amazon river

© Stephen Horvath

The Amazon River in South America is considered the largest river on Earth. With all this water, rainforest plants rarely lack this essential resource; instead, plants regularly release the excess water. This helps keep the forest cool, and water vapor can collect into clouds and eventually fall as rain. The water cycle of the rainforest is an important key to keeping the forests healthy and strong. In this fun role-playing skit your students will be able to describe the various processes of the water cycle in the Amazon. By performing the skit they will understand the changes water goes through throughout the water cycle and that this cycle runs continuously with different processes happening at the same time.


Students will be able to:

  1. describe the various processes of the water cycle.
  2. understand that water changes forms throughout the water cycle and that this cycle runs continuously with different processes happening at the same time.
  • cards for each role (one per student)
  • 2 bags labeled “cloud”
  • 2 bags labeled “ocean”
  • 1 large bag of cotton balls (representing rain drops)
  • if desired, leaves cut from construction paper
  • precipitation: a form of water, such as rain, snow, or sleet, that condenses from the atmosphere, becomes too heavy to remain suspended, and falls to the Earth's surface
  • condensation: the change of a gas or vapor to a liquid, either by cooling or by being subjected to increased pressure. When water vapor cools in the atmosphere, for example, it condenses into tiny drops of water, which form clouds.
  • transpiration: the process of giving off vapor containing water and waste products, especially through the stomata on leaves
  • uptake: the process of the roots of a plant taking up water from the soil
Teacher Prep
  1. Print a role card for each student. See the “Table of Student Roles” at the end of this lesson to determine how many of each card to print.
  2. Gather materials.
  3. If desired, cut leaves from green construction paper to act as props for the “Leaves” actors.
  4. Select an open area to use as the “stage” for the role play.
  • Introduce the activity by showing students a large map of South America, indicating the Amazon River and the surrounding rainforest (a land area larger than the 48 contiguous United States!) as the class setting for today’s activity.
  • Ask students to describe the environment of the Amazon rainforest: what does the air feel like? (hot, humid); what do you see, smell, and hear? (plants and vines all around, dappled sunlight, damp dirt, bird and insect calls, the river rushing).
  • Explain that the Amazon rainforest is different than the wooded forests in California because of its location near the equator. With steady sunlight all year long, the rainforest does not experience cooler winter months, and instead is continually warm and humid. Trees in the tropical forest, while dependent on the falling rain for growth, also play an important role in maintaining this rainy weather. As a class, students will learn how water is recycled in the Amazon habitat by performing a skit in which each student plays a part in the water cycle.
  1. Introduce or review the water cycle. The water cycle helps us understand how water moves around in the environment – in the air as vapor, on land as bodies of water, and in living things.
  2. Remind students that water can exist in the form of a solid, liquid, or a gas. You won’t find much ice in the warm tropics, but in the Amazon, you’ll find plenty of water in the form of liquid (in bodies of water, plants, and animals!) or gas (held by air as water vapor). Have students identify points in the water cycle where water changes from one form to another.
  3. Break the class into teams of actors who will play each role. Distribute role cards and props to the actors and give students time to read about their roles, recite their lines, and practice any gestures (these are all described on the role cards, and also explained at the end of this lesson plan).
    • Teacher Tip: Be prepared for a degree of noise and chaos (and fun!) as the cotton balls start traveling and your whole class calls out their lines at the same time. Set some clear expectations for student behavior ahead of time to keep things manageable, and establish a signal that will tell students when to stop the role-play.

  4. Position students on the “stage.” The river actors should be seated on the floor in a line, with the ocean actors at one end of the river. Tree actors can be situated on either side of the river, with the root actors seated on the floor and leaves actors standing above them. Cloud and air actors should roam freely around the stage. (See the diagram at the end of this lesson plan.)
  5. Distribute cotton balls randomly around the stage, describing how, at any one time, different water droplets are involved in the various water cycle processes. In our rainforest, water is in the river, is flowing up tree trunks, and is hanging out in the air, making it quite humid.
  6. Dress rehearsal: begin a 1-minute practice round of the role-play after confirming students understand their responsibilities. As a rule, actors must stick to the script, only passing water drops to and from specific actors as designated on the role cards. Allow for a degree of mistake, practice, and adjustment!
  7. Performance: begin the skit once more; this time, instruct actors that this act will be considered “Take 1”, so they should be careful to distribute drops correctly, use props appropriately, and follow the script. If problems arise, feel free to “cut” and begin a new “take.”
  8. Freeze the cycle after 1 - 2 minutes of proper role-play. Have students look around to see where the water drops are located at this point in time.
  9. Continue the action and freeze again after a few minutes. Look around again and see what has changed. Review the multiple paths water can take in the cycle, and how air, heat, gravity, and plants contribute to its movement.

