Discovering Our Topic: The Rainforest | EL Education Curriculum

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These are the CCS Standards addressed in this lesson:

  • RI.5.1: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • RI.5.4: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 5 topic or subject area.
  • SL.5.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.5.1b: Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.
  • L.5.4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 5 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

Daily Learning Targets

  • I can infer the module topic and support my inferences with details and examples from the images and text. (RI.5.1, SL.5.1b)
  • I can find the gist of a narrative nonfiction text. (RI.5.4, L.5.4)

Ongoing Assessment

  • Participation in Infer the Topic protocol (RI.5.1, SL.5.1b)


AgendaTeaching Notes

1. Opening

A. Discovering Our Topic: Infer the Topic (20 minutes)

B. Reviewing Learning Targets (5 minutes)

2. Work Time

A. Introducing the Performance Task (5 minutes)

B. Exploring the Text: The Most Beautiful Roof in the World (15 minutes)

3. Closing and Assessment

A. Launching Independent Reading (15 minutes)

4. Homework

A. Accountable Research Reading. Select a prompt to respond to in the front of your independent reading journal.

Purpose of lesson and alignment to standards:

  • In this lesson, students participate in the Infer the Topic protocol to preview the texts for this unit and as a way to build schema on the topic of the rainforest (RI.5.1, SL.5.1b).
  • At the end of Opening A, students co-create the Rainforest Experiences anchor chart. The purpose of this anchor chart is to promote diversity and inclusion and celebrate all backgrounds in the classroom. It is a way to get to know students on a thoughtful, more meaningful level in relation to rainforest countries, where some students' families may have lived or currently live. The chart can also be used to track how students' perception of their experience changes as the module progresses. It will be added to throughout the module as a way for students to activate background knowledge about what they already know about the rainforest, and as students reflect on what they have learned.
  • In Work Time A, students consider the performance task prompt to help focus their work (SL.5.1b). Refer to the full performance task in the Performance Task Overview for more information.
  • In Work Time B, students explore the module anchor text, The Most Beautiful Roof in the World, and find the gist of an excerpt of this text. Students will use this text throughout the module to build their understanding of the rainforest and of narrative nonfiction texts (RL.5.4, L.5.4).
  • The pages of The Most Beautiful Roof in the World are not numbered; for instructional purposes, the page that begins with "Meg Lowman climbs trees" should be considered page 2 and all pages thereafter numbered accordingly.
  • Students practice their fluency in this lesson by following along and reading silently as the teacher reads "The Dreaming Tree" in Work Times A and B and "A Walk in the Rainforest" in Work Time B.
  • Throughout Module 1, students were introduced to Goals 1 and 2 Conversation Cues to promote productive and equitable conversation. Continue using Goals 1 and 2 Conversation Cues in this way, considering suggestions within lessons. Refer to the Tools page for additional information on Conversation Cues.
  • The research reading students complete for homework helps to build both their vocabulary and knowledge pertaining to the rainforest. By participating in this volume of reading over a span of time, students will develop a wide base of knowledge about the world and the words that help describe and make sense of it.
  • Each unit in this module is accompanied by a Recommended Texts list with a variety of reading levels. Students should use the classroom, school, or local library to obtain book(s) about the topics under study at their independent reading level. These books can be used in a variety of ways--as independent and partner reading in the classroom whenever time allows, as read-alouds by the teacher to entice students into new books, and as an ongoing homework expectation. In this lesson, students browse and select one of these texts for reading throughout the unit.

How it builds on previous work:

  • Students will continue to use their vocabulary log from Module 1 to collect new vocabulary in this module. As in Module 1, students will add new academic vocabulary to the front of the logbook and domain-specific vocabulary to the back of the book. You may wish to have students prepare the back of their books for the new module with a new section marked with flags or tabs.
  • The Academic Word Wall will continue to be added to in this module. This is a permanent word wall that is added to across the year.

Assessment guidance:

  • Consider using the Speaking and Listening Informal Assessment: Collaborative Discussion Checklist during students' discussions in Opening A (see the Tools page).
  • Consider using the Reading: Foundational Skills Informal Assessment: Reading Fluency Checklist to gather baseline reading fluency data from students' independent reading books in Closing and Assessment A (see the Tools page).
  • Consider using the Reading: Foundational Skills Informal Assessment: Phonics and Word Recognition Checklist (Grade 5) to gather baseline phonics and word recognition data from students' independent reading books in Closing and Assessment A (see the Tools page).

Down the road:

  • In Unit 1, students focus on the first module guiding question. As students move into Units 2 and 3, they shift their focus to the remaining questions as they continue their study of the rainforest.
  • The Most Beautiful Roof in the World is a narrative nonfiction text--it presents factual information in a narrative or story-like style. Because of this, it is used to address Reading: Informational Text standards in this unit and is used again in Unit 2 to address Reading: Literature standards dealing with style and narrative technique.

