of this process as there are 900 different kinds of wasps that pollinate them. Spreading plant seeds is necessary for their survival, and fruit-eating birds, mammals and even fish help to accomplish this task.

Informational Introduction for the Students

Tall, mighty trees, millions of insects, constant sounds, monkeys climbing overhead and more birds than you've ever seen in one place -- tropical rainforests harbor tremendous amounts of life. How can so many living things share such little space? Rainforests are complex systems. Our exploration of how they work will involve understanding the weather, the structure of the forest, the way that each plant and animal depends on another... to reveal how complex and fragile a rainforest really is.

Step 1: Connect (the concept to prior knowledge)

Step 1


Biomes are large areas that have the same general climate conditions (extremes of temperature and amount of rainfall), plant life and animal life. Students understand the diversity and complexity of different biomes including their particular biome and that of the rainforest. By comparing plants and animals of their own neighborhoods to what they have learned about the rainforest, students will understand the diversity and complexity of the rainforest.


Per class

  • Paper and pencils
  • Access to daily weather report (i.e., newspaper or Internet)
  • Large chart for Bio Profile of the schoolyard
  • Rainforest Alliance species profiles and slideshow
  1. Students participate in a BioBlitz of their neighborhood or schoolyard by observing and recording every plant and animal within a designated area. The area should be observed by all separately so they can combine their findings and designate objects as rare or common, depending on how many students observe that particular species.
  2. The BioBlitz (an activity coined by author Lynne Cherry) should be done three consecutive times over the course of a week. It can be done out of the windows of a school classroom as long as the area is the same as the area observed directly (on the ground). At least one session should be out of doors.
  3. Every object observed should be recorded -- insects, weeds, birds, squirrels, spiders, etc. The weather (temperature, wind, humidity) should be recorded as well.
  4. All of the information is transferred to a large chart that is prominently displayed in the classroom as the "Bio Profile for the Schoolyard."
  5. Conducting internet research and reading reference books and resources from the Rainforest Alliance Learning Site, students prepare a chart of the rainforest to hang next to their own BioBlitz that records the plants and animals they would observe if they did a similar BioBlitz in the rainforest.
  6. Students compare and contrast the two charts and make observations about which ecosystem has the most diversity and complexity.
  7. Have students guess at reasons that allow this diversity to exist in the rainforest.
  8. Discuss the temperature and rainfall and how they impact the range of species that live in the rainforest. Discuss the layers of the rainforest and how each one is filled with a different interdependent world.

Step 2: Literature/Discuss (Give Expert Information Book; Ask Questions)


Students will understand and be able to identify the relationship among different species in geographical locations.


Per class

  1. Take one or two of the animals that were mentioned in the local BioBlitz. Discuss the shelter, food sources, water, safety/protection, the way they move and their range of movement, animals they get along with, animals that prey on them, etc.
  2. Discuss with children what would happen to a squirrel (or other local animal) if one source of food was taken away or if the source of materials for their shelter disappeared.
  3. Using a large map, locate the Brazilian rainforest. Move from a large global map to show where the children live to a smaller map of Brazil. Show the equator and how that influences the weather. As one moves closer to the equator, the sun has a greater effect on rainfall and temperature.
  4. Visualize with children how it would feel and sound to walk in the rainforest.
  5. Read Lynne Cherry's book, The Great Kapok Tree. Discuss the inhabitants that are mentioned in the book.
  6. Talk with students about how the different animals depend on one another to survive. Take three different animals and list all the things children noticed about them. List all of the things that each animal needs to survive; food, shelter, safety/protection, animals or plants they depend on, where they live in the rainforest (forest floor, canopy, etc.), water, the way they move.
  7. Pose the questions: What would happen if the water disappeared? How important is the kapok tree to these animals? Who and what do they depend on for survival?

Step 3A: Practice (Math and Learning Centers)


Students will understand that annual ranges of temperature and exposure to the sun are factors in the complexity of a biological system.


Per class

  • Lined or graph paper
  • Pencils
  • Access to Weather Channel Web site
  1. Students record data about the annual temperatures and rainfall in their geographical area from the Weather Channel Web site. Temperatures from December, February, April, June, August and October should be recorded.
  2. Students record data about the annual temperatures and rainfall from Brazil's Amazon rainforest (PDF of rainfall data) for the same months.
  3. Using the two graphs, students will analyze the differences in rainfall and temperature and draw conclusions about growing seasons and lifecycles of different animals and plants in the two locations.
  4. Discuss what would happen if the temperature levels for the two places were reversed.

Step 3B: Create (Performance Tasks Related to Standard Indicators)


Students will realize the importance of keeping all aspects of a temperate and rainforest ecological system intact for the health and safety of the animals and plants.

  • Book: The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
  • Rainforest Alliance species profiles
  • Drawing paper
  • Drawing/coloring utensils
  1. Students will research one of the species (plant or animal) mentioned in The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry. Refer to the Rainforest Alliance’s species profiles for additional information.
  2. Students will draw a picture that begins with their species in the middle of the page.
  3. Students fill out the page with all of the plants and animals that are important to that animal for shelter, food, water, safety, friendship, survival and health.
  4. Children will display pictures in a gallery and make observations about how other pictures are the same or different than their own. Which animals are repeated in different pictures, which only appear once, etc.

Step 4: Present


The pictures and the student observations are collected and bound into a book.

The Rainforest Alliance curricula is unique in that it teaches language arts, math, science, social studies and the arts while addressing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts and mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards. Our multidisciplinary curricula present information on forests, biodiversity, local communities and sustainable practices. Lessons provide a global perspective on the importance of protecting the world's natural resources, locally and globally, while giving students opportunities for direct action.

To help teachers seamlessly integrate our resources into their lesson plans, we have correlated our kindergarten through 8th grade and climate curriculum guides to the Common Core State Standards for both English language arts and mathematics, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards. Please feel free to use these correlations to help guide you through these lessons, as well to help you identify extensions and adaptations to advance your work.

The Rainforest Alliance can help your school district incorporate local standards and closely align our curricula with the educational mandates in your region.

In addition to the above standards, the education program seeks to advance alignment opportunities with the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development; National Education for Sustainability (K-12) Student Learning Standards.

For any further inquiries, please contact us at

Second Grade Resources

Living in the Amazon Forest Slideshow

A slideshow and script about Brazil that includes background information about the animals, people and landscape of this region. The slideshow can be viewed online in the classroom, or printed out and read as a story.

Unit-Specific Story

Nelson’s Journey through the Amazon

Species Profiles

Profiles include: photos and information on habitat, foraging behavior, group relationships, threats, etc.

Teacher Summary

An overview of Boa Vista do Ramos in Brazil with useful information to introduce you to the lesson topic.

Rainforest Poster

A colorful two-page poster that helps explain the layers of the rainforest, its products and the environmental threats facing many rainforests around the world.

Rainforest Products

A round-up of everyday products that come from the rainforest.

The Oficina Escola de Lutheria da Amazônia (OELA)

Check out the Adopt-A-Rainforest pages for more information about the Rainforest Alliance's partner group in Brazil.

Profiles in Sustainability

Case studies of companies that work closely with the Rainforest Alliance to ensure that their practices protect wildlife, workers and communities.

Venn Diagram Template

A photocopy-ready Venn diagram for use in this unit.

Brazil's Amazon Rainforest Rainfall Data

PDF of rainfall data

Certificate of Accomplishment

Print out colorful rainforest certificates for your students to commemorate their completion of these units.

Resource Index

Supplemental materials to accompany these dynamic units.

Search form