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"It is critically important that we teach students how to be contributing citizens and conscientious stewards of our forestlands."
Randy Schild, Superintendent Tillamook School District, Tillamook, Oregon

A Guide to Teaching and Learning About Forests

PLT’s Forest Literacy Framework translates the language of forests and sustainable forest management into concepts for everyone. The framework offers 100 forest concepts for grades K-12, organized into the following four themes:

  • What is a forest?
  • Why do forests matter?
  • How do we sustain our forests?
  • What is our responsibility to forests?

Whether you are a teacher interested in connecting your kids to the trees in your schoolyard, or a forest professional looking for guidance on delivering a workshop – this framework helps to lay out the knowledge and skills surrounding forests and related topics. The Forest Literacy Framework presents a conceptual structure to increase people’s understanding of forests and empower them to take actions that benefit forests and all of us. Connect to each section by grade level, hot topic and theme below. 

Download the Forest Literacy Framework 

By Grade Level

Kindergarten-2 (Ages 5-8)

Primary students are active explorers and are naturally curious about their world. They learn best through direct discovery with hands-on experiences that engage the five senses. During the primary years, students develop the ability to approach the world logically, and their capacity to use abstract reasoning increases.

Students in urban and suburban areas may never have seen a forest in person and may have preconceived notions about forests based on things like stories or movies. Forest literacy activities at this level should aim to introduce students to trees and forests, focusing on the following guiding questions:

  • What is a forest?
  • Who lives in forests?
  • How do forests help us?
  • What can we do to help forests?



  • Plant a Tree: Work with students to carry out a tree planting project.  For details, see the activity Plant a Tree in PLT’s Learn about Forests toolkit. [Theme 3, B. Forest Management]
  • Three Cheers for Trees: Explore the many things that  that are made from trees and tree products. See the activity “Three Cheers for Trees” in PLT’s Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood for more suggestions. [Theme 2, C. Economic Importance]
  • A Tree’s Life: Student discover that trees have life stages that are similar to those of other living things. See the activity “A Tree’s Life” in PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide for more details. [Theme 1, B. Trees as Part of the Forest]

Download the full Forest Literacy Framework for more suggested activities above. 



Help students explore forests through read-aloud books, such as:

  1. Seed School: Growing up Amazing! (Joan Holub)
  2. Welcome to the Neighborwood (Shawn Sheehy)
  3. Trout are Made of Trees! (April Pulley Sayre)
  4. In the Woods  (David Elliott)



3-5 (Ages 8-11)

Students in the intermediate years are interested in the natural world, how things are put together, and how things work. During this time, their intellectual capabilities expand greatly as they move from a focus on the here-and-now toward abstract thinking.


Students this age work well in groups and enjoy doing collaborative projects. They enjoy problem solving, sharing ideas and voicing opinions. They also want to be responsible members of the local community. Forest literacy activities at the intermediate level may focus on the following questions:

  • What do forest organisms need to survive?
  • How are forests and their inhabitants adapted to the climate and landscape?
  • In what ways are forests important to the environment, economy, and society? How do forests contribute to our health?
  • What can people do to take care of our forests?




The Closer You Look

Challenge students to identify the names of trees in the schoolyard, in a park, or along a street. First, have them pick two different trees and observe differences between the two, such as leaf type and shape; bark texture; fruits, flowers, or seeds; and shape of the overall tree. Then, show students how to use a free mobile app or tree guide to identify the species. See PLT’s Family Activity The Closer You Look for more information.

[Theme 1, B. Trees as Part of the Forest]


Web of Life

Create a model of a forest food web by having students choose a forest animal, draw a picture of it on an index card, then research and write on the card what that animal eats and what eats it. Arrange the completed cards on a bulletin board display, connecting them with yarn or string to show the food web. For more details, see the activity “Web of Life” in PLT’s Biodiversity Blitz for grades 3-5.

[Theme 2, A. Environmental Importance]


My Green Future

Ask students to brainstorm different jobs that might be necessary to care for forests and to provide the things we need and want from them. Discuss the idea that people manage forests to provide plant and animal habitats; paper and wood products; places for recreation; and air, soil, and water protection. Then have students interview guest visitors to learn about their forest-related jobs. For more ideas, see the activity “My Green Future” in PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide

[Theme 3, B. Forest Management]


Download the full Forest Literacy Framework for more suggested activities above. 



Have a look at these conservation research projects that offer real-world connections to elevate student learning about forests.

  • Join Nestwatch, a citizen science project developed by Cornell University in partnership with SFI. Students seek out and monitor bird nesting sites and build birdboxes using downloadable plans. This is one of many excellent birding resources created by Cornell Ornithology.
  • Explore connections between sustainable forest management and conservation of important keystone species, using a using a fact sheet about the gopher tortoise from the Alabama Forestry Foundation.
  • Consider how a changing forest can affect different wildlife habitat with SFI’s Species at Risk video.



6-8 (Ages 11-14)

Middle school students are gaining a deeper sense of themselves as members of communities, including human and natural communities. They are becoming aware of how people’s actions impact others. Friends and relationships consume a lot of their thoughts and energy.

Students this age understand that problems have multiple solutions, and are able to see different perspectives on an issue. They should also be able to back personal opinions with evidence and to distinguish between opinion and fact. Forest literacy activities at the middle school level may focus on the following concepts:

  • What social, economic and environmental benefits do forests provide?
  • How do we sustain forests and preserve the benefits they provide?
  • What can individuals do to ensure the well-being of our forests?




Teaching with i-Tree

Direct students to conduct an inventory of the trees on the school property and create a detailed map showing each tree’s location and scientific name. Invite students to make a recommendation to the school council or principal based on their findings, such as where more shade is needed or where more trees could be planted. For details, see the activity Tree Value in PLT’s Teaching with i-Tree, available at plt.org.

[Theme 3, C. Forest Management Policy]


If You Were the Boss

Present a hypothetical scenario in which a community acquires a 100-acre parcel of forest land and challenge students to develop a plan for it that balances the environmental, economic, and social uses of the forest. To begin, brainstorm as a group a list of ways that the community might use the forest (for example, for clean water and air, hiking, camping, or tourism), and then have teams create visual representations of their plans based on the list. For more information, see the activity “If You Were the Boss” in PLT’s Green Jobs: Exploring Forest Careers.

[Theme 3, B. Forest Management]


Field, Forest, and Stream

Lead students on a field study of three different environments, such as a lawn, a stand of trees, and a pond or creek. Direct students to measure the level of sunlight, soil moisture, temperature, wind, water flow, and number of plants and animals in each environment, and observe how nonliving elements affect living elements in an ecosystem. See the activity “Field, Forest, and Stream” in PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K–8 Activity Guide for details.

[Theme 1, C. Forests as Ecosystems]


Download the full Forest Literacy Framework for more suggested activities above. 



Ground classroom work and discussions in real-world conservation projects. Check out these articles that make great connections between forestry and related elements like water and wildlife:



9-12 (Ages 14-18)

High school students are able to use sophisticated reasoning to understand difficult concepts, particularly when the learning context is familiar to them. Using forests as a context for learning is beneficial for students this age, as it provides them with a real-world basis for applying new knowledge.

Many high school students still have difficulty proposing explanations based on logic and evidence instead of on their prior conceptions of the natural world. Providing opportunities to collect evidence and develop explanations based on that evidence can help them develop this skill. Forest literacy activities at the high school level may explore:

  • What factors contribute to the biodiversity of different types of forests?
  • How do people manage forests to achieve desired forest outcomes and ensure the sustainability of our forests?
  • What role do foresters and natural resource professionals, governments, private companies, and individuals play in managing and sustaining our forests locally and globally?
  • What career opportunities are available in the forest and conservation sector?




Monitoring Forest Health

Lead students in conducting a tree survey of the school grounds, identifying the genus of each tree and measuring the diameter at breast height and the height of each tree. The activity “Monitoring Forest Health” in PLT’s Green Jobs: Exploring Forest Careers includes details for these and other monitoring activities.

[Theme 1, B. Trees as Part of the Forest]


Mount St. Helens—A Story of Succession

Study the process of succession, first by reading about the reestablishment of ecological communities following the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 (see “Mount St. Helens—A Story of Succession” from PLT’s Focus on Forests Secondary Environmental Education Module). Then have students conduct an investigation by roping off three areas on or near the school grounds that represent different stages of succession and observing them at regular intervals over the school term.

[Theme 1, C. Forests as Ecosystems]


Day in the Life

Show videos depicting real-life people in different forestry jobs using PLT Canada Day In The Life videos highlighting 12 different career opportunities. Invite students to explore forest-related careers by conducting internet research or through interviews. Encourage them to find out what education, experience, skills, and personal qualities are required or helpful for their chosen career.

[Theme 2, C. Economic Importance]


Download the full Forest Literacy Framework for more suggested activities above. 



Ground classroom work and discussions in real-world conservation and education projects. Encourage students to deepen their understanding of forests and forest management by exploring resources such as:





Forests and trees supply an abundance of ecosystem services that help in creating healthy living environments and in restoring degraded ecosystems. 

Forest Concepts for Public Health


Climate change is one of our most pressing global challenges, and sustainably managed forests are among our most important tools for addressing it. 

Forest Concepts for Climate Change


Urban forests provide key ecosystem services, like purifying water and air, that are essential to healthy human communities. 

Forest Concepts for Urban Forests


Green jobs are rewarding careers that also help instill a passion for the outdoors. 

Forest Concepts for Green Jobs


Vigorous and healthy forests are more likely to withstand the effects of wildfire. 

Forest Concepts for Wildfire


Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples have a deep connection with forests.

Coming Soon



Understand the relationship between forests and humans, and how forests make a difference in our lives.

Explore Forests as Ecosystems


Learn about the importance of sustainably managed forests to humans, by making connections between forests and our own lives. 

Discover the Importance of Forests


Discover how our forests are sustained through a rich variety of agreements and collaborative partnerships that span private and public sectors. 

Learn About Sustainably Managed Forests


Identify ways to become stewards of the forests to help sustain them for present and future generations. 

Take Action to Sustain Forests