In Advance

  • Review the Infer the Topic protocol. See Classroom Protocols.
  • Review the Independent Reading: Sample Plans or prepare your own independent reading routine in preparation for launching independent reading in this lesson.
  • Prepare:
    • Infer the Topic cards.
    • Module Guiding Questions anchor chart by writing the guiding questions for the module on chart paper (see Module Overview).
    • Rainforest Experiences anchor chart by writing the title on chart paper.
    • Performance Task anchor chart. See Performance Task Overview.
    • Prepare a small label: "The Most Beautiful Roof in the World" to attach to a pin and place on the world map. This must be large enough to see but not too large to cover up too much of the map.
  • Post: Learning targets, Module Guiding Questions anchor chart, and Performance Task anchor chart.

Tech and Multimedia

  • Work Time B: For students who will benefit from hearing the text read aloud multiple times, consider using a text-to-speech tool like Natural Reader, SpeakIt! for Google Chrome, or the Safari reader. Note that to use a web-based text-to-speech tool like SpeakIt! or Safari reader, you will need to create an online doc, such as a Google Doc, containing the text.

Supporting English Language Learners

Supports guided in part by CA ELD Standards 5.I.A.1, 5.I.A.3, and 5.I.B.6.

Important points in the lesson itself

  • The basic design of this lesson supports ELLs by giving students opportunities to build schema before reading.
  • ELLs may find it challenging to make inferences. If students have trouble inferring, support them by first prompting them to make observations based on photographs or familiar text. Once students have made observations, ask:

"If that is true, what else do you think is true?"

"If you see a lot of trees, what else might there be?" (animals, forests, nature)

Levels of support

For lighter support:

  • The Mini Language Dive during Work Time B guides students through expanding the meaning of a key sentence from The Most Beautiful Roof in the World. Consider challenging students to generate questions about the sentence before asking the prepared questions. Example: "What questions can we ask about this sentence? Let's see if we can answer them together."
  • Invite students to create the sentence frames during Work Time B for students who need heavier support. This will prompt students to generate more of their own syntax and content.

For heavier support:

  • Provide a visual preview of the unit. Display examples of some of the work students will complete throughout the unit. Display a professional ebook and an example of a student-completed performance task.
  • Prewrite topics on sticky notes for students. Provide them with the correct topic, as well as distractors. Example: Give a student sticky notes that say "Rainforests," "Houses," and "Monkeys," each with quick illustrations. Instruct students to choose the sticky note with the correct topic written on it.
  • Revisit academic vocabulary several times throughout the unit. Allow students to record any challenging words in their vocabulary logs.

Universal Design for Learning

  • Multiple Means of Representation: As this is the first lesson in this unit, it is important to provide all students with the background knowledge that they need to access to achieve the learning targets. Offer multiple visual representations of rainforests and maps showing where they are located in the world. In addition, provide opportunities to orally discuss rainforests and what students observe in the visual representations. Similarly, provide students with visual examples of nonfiction narratives. (Example: Bring in examples of other nonfiction narratives students have read in past units or other content areas.) Provide time and space to discuss the characteristics of these texts. Finally, visually display a map of this unit so students understand how they will use the knowledge and skills that they are developing to produce an ebook.
  • Multiple Means of Action and Expression: Students' background knowledge on rainforests will vary. Some may need additional support making inferences if they have minimal background knowledge. During the Infer the Topic protocol, consider offering prewritten sticky notes to help those who are less familiar with the rainforest so that they can still participate in the activity.
  • Multiple Means of Engagement: Build excitement about this unit by helping to make rainforests relevant to students. Connect the environmental issues associated with rainforests to larger narratives involving sustainability that may hit closer to home (e.g., pollution, deforestation, littering, etc.). Preview for students that they will research these topics and propose solutions that they can actually do themselves.


Key: Lesson-Specific Vocabulary (L) ; Text-Specific Vocabulary (T); Vocabulary Used in Writing (W)

  • inferences, rainforest, narrative nonfiction text (L)
  • specialty, canopy, approximately, affects, conservation, solution, retain, pluck, inflatable, found, peered, occasional, occurs, obstacles, however (T)


  • Sticky notes (one per student)
  • Infer the Topic cards (one card per student; see supporting materials)
  • Rainforest Experiences anchor chart (new; co-created with students during Opening A; see Teaching Notes)
  • Performance Task anchor chart (new; teacher-created; see Performance Task Overview)
  • World map (from Module 1)
  • Pin and label (see Teaching Notes; one for display)
  • The Most Beautiful Roof in the World (one per student and one to display)
  • Independent Reading: Sample Plans (see see the Tools page; for teacher reference)


Each unit in the 3-5 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Discovering Our Topic: Infer the Topic (20 minutes)

  • Build up excitement for this module and unit by explaining that today students will begin learning about a new topic that they will study and write about over the next several weeks.
  • Tell students they will use the Infer the Topic protocol to make inferences about their new topic of study. Using a total participation technique, ask:

"What does it mean to make inferences?" (You use what you know and what the text says or image shows to figure out something that isn't specifically said.)

