Use These Engaging Amazon Activities to Deepen Student Learning

Educator James Fester wrote this post.

Estimated to be twice the size of India and contain 10 percent of the world’s known species, the Amazon rainforest is a critically important ecosystem — but not just to the plants and animals that call it home. It is also essential to the health of people locally and globally and the planet as a whole. The reasons for this include the rainforest’s ability to store carbon and produce oxygen and the potential of its life-forms to contribute to medical science.

The importance of this threatened ecosystem to the health of our planet is one of the reasons the National Geographic Society focused a fantastic new set of resources on the Amazon. The curated collection, featuring activities, articles, and other engaging resources, is free and available to integrate into your Earth Month instruction!

So, if you’re interested in supporting the inquisitive, budding Explorers in your own classroom, keep reading as I share some highlights and ideas from this awesome collection.

Highlighting Human Impact

The delicate balance between the needs of the human world and those of the natural world is an important concept in environmental science, because decisions that prioritize one can come at the expense of the other. Getting students to think about these trade-offs is a great way to promote critical thinking, and one of the resources in the Amazon collection serves as a great catalyst for just this kind of work.

The lesson “Making a Decision about Building a Road in the Amazon” gives students the opportunity to consider the impact of road construction on not just the rainforest but also the Indigenous people who live there. Completing the activities in the lesson provides a blueprint for how decisions like these can be made responsibly, with input from multiple stakeholders. This experience can help lay the groundwork for discussions or larger projects focused on environmental issues in your students’ communities, such as housing development or water rationing. In the process, you will help make connections between the local and the global.

Exploring Through Maps

Maps are extremely useful tools that help us navigate more than just roads and landscapes. We can use them also to navigate data and information, an important skill for any developing geographer.

A resource that illustrates this fact in an engaging and interactive way is the “Biodiversity of the Amazon” map, which uses multiple layers and interactive features to help users learn more about the Amazon and the wide array of life it contains. The map could serve as the entry activity for inquiry-based lessons on the many species that live in the forest or to get students started on researching specific species of plants or animals that are endemic to the forest.   

Connecting Students to Experts

Learning becomes more meaningful when connected to the real world in a way the student understands. Being able to tell a student “what you’re learning is what this person does for their job” helps frame classroom learning in a way that makes it matter more to the student. It is also important, when discussing environmental issues and problems, to remind our students that there are people working on solutions — and they can as well.

The “Ask An Amazon Expert” resource makes these kinds of authentic connections. Watching or reading the interview with National Geographic Explorer Juliana Machado Ferreira helps students learn that even the most challenging problems can be addressed. The resource could also inspire additional classroom activities: students might brainstorm ways of taking action or informing others about what they have learned; they could develop their persuasive writing skills or oral communication skills through advocacy for the animals they have learned about; or they could look at what animals outside the Amazon have been victims of poaching.

The ideas I have described can function as stand-alone lessons or as part of larger inquiry-focused projects. If you’re interested in integrating resources like these into project-based learning opportunities for your students but aren’t sure how to get started, check out this new book I co-wrote with my friend Jorge Valenzuela about teaching environmental science through high-quality project-based learning.

Explore the National Geographic Society’s curated collection of educational resources on the Amazon rainforest here, and see our Resource Library for nearly 5,000 additional free resources, including articles, videos, activities, maps, and lesson plans.

James Fester is a consultant and author passionate about project-based learning (PBL) and experiential learning. His educational experience includes classroom teaching, instructional coaching, technology integration, and, most recently, serving as a member of the PBLWorks National Faculty. In addition to his consulting work, James is a National Park Service volunteer who collaborates on educational programs for parks across the country. His writing has been featured by National Geographic, TED-Ed, KQED, and in a recent book on PBL and environmental science published by ISTE. He currently resides in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Learn more about his work or how to work with him on his website!

Featured image, marking Earth Day 2022, by Aaron Pomerantz, National Geographic

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