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The Great Kapok Tree: A Social Studies Lesson
Grade Level(s): 1-2
By: Alana Noseworthy, Multiage 1,2,3

Students will demonstrate an understanding of the interdependence of animals, people and plants in the rainforest by participating in an ecosystem simulation.



  • ball of yarn
  • one 4" x 6" note card for each student
  • colored felt pens or crayons
  • scissors


  1. Read The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry. Ask students to pay attention to the many animals that rely on the Kapok Tree for their needs. (Students will have already have a good understanding of most animals mentioned).
  2. After reading, ask students:
    • How important was the Kapok tree?
    • To whom was it important?
    • How do you think the animals in the story felt, when they saw a human who was bigger and stronger than them came to chop down their tree?
    • In the end, who has the final say / power for what will happen? (humans do)
    • Think of some examples in our community where our ecosystem may be in danger. (i.e. pollution, littering, car exhaust.)
  3. Make necktie-cards in advance or have students make the food web cards before the game is played. Reproduce the food web listed below.

    A Basic Rainforest Ecosystem

    • Kapok Tree
    • Tree Frogs
    • Boa Constrictor
    • Bee
    • Monkeys
    • Toucan, Macaw
    • Tree Porcupines
    • Jaguar
    • Anteaters
    • Sloths
    • Yanomamo Tribe Children

    Write a single web component on each card. When finished, punch a hole in the two top corners of each card and string a piece of yarn about two feet in length through the holes, tying a loop that can later be placed over the student's head. These cards will be worn by the students to identify their role clearly to the entire class while playing the game. (Use picture cues especially for youngest).

  4. Have students draw role cards from a hat, and put them on so their roles are visible.
  5. Students form a circle. The student that represents the Kapok Tree stands in the middle of the circle, holding a long dowel upright, with 30 strings attached. (*NB use as many strands as are children in the class). As the narrator (teacher) recites the story, each animal takes a strand of yarn from the "tree". This will form a "web of dependence" on the tree. Once all animals have been presented, the teacher (as a woodcutter) will cut the Kapok Tree down, cutting all "ties" from tree to animals. (See Appendix A for instructions and story retelling) This action will represent "deforestration" and how it harms our ecosystem by creating an imbalance.
  1. How do you think the animals feel now that the Kapok Tree has been cut down?
  2. What will happen to the animals?
  3. What will happen to the people in the rainforest?
  4. In a "community" - ecosystem such as the rainforest, all living things are dependent on one another, for food, shelter, and many other things. We share "resources" in our community to meet our needs, but we must be careful not to "use up" these resources - what will be left?

Students will create mobiles to reveal their understanding of the rainforest ecosystem. Using coat hanger wire and string, students will construct a three-dimensional "dependence web" utilizing the animal and people-characters in The Great Kapok Tree.

Students will also be evaluated informally during question time, when we wrap up the activity. While in group discussion, I will observe whether students understand the concept of interdependence. (Whether students are hesitant or hasty to answer questions, if they stay on task, if they are attentive, and if they ask questions etc.)

Appendix A

Students stand in a circle. Kapok in Center, holds ball of yarn and stick.

Narrator/teacher -

When you hear your name called, come to the Kapok Tree and he will give you what you need. (Kapok gives yarn string).

  1. The boa constrictor lives in the Kapok Tree. He slithered down the trunk. The Kapok Tree is the boa's home. It has been home for our family for years and years. We are dependent on you for shelter.
  2. The bees buzz around the Kapok Tree. They have built their hive in the tree. The bees fly from tree to tree and flower to flower collecting pollen. They pollinate the trees and flowers throughout the rainforest. The Kapok Tree provides a place for bees to build many hives.
  3. The monkeys swing from vines to branches of the Kapok Tree. They are dependent on your vines to swing on. The Kapok Tree provides many vines to many monkeys to swing from branch to branch.
  4. The tree frogs crawl on your leaves. Tree frogs need the leaves to hide from predators - so they can be camouflaged. Your leaves match our skin perfectly.
  5. The jaguar also sleeps in the tree - he finds his lunch and supper in the Kapok tree. The Kapok Tree provides a home to the jaguar's prey - the animals that he depends on for food.
  6. The porcupines swing down the Kapok tree from branch to branch: "We need you for our OXYGEN. All animals - people included - need you to breathe!
  7. The anteaters climb down the Kapok Tree with their young clinging onto their backs. They say: "our children are dependent on you. You provide us with a home! Without you, our children have no future!"
  8. The sloths began climbing down VERY SLOWLY from the canopy of the Kapok Tree. You are such a beautiful tree. On you, flowers grow and butterflies rest. You make the rainforest a beautiful place.
  9. Two children from the Yanomamo tribe walked up to the Kapok Tree and said: "You provide shade for the forest floor, and a sturdy trunk for our family's home. On you we depend for fruits and other vegetation to eat."
  10. Then the woodcutter came from the huge furniture factory in Canada. (make up a factory name) He came with a huge, heavy ax and began chopping the Kapok Tree down. Soon, the entire tree was chopped down. (Pretend to "chop" down the tree, cutting all "ties" from Kapok Tree to animals).


I am currently completing the final year of my B.Ed from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. The multiage classroom where I student teach has chosen "rainforests" as its global theme for the year. I tried this activity with the students and they LOVED it!


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