  • Distribute sticky notes.
  • Display the Infer the Topic cards and invite students to select a card and record their inference about the new topic of study on their sticky note.
  • Invite students to mingle about the room and stop when prompted, facing a partner.
  • Give students 1 minute to share their card with their partner, discuss, and record a new inference (or revise the original one) on their sticky note about the upcoming topic of study.
  • Then, invite students to mingle again, this time with their partner, and stop when prompted, facing another set of partners.
  • Invite students to share their cards and inferences with their partners, discuss, and make a new inference (or revise a previous one) on their sticky note about the upcoming topic of study.
  • Gather students whole group.
  • Invite students to display their card for all to see. Select volunteers to share their cards and inferences about the upcoming topic.
  • Validate student responses and explain that they will be studying the rainforest throughout this module. Tell students that a rainforest is a dense forest in tropical areas that receives abundant rainfall throughout the year.
  • Invite students to Think-Pair-Share:

"What do you already know about the rainforest?"

  • If productive, cue students to listen carefully:

"Who can repeat what your classmate said?" (Responses will vary.)

  • Capture patterns in student responses on the Rainforest Experiences anchor chart.
  • For ELLs and students who may need additional support with new vocabulary: Say: "The words make and inferences are often used together as a phrase and can be learned as a phrase. For example, I can make inferences about the story." Point out that another way to say make an inference is to infer. (MMR)
  • For ELLs and students who may need additional support with reading: If students are overwhelmed by the language on the Infer the Topic cards, encourage them to locate one or two words they recognize on the card or words that are repeated. Encourage them to think about what they might infer about the topic based on just those words. (MMAE)
  • For ELLs and students who may need additional support with comprehension: Model and think aloud making an inference based on a sample card. Say: "Hmmm ... this doesn't say what it's about, but I see this word again and again. Maybe that's a clue." (MMR)

B. Reviewing Learning Targets (5 minutes)

  • Display the Module Guiding Questions anchor chart. Invite students to chorally read each question aloud with you.
  • Invite students to focus on the question:
    • "Why do people study and write about the rainforest?"
  • Explain that in this unit, they will build background knowledge about the rainforest. Using a total participation technique, invite responses from the group:

"How can we build background knowledge about a topic?" (We can read about the topic; we can research the topic.)

  • Direct students' attention to the learning targets and read them aloud:

"I can infer the module topic and support my inferences with details and examples from the images and text."

"I can find the gist of a narrative nonfiction text."

  • Underline the words narrative nonfiction text in the second target and explain that narrative means written like a story, and nonfiction means a text that presents information. So, a narrative nonfiction text is a text that presents factual information in a narrative or story-like style.
  • Add any new academic vocabulary to the permanent Academic Word Wall (from Module 1). Invite students to write the home-language translations of academic or domain-specific words in a different color on the Word Wall next to the target vocabulary.
  • Have students give a quick thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways to indicate how well they understand today's learning targets.
  • For ELLs and students who may need additional support with new vocabulary: Write the word rainforest on the board and display a picture of a rainforest. Ask:

"What two words do you see in rainforest?" (rain and forest)

"What does that make you think a rainforest might be?" (Responses will vary.) (MMR)

  • For ELLs and students who may need additional support with comprehension: Check for comprehension by cold-calling students and asking them to define narrative nonfiction in their own words. Ask a student who seems confident with the definition first and then ask a student who may need more support to rephrase what his or her classmate said. Rephrase and discuss the genre as necessary. (Example: "Narrative nonfiction is written like a story, but it is a true story.") (MMR)

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Introducing the Performance Task (5 minutes)

  • Draw students' attention to the Performance Task anchor chart and read the prompt aloud. Tell them that throughout the unit, they will read and write in order to build knowledge about the rainforest. Explain that they will use what they learn about the rainforest to create the ebook in Unit 3.
  • Tell students that when authors write about a new topic, they need to first build background knowledge about the topic. In this unit, they will read and summarize informational texts and research the rainforest so they can accurately and knowledgeably write about the rainforest later in the module.
  • Build excitement and anticipation for the unit by telling students that they will become rainforest experts and then get to share their knowledge by creating their ebook. Consider previewing the environmental issues associated with rainforest sustainability. Tell students they will get to research and problem-solve this topic. (MME)

B. Exploring the Text: The Most Beautiful Roof in the World (15 minutes)

  • Display the cover of The Most Beautiful Roof in the World.
  • Tell students that they will each receive a copy of this book to use throughout the module to learn about the rainforest.
  • Tell students that they are going to spend the next few minutes looking through this book to get an idea of some of the information they might find in it. They might choose to look at the pictures or read some of the words.
  • Distribute The Most Beautiful Roof in the World to each student. Invite them to take 3 minutes to flip through the pages to see what they notice.
  • Invite students to notice the rainforest studied in this book and locate it on the world map.
  • Ask:

"This rainforest is called Blue Creek Rainforest Reserve, and it is in the country Belize. That's near Guatemala in Central America. Is this rainforest in or near anyone's home country?"

