Hannah Newell
Environmental Science, Arts and Humanities, Forestry and Agriculture
Material Type:
Interactive, Lesson Plan
Upper Primary
  • Climate Change
  • Climate Science
  • Flood
  • Forest Fire
  • Forest Management
  • Forest Succession
  • Landslide
  • Role Play
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:
    Downloadable docs

    Education Standards

    Forest Management Simulation

    Forest Management Simulation


    This lesson was developed by Wild Whatcom ( for the Clime Time initiative. The lesson included expands on knowledge of Forest Succession. This outdoor lesson can happen in any natural setting whether it be on a school play field, in a garden, or in a forest. The lesson allows students to role play what it would be like to live in a forest undergoing natural occurances with varying effects due to different management styles. This lesson is best conducted after the concepts of forest succession or natural extreme weather patterns have been discussed.

    This lesson was developed for the Clime Time initiative to bring Climate Science Lessons outside. Build on your classroom lessons about forest succession by role playing the effects different forest management styles have on a working forest.

    Forest Management Simulation:



    Earth and Space Sciences

    Earth and Human Activity

    5th Grade



    Students will...

    • Recall knowledge of forest succession learned in classroom and use appropriate terminology to describe their surroundings
    • Use role play to model the forest system and further their understanding of how organisms are affected by different forest management styles specific to the Pacific Northwest
    • Describe the system interactions and cause and effect of various human impacts
    • Think critically about the potential outcomes of different impacts on a forest, both human cause and natural occurring causes.





    At least 20 participants and one narrator

    Open Field or Forested area (depending on the area chosen, adjust opening questions accordingly)

    30 minutes - 1 hour



    An ecosystem goes through different stages of ecological succession until it reaches a climax where the ecosystem is in balance. This state of balance can be defined in many different ways depending on the specifics of a particular ecosystem. Below you’ll find the basic definitions of each stage of ecological succession.

    Stages of Ecological Succession:

    • Primary Succession - Occurs when organisms colonize an area previously devoid of life. This will usually take place after a catastrophic natural event that leaves the land barren. Often the first organisms to take hold are algae, fungi, lichens and mosses. Over time, a thin layer of soil builds up to support larger structured plants such as grasses and ferns that can take root in the built up soil. Along with the successful colonization of plants come animals such as insects, birds and small invertebrates. One example of primary succession is the pioneer communities that begin to inhabit a newly created lava bed, where life cannot exist until the rock surface cools to a moderate temperature.
    • Secondary Succession - Most ecological change occurs as secondary succession. In fact, most biological communities are in a continual state of secondary succession. This term describes the process in which an established community is replaced by a different set of plants and animals. Secondary succession is gradual, always moving towards a climax community. Most ecosystems, however, experience disturbances -- either natural events such as wildfires or flooding, or human caused events such as logging -- that set back the progress of succession.
    • Intermediate Stage - An ecosystem undergoes many intermediate stages of succession. These changes form a continuum between the two endpoints, with the actual stages being merely a fixed glance at the never-ending progression of plants and animals. The emergence of the climax state of succession may occur more quickly in some ecosystems, and likely never occur in other biomes that experience routine disturbances. Examples of quickly forming climax communities are the short-grass and long-grass prairies of the Great Plains of the United States.
    • Climax Communities - These are relatively stable communities that can vary widely in a given region or even in a given ecosystem, especially when the landscape consists of varying terrain. In such cases, the final biological matrix of plants and animals can cover vast tracts of land or be limited to a very small pocket within the landscape. Overall, a climax community is very dependent on rainfall, soil, altitude, and temperature. California, for instance, includes many different and distinct ecosystems. One of the most unique places is the Redwood forest, which can be found only in the fog banks along the coastal waterways of the northern part of the state.


    This lesson is best done when you consider the role of all the different stakeholders in logging. Make sure to take into account that you may have students with families in the logging industry, those who have been affected by landslides or forest fires caused by the detrimental effects of clear cut logging. It is important to recognize that both sides exist and that as students, they have the opportunity to learn from previous practices and innovate on what the next steps could be to move towards a more sustainable future of logging for all stakeholders.



