How to teach rain forest layers to kids

Updated July 19, 2017

Various animals, insects, and birds call the different layers of the rainforest home. The four layers, also known as strata or zones, include the emergent, the canopy, the understory and the forest floor. Rainforests are essential to the ecology of the Earth, generating a majority of the Earth's oxygen.

Gather students and discuss the layers of the rainforest and the animals that call each layer home. Use pictures showing rainforest animals along with images of plants and trees to assist with introducing the lesson. Create a drawing, or chart, on the front board depicting the four layers of the rainforest for children to use for the next part of the lesson.

Write information about the emergent layer of the rainforest, or the uppermost level, on the front board. The emergent layer includes the giant tops of the trees. The tallest trees found in the emergent layer are as much as 60 m (200 feet) above the rainforest floor. The emergent layer of the rainforest is home to many birds and insects, such as eagles, monkeys, bats and butterflies. Tape pictures in the chart on the front board of animals and insect found within the emergent layer of the rainforest.

Share with students facts about the canopy strata of the rainforest, which is the main layer, with trees that have smooth oval leaves and many branches and vines for animals to live on. Animals such as snakes, tree frogs and toucans live in this layer. Fill in information on the front board about the canopy. Have the students help select pictures that correlate with animals or insects that can be found within the canopy. Tape them to the front board in the canopy section.

Explain the next strata of the rainforest to students. The understory is below the canopy strata, with dense foliage and little sunlight. Although this layer of the rainforest is somewhat dark and damp, many animals enjoy living there such as jaguars, insects and reptiles. Continue filling in the chart on the front board with appropriate pictures of animals, insects, or reptiles that could be found within the understory.

Teach children about the final layer of the rainforest, which is the forest floor. This is where the largest animals live, such as gorillas and leopards. Many insects, reptiles and amphibians also call the forest floor home. Fill in the final layer of the chart on the front board with information about the rainforest floor along with having students help select appropriate pictures of animals, amphibians or reptiles found there.

Use 30 x 45 (12 x 18 inch) sheets of green construction paper as a background for students to use for creating their own layers of the rainforest. Children can divide their papers into four levels, one for each layer of the rainforest, using a ruler and a pencil.

Provide children with old magazines, scissors and glue. Children can cut out animals from the magazines and place them in the correct strata of the rainforest. Encourage children to place one or two animals, insects or birds in each layer of the rainforest, just like on the front board.

Give children markers to use for finishing their rainforest layer artwork. Children can draw trees, branches, leaves and vines that correlate with each strata of the rainforest. Have each child use a marker to label each strata of their finished rainforest artwork.

Things You'll Need

  • Pictures from magazines of animals, insects, amphibians and reptiles found in the rainforest
  • 30 x 45 cm (12 x 18 inch) sheets of green construction paper
  • Old magazines
  • Scissors
  • Glue
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About the Author

Sarah Lipoff has been writing since 2008. She has been published through BabyZone, Parents, Funderstanding and Lipoff has worked as a K-12 art teacher, museum educator and preschool teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Science in K-12 art education from St. Cloud State University.