  • Add the pin and label to Belize on the world map.
  • Then invite students to Think-Pair-Share:

"What is one interesting photograph or idea you read when flipping through the text?"

  • Explain that this book is about a real rainforest scientist, Meg Lowman. Remind students that it is a narrative nonfiction text, so it is written like a story, but all of the information in the book is factual, or true.
  • Invite students to turn to page 2 and follow along as you read the title of this section, "Pioneer in the Rainforest," and the section aloud.
  • After reading the section, ask:

"What is a pioneer?" (somebody who is the first to explore a new place)

  • Using a total participation technique, invite responses from the group:

"What is the gist of this part of the text? What is it mostly about?" (It introduces Meg Lowman, a rainforest scientist.)

"Are there any words whose meanings you don't know? What are they?" (Responses will vary.)

"What do you notice about the photographs on pages 1 and 2?" (Responses will vary.)

  • Repeat this process for pages 5-10 of The Most Beautiful Roof in the World.
  • Tell students that they will have a chance to read other excerpts from this book throughout the module.
  • Help students understand that pioneer in this context does not mean that scientists like Meg Lowman are the first people to explore the rainforest canopy, as there are many indigenous communities in the rainforest, including communities that live in the canopy. Explain that by pioneers, the author means that they are the first to study the rainforest canopy from U.S. society to share the information, and that it is still a newly discovered continent for U.S. society. Provide the example that the Korowai tribe in Papua New Guinea was living in the canopy long before Meg Lowman began researching. They are an example of local people who have been exploring, experimenting, building technology, and living in the canopy for many years.
  • Focus students on the learning targets. Read each one aloud, pausing after each to use a checking for understanding protocol for students to reflect on their comfort level with or show how close they are to meeting each target. Make note of students who may need additional support with each of the learning targets moving forward.
  • For ELLs and students who may need additional support with expressive language: Provide sentence frames to support Think-Pair-Share discussion. Examples:
    • "This photograph is interesting because _____."
    • "This makes me wonder _____."
    • "This sentence made me think about _____." (MMR, MMAE)
  • For ELLs: Mini Language Dive. Ask students about the meaning of the chunks of a key sentence from The Most Beautiful Roof in the World: Write and display student responses next to the chunks. Examples:
    • "Place your finger on 'For a human being, ascending to the canopy is not easy.'
    • "What does canopy mean, according to the text? (the top of the rainforest)
    • "What is canopy in our home languages?" (baldachim in Polish) Invite all students to repeat the translation in a different home language.
    • "What is another meaning of canopy? You can use your dictionaries." (a cover to provide shelter)
    • "What else is a cover to provide shelter?" (a roof)
    • "Now look at the title of the book. What is the most beautiful roof in the world?" (the rainforest canopy)
    • "What do you think ascending to the canopy means?" (climbing)
    • "Why isn't it easy to climb to the top of the trees?" (It is high. It is dangerous. You have to be strong.)
    • "For whom in particular is it not easy? How do you know?" (for people; because it says for human beings in the beginning of the sentence) Draw an arrow from is not easy to for human beings.
    • "Can you say this sentence in your own words?" (It is hard for people to climb to the top of trees.)

Closing & Assessments

ClosingMeeting Students' Needs

A. Launching Independent Reading (15 minutes)

  • Launch independent reading. Refer to the Independent Reading: sample Plan to guide students through selecting books, or use your own routine.
  • Consider providing additional time for students to browse and select a text for reading. (MMAE)
  • Assist students in selecting books that are both interesting and at their independent reading level. Encourage students to read aloud selections from their books and give a one-sentence summary of what they read. If students are unable to complete these two steps, then encourage them to choose another text. (MMAE)
  • For ELLs: Encourage students to choose books even if the vocabulary is difficult. They can practice inferring the meaning of unfamiliar words and determining the gist.


HomeworkMeeting Students' Needs

A. Accountable Research Reading. Select a prompt to respond to in the front of your independent reading journal.

  • For ELLs: For all homework assignments in this unit, read the prompts aloud. Students can discuss and respond to prompts orally, either with you, a partner, family member, or student from Grades 4 or 6, or record an audio response. If students have trouble writing sentences, they can begin by writing words. Consider providing a sentence starter or inviting students who need lighter support to provide sentence starters.

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