© Luke Mackin
What are the different layers in a rainforest? Students will learn about these layers and the plants and animals who inhabit them by singing a fun Jungle Layers song.
In this lesson, students will:
1. learn that the rainforest is divided into layers.
2. learn that different plants and animals inhabit different layers and serve different functions in the rainforest.
- canopy: the uppermost layer in a forest, formed by the crowns of the trees
- understory: an underlying layer of vegetation, especially the plants that grow beneath a forest's canopy forest floor: the ground layer of a forest
- soil: the top layer of the earth's surface, consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with organic matter
- bedrock: the solid rock that lies beneath the soil and other loose material on the earth's surface
- mineral: a naturally occurring, solid, inorganic element or compound having a uniform composition and a regularly repeating internal structure
This poster and accompanying song take students from the tip top of the canopy down through the understory, forest floor, soil and bedrock. Students learn about the three foliaged rainforest layers and also learn that the plant layers we see above ground are connected with the soil and bedrock below. Below, you will find background information on each layer.
The canopy, the top layer of the rainforest, receives most of the sun’s rays with only a few emergent trees towering higher. Its dense layer of leaves and branches provide shade for the lower layers. The canopy is home to many animals such as birds and monkeys that live and eat in the treetops.
The understory is a dim environment with shorter plants than those that reach the canopy. These bushes, vines, and small trees tend to have bigger leaves than the plants and trees in the canopy in order to collect as much of the rare sunlight as possible. Many animals including snakes, large cats, and insects inhabit this layer.
The forest floor is even darker than the understory. There are very few plants in this layer. Although sometimes hard to notice, this is a world teeming with life. A thin layer of leaf litter coats the forest floor, which is home to decomposers such as fungi, insects and microorganisms.
Soil is an important component of the rainforest ecosystem. Although rainforest soils are nutrient-poor compared to many other soils in the world, they still provide water and important nutrients for roots to take up. Soil also provides a surface that supports plant growth and a habitat for many organisms such as worms and beetles.
Although you rarely see rocks in the rainforest, because they are covered with soil and plants, they are there, underneath the soil. The bedrock is an important part of the ecosystem because it contains various minerals that over time contribute to the soil layer above through weathering processes.
- Place the jungle layers poster in a central area where everyone can see it. Have students sit around the poster so they feel like it is towering over them.
- Explain that although all parts of the rainforest are connected, the rainforest is divided into many layers each of which has unique plants and animals.
- Point to the canopy layer on the poster and tell your students that this layer is called the canopy. Have students look at the poster and tell you what they observe about this layer.
- Write key words from this discussion on the board. Make sure to add any important features about this layer that your students may have missed.
- Follow these steps for each layer of the rainforest.
1. Write lyrics on the board or large paper for students to see, or print out one student worksheet per student.
2. Teach your students the “Jungle Layers” lyrics.
3. Perform the song a number of times to make sure students start to remember the lyrics.
Discuss the following questions with your students:
- What animals live in the canopy? In the understory? In the forest floor? In the soil?
- What features do the rainforest plants and animals have that help them survive in their particular layer? (Example Answers: Birds and insects have wings. Monkeys have tails that allow them to swing from tree to tree. Understory plants have broad leaves to help them capture sunlight in their dim environment.)
- Could some of those features be influenced by the environment? (Yes. For example, understory plants may have developed broad leaves in order to survive in their environment.)
- Why are there more plant leaves in the top layers of the rainforest than in the lower layers? (Because leaves need sunlight to make food.)
- Why is it so dark beneath the canopy layer? (The canopy leaves block the sunlight and create shady areas beneath them.)
- How do plants get water and nutrients in the rainforest? (Most plants’ roots get water and nutrients from the soil.)
- How do plants and animals in one layer affect those in another layer? (Example Answers: The plants and trees in the upper layers lose their leaves which fall to the forest floor and eventually decompose and become part of the soil. The plants in the upper layer block the sunlight for the lower layers. The plants and trees have roots in the soil, where they get water and nutrients. The rocks can break down via wind and rain and add more minerals to the soil. Animals poop and provide nutrients for the plants.)
Use the Jungle Layers assessment sheet and colored pencils, crayons or markers to have your students show what they have learned. There are multiple ways to use this sheet.
- Students can re-draw the poster to make a cohesive picture.
- Students can draw the key components of each layer in the corresponding boxes.
- Students can write keywords about each layer in the corresponding boxes.
- Check for accuracy.
Castner, J.L. (2002). Deep in the Amazon: Layers of Life. New York: Benchmark Books.