    1. Set up a stage in a circle using the boundary markers available.
    2. Form circle around the stage and ask students:
    1. What kind of forest are we standing in?
    2. What stage of succession is it currently in?
    3. What stage of succession was it in before it became a playing field?
    4. If we were to leave this place alone, how long do you think it would take to reach the mature forest stage?
    1. Facilitator tells students:
    1. We are going to pretend that we are standing in a natural forest.
    2. Each of you will receive a card which will explain what character you are in the story
    1. After reading through your card with your group, you will make up an action for your character. Every time you hear your character’s name in the story, you will enter the stage if not already on stage, and do that action.
    2. After assigning roles, give students a few minutes to collaborate in character groups to come up with their joint action.
    1. Trees - students can choose Cottonwood, Douglas fir, Cedar, Alderwood
    2. Stinging Nettle
    3. Salal
    4. Sword Fern
    5. Himalayan Blackberry
    6. Humans
    7. Douglas Squirrel
    8. Black Bear
    9. Mushroom
    1. Your character will also have an action associated with a keyword. Any time you hear the following word, you will do the action:
    1. Space - Stinging Nettle and Blackberry say “yes!” and take up space
    2. Cut Down - Humans say “Chop, Chop” and take away trees from stage

    *Risk Management Point - choose a student who will respect personal space or make this person an adult. They will not touch the tree when chopping but just make the action near them.

    1. Fire
    2. Freeze - Everyone must stop and listen to the next instruction. Narrator can use this at any time to quiet the group before continuing on with the story.
    1. Students will also receive instructions from the narrator (noted in italics) to help the story play out accordingly.


    Story of a Forest

    -- SCENE ONE --

    (Narrator will stand in the middle of the stage to start the scene, any time a character hears their name, they will enter the stage)

    I am an old Cedar tree who has been growing in this forest since long, long before you were born. I sprouted from a seed and have grown roots deep into the ground while my crown has branched strong and wide. As I have grown up, animals have visited me, like the Douglas Squirrel (any Douglas Squirrel characters can enter the stage) who would walk along my branches and drop cones to allow more Cedar trees and Douglas fir to grow up around me (instruct any Cedar and Douglas fir trees to come onto the stage). Meanwhile below me, mushrooms pop up from below creating an intricate web of mycelium or mushroom roots that connects all of us trees together underground. Along the banks of the nearby river, the Douglas Squirrel builds nests in the Cottonwood trees (any cottonwoods trees can now enter the stage). Black Bear (Black bears can enter the stage) would come by every now and then and scratch our trunks with their sharp claws and rub their back on our textured bark (Black bear can act this out).

    Below our branches, plants lie, talking to each other and sharing resources. Like Sword Fern, Salal, and a patch of Stinging Nettle that found the sun spot in our forest (each character will enter the stage, Stinging Nettle make sure to be in a place where the trees aren’t covering them from sunlight).


    • What is happening in this forest? What stage of succession are we in?
    • Who can find food? Who can’t?
    • What are we missing?


    -- SCENE TWO --

    One day, a new animal entered our forest called Human (Humans enter the stage). Humans use wood from our forest to make paper, toothpicks, building materials, toilet paper, and lots of other useful things (What do you think this human would use our wood for?). This Human got permission to come and harvest all of the Douglas fir, cottonwood, and cedar trees in our forest by the Department of Natural Resources. All of the trees in the forest got cut down and taken away by large trucks that cut new roads on the mountain to get to us. The mushrooms that connected all the trees together knew something was wrong. All that was left behind from the harvest were the small plants that lay below us, making Space where Himalayan Blackberry, Cottonwood and Stinging Nettle found room to thrive.


    • What stage of succession are we in now?
    • What about the squirrel and black bear?
    • What about the sword fern and salal and mushrooms?


    -- SCENE THREE --

    A few months later, the humans came back and planted small saplings in the ground that they brought in their trucks. They were all Douglas fir trees (Humans can pretend to plant some of the Douglas fir tree characters they had taken off stage).  They crowded us together, hoping to fit as many trees as they could in our forest (All the Douglas fir trees on stage should be crowded closely together, trying to open their branches).


    • What is happening to the trees?
    • To the plants?
    • What about the animals?


    -- SCENE FOUR --

    One summer, after a hot and dry couple of months, all the trees had become brittle to the touch and any undergrowth had turned brown and limp from lack of water. Mushrooms shriveled up back into the ground, animals were having to travel to different areas to find more permanent water sources as the nearby stream was dried up (all animals exit the stage). Even Himalyan Blackberry was becoming weak from lack of water. Near the end of the summer, an intense lightning storm hit our forest. During this storm bolts hit the ground in different spots along the forest and sparked a flame in the dried up undergrowth. Everything in the forest was already so dry that they caught fire easily, burning down the plants left behind like Salal, Sword Fern, and Stinging Nettle. Once the fire reached the stand of closely packed Douglas fir, it raged through the stand and all were burnt to the ground, unable to grow to an age old enough for their protective bark to develop fully. (All characters should leave the stage).

     This fire lasted a few weeks before dying out. All that was left behind after the fire died out was a bunch of space (Stinging Nettle and Himalayan Blackberry should enter stage).


    • Who could thrive in this forest?
    • What stage of succession are we in now?
    • After the nettle and blackberry have come back, what do you think would be next to come back to the forest?


    -- SCENE FIVE --

    With such bare and unstable ground, no plants weaving a system of roots to hold our mountain in place, the heavy spring rains came and washed away a section of our mountain. This landslide made even more space for Cottonwood, Himalayan Blackberry, Stinging Nettle and many other sun loving plants to take over the land that was left. The mushrooms started to work to re-weave their intricate web of mycelium.


    • Where can this forest go from here?
    • Do you know of any landslides that have happened in this area?
    • Is this a natural occurrence?


    -- SCENE SIX --

    Slowly, as the sun loving plants that moved into this bare space started flowering and growing more, the animals returned to the site of the landslide to visit those plants that had taken over. Once insects returned to feed off the flowers, Black Bear arrived to forage for insects and feed off summer berries. Once a Cottonwood tree grew up and mushrooms started to fruit again, Douglas Squirrel was able to find a home for their new pups. With seeds stuffed in cheeks from a neighboring forest, the next Douglas fir was planted.


    -- The End --


    1. Debrief:
    1. At what point did you feel frustrated during this story?
    2. Did you ever feel confident in your ability to survive?
    3. Which event do you feel had the biggest impact?
    4. Do you think humans could ever stop needing products that come from logging? (Emphasize that logging is a job for many people and a necessary one since we all use products made from trees. We get to choose how we harvest trees and learn from what systems are already in place)
    5. What are some ways that humans could harvest trees without having such a big impact on the forest?
    6. Who do you think will come back next to this forest?


    1. Scavenger Hunt!
    1. Ask Students and write down answers on portable white board:
    1. What are some key words in the story that let you know the forest could grow back?
    2. What organisms helped the forest grow back each time?
    3. Based on the area we are in, do you think you will find any of these organisms? Are there any more you can predict we might find in this area?
    1. Circle any they predict they will find in the area
    1. Separate class into groups of 2-4 to go on a scavenger hunt
    1. Each group will receive one scavenger hunt sheet
    1. Before releasing on scavenger hunt, students will be instructed to
    1. See if you can find out if nature is trying to build up a forest in this area or not
    2. Check all over within the boundaries given and collect a specimen if possible (only things that are dead, downed, detached - no live animals)
    1. Give students 10 minutes to complete the scavenger hunt before calling them back in
    1. Students will pair and share with another group about what they found, what they didn’t find and any predictions as to why.



    Next Generation Science Standards

    5-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity

    Performance Expectation:
    Students who demonstrate understanding can:5-ESS3-1. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment
    Science and Engineering PracticesDisciplinary Core IdeasCross Cutting Concepts
    Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating InformationObtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 3-5 builds on K-2 experiences and progresses to evaluating the merit and accuracy of ideas and methods.
    • Obtain and combine information from books and/or other reliable media to explain phenomena or solutions to a design problem. (5-ESS3-1)
    ESS3.C Human Impacts on Earth Systems
    • Human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outer space. But individuals and communities are doing things to help protect Earth’s resources and environments
    Systems and System Models
    • A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions (5-ESS3-1)
    ---------------------------Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World.
    • Science findings are limited to questions that can be answered with empirical evidence. (5-ESS3-1)




    • Best Before Lesson - Create identification cards in small groups before starting the game. Start off with a scavenger hunt to find the various organisms in a forest then come back to the classroom to study them and create the identification card.
    • Use articles about the 2014 Oso landslide to compare various viewpoints from stakeholders. Set up a discussion on the Oso landslide effects, recovery and future prevention by various stakeholders
    • See sources from…
    • Get to know your school’s natural neighbors by mapping where trees, creeks, riparian areