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Third Grade, Lesson 2: Surviving in Our Ecosystems

Third Grade, Lesson 2: Surviving in Our Ecosystems


Each species has different survival needs. The balance of each ecosystem is a delicate Web of interdependence and every species of plant or animal is affected by changes in that balance. Knowing how we, as humans, are the same and/or different than other species informs us of our role in the larger ecosystem.

Essential Question 

What do we need to live in the trees?

Step 1 -- Connect (The Concept to Prior Knowledge)


Students identify the characteristics of a frog and compare them to a human child.


- Photos of frogs
- Sketch of frog in its environment
- Sketch of human in its environment


What makes a frog a frog?

  1. Show children pictures of different frog species and discuss the characteristics all frogs share: moist skin, wide mouth, large eyes and nostrils on top of the head, eardrums on sides of head, long hind legs and long toes.
  2. In a discussion led by the teacher, have children talk about how the frog's shape helps it survive. For example, a frog's strong hind legs help it jump, swim or climb to escape predators or catch prey. Eyes and nostrils on top of the head enable a frog to stay underwater and still breath and see.
  3. In a teacher-led discussion, have children talk about the environment that a frog needs to survive. For example, a frog will need moisture to keep its skin from drying out. Frogs need camouflage to hide from predators. Frogs need to be near a food source or be able to draw insects to their environment so as to eat without endangering themselves.
  4. Hand out an outline of a frog (or a picture of a frog) to small groups of students. Working in small groups, have students list the characteristics of 'frogs' and the elements of their environment on the paper.

What makes a human different from a frog?

  1. Put a picture of a human child next to the picture of a tropical tree frog.
  2. Discuss the ways that human children are the same or different than the tree frog. For example: - Humans are mammals, not amphibians. - Human skin adapts to a wider range of moisture but won't last long underwater. - Humans have eyes and a nose that is designed for their upright posture and dry environment.
  3. Give students a worksheet with a human figure on one side and a tree frog on the other. Have students describe the best environment for a human to live in and the best environment for a frog to live in based on their physical characteristics.
  4. Have students draw a habitat or 'house' that a frog might live in.

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


Students identify a wide range of habitats or "homes" appropriate for a diversity of frogs in both tropical and temperate locations.


- Book: Flashy Fantastic Rainforest Frogs, by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Kendahl Jan Jubb
- Book: Frogs: A Chorus of Colors, by John L. Behler and Deborah A. Behler
- Paper, art supplies


  1. Read aloud Flashy Fantastic Rainforest Frogs by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Kendahl Jan Jubb for an in-depth look at various species of rainforest frogs, discussing their habits, life cycle and needs for survival.
  2. Compare the home of the red-eyed tree frog and other tropical frogs with the frogs from temperate regions that are described in Frogs: A Chorus of Colors by John L. Behler and Deborah A. Behler.
  3. Have students draw pictures or cut out/paste pictures of temperate and rainforest frogs on a sheet of paper. Have students identify the differences between the frogs and describe how their homes might be different based on the reading.
Additional References:

Frogs: Inside their Remarkable World, by Ellin Belts

Tropical Rainforest: A Golden Guide from St. Martin's Press, by Allen Young

Step 3A -- Practice (Math and Learning Centers)


Students will learn the interrelationship between bromeliads and tree frogs and rainfall in tropical rainforests.


- Internet access or encyclopedia
- Paper, pencils
- Bromeliad activity
- Bromeliad pattern


  1. Using the Web ( or an encyclopedia, look up the average rainfall in the rainforest of Ghana, as well as the temperate region that children live in.
  2. Make a graph reflecting the rainfall. Find the difference between the amounts of rainfall in each country.
  3. Find out how much rain must fall in a region for it to be considered tropical or temperate.
  4. Calculate how much more rainfall would have to fall in your area for it to be considered a rainforest.
  5. Using the technology resources from the Rainforest Alliance find links to activities that define the interrelationship between bromeliads and tree frogs: Plant with its Own Water Tank.
  6. Have students research the characteristics of a bromeliad and identify which tree frogs use this as a home.
  7. Using the paper bromeliad pattern from the bromeliad activity, have children make their own model of a bromeliad and describe how this is an appropriate home for a tree frog.
  8. Children will describe the micro-system of a bromeliad, identifying at least four essential characteristics of this home.

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

Step 3b


Students will compare and contrast the characteristics of a tree house for human children in the rainforest with the bromeliad "tree house" of the frog.


- Books: How to Build Tree houses, Huts and Forts and Tree Houses You Can Actually Build by Stiles Designs
- Book: Afternoon on the Amazon by Mary Pope Osbourne
- Paper, pencils


  1. Discuss the design of a tree house that might be built in the children's home environment.
  2. Read and show: How to Build Tree houses, Huts and Forts and Tree Houses You Can Actually Build by Stiles Designs
  3. Read aloud the Magic Tree House book Afternoon on the Amazon by Mary Pope Osbourne
  4. Have students draw a tree house that they would like to build using a tree from their local environment.
  5. Students each write a short adventure story that uses the local tree house as a magic doorway that transports them to a tree house in the rainforest.
  6. Draw the tree house in the rainforest that students are transported to, describing the issues of:
    • Where to Build
    • Finding Lumber
    • Safety
    • Rope Bridge
    • Emergency Escape Hatch
    • Trolleys, Pulleys, & Swings
    • Railings and Steps
    • Ropes & Ladders
    • Tree Movement
    • Tree Injury
  7. Compare and contrast the rainforest tree house that is suited for human children with the bromeliad "tree house" that is suited for the tropical tree frog.

Discussion questions:

  1. How would the tree house in the rainforest be different than the one in your neighborhood?
  2. What kind of tree would it be in?
  3. What kinds of animals, insects, weather, plants would they encounter from their rainforest tree house?
  4. How is your tropical tree house different than that of the tree frog?


Step 4 -- Present (Edit Work/Students Present Projects)


Students describe the survival needs of the tropical tree frog and how the bromeliad provides these needs. Students describe how their rainforest tree house is different than the bromeliad home and how it provides survival needs for humans.


- Tree house drawings from Step 3B


In a gallery display, present the different models of tree houses that have been created by students.

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

Third Grade Resources

Species Profiles

Rainforest Posters

  • Inside the Canopy [PDF] – Structure and species of the rainforest
  • Status Report [PDF] – What is happening to the rainforest

Additional Resources

  • Terrarium Instructions [PDF]
  • Rainforest Products
  • Teacher summary [PDF] – The Rainforest Alliance Learning Site provides a downloadable overview of cocoa farmers in Ghana with useful information to introduce you to the lesson topic.
  • Certificate of Accomplishment [PDF]

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