Discuss the following questions:

  • Where were the raindrops when the role-play was stopped at different time? Was this always the same?
  • Did water drops always move through the cycle in the same order? At the same pace? (Textbook diagrams often make the water cycle seem like a steady, organized, step-by-step process. In reality, water can move between states in any order, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, all depending on the conditions and circumstances.)
  • Introduce a water drop that is a different color than the rest, and follow it’s path through the water cycle. Make note of where this drop is each time you pause the action, and talk about how it got there. If desired, diagram the progress of this water drop, highlighting the points where it changed from liquid to vapor or vice versa.
  • Explore cause and effect by introducing changes to the environment, such as “cutting down” all the trees (removing those actors from the stage) or damming the river (preventing the river actors from passing along their drops. Have students observe what happens to the water in these situations and compare it to what happened in the original scenario.
Background for Educators

The Amazon River basin of South America is considered the largest rainforest on Earth, traversing the countries of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. The Amazon River flows east, beginning in the high elevations of the Andes Mountains and traveling 6,400 km (4,000 miles) to the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil. Although second to the Nile River in length, the Amazon is the largest of the world’s rivers by volume, holding 20% of Earth’s available fresh water. This volume is created by an impressive system of over 15,000 tributaries (smaller rivers and streams) feeding its flow. At its mouth, the Amazon River pours an average of 200,000 cubic meters (50,000 gallons) of river water into the Atlantic Ocean each second!

With water prevalent, rainforest plants rarely lack this essential resource; instead, plants regularly expel excess water. By transpiring water from the underside of their broad leaves during the warm daytime, trees draw water up the stem so that soil nutrients dissolved in the water may spread throughout their tissues. This transpiration, in turn, contributes to constant rainfall by providing water vapor to the atmosphere. The vapor will eventually form clouds that provide rain for the rainforest habitat. The Amazon Rainforest is particularly efficient with recycling water in this way, recycling at least 50% of the local water in the form of precipitation. Estimates for the volume of water moved via the combined processes of evaporation and transpiration average 9 x 1012 m3/yr, which means the Amazon Basin contributes 6.5 trillion gallons (6,500,000,000,000 gallons) of water to the atmosphere each day!

Next Generation Science Standards

The items listed below indicate how the activities supports the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards:

Science & Engineering Practices:

  • Developing and using models
    • 3-5: Develop and/or use models to describe and/or predict phenomena.
    • 3-5: Use a model to test cause and effect relationships or interactions concerning the functioning of a natural or designed systems. [Extensions]
    • 6-8: Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • MS-ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes
    • Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land.

Crosscutting Concepts:

  • Cause and effect
    • 6-8: Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. [Extensions]


Related Performance Expectations

Remember, performance expectations are not a set of instructional or assessment tasks. They are statements of what students should be able to do after instruction. This activity or unit is just one of many that could help prepare your students to perform the following hypothetical tasks that demonstrate their understanding:

MS-ESS2-4: Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through the Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the ways in which water changes its state as it moves through the multiple pathways of the hydrological cycle. Examples of models can be conceptual or physical.] [Assessment Boundary: A quantitative understanding of the latent heats of vaporization and fusion is not assessed.]


Barreto, P., E. Arima & M. Brito (2005). Cattle Ranching and Challenges for Environmental Conservation. “State of the Amazon” series, nº 5. Belém: Imazon.

Cherry, L. (1990). The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest. Harcourt Brace: San Diego.

Gash J.H.C., C.A. Roberts, J.M. and Victoria, R.L. (Eds.). (1996). Amazonia deforestation and climate. J. Wiley and Sons: UK.

National Geographic Society (2003). Amazon River and Flooded Forests Ecoregion. Retrieved from:

National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution (2007). Amazon Basin Facts. Retrieved from:

World Wildlife Fund (2001). Amazon River and Flooded Forests. Retrieved from:

Appropriate for: 4th Grade - 8th Grade
Standards for: 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Activity Time: 45 minutes
Subjects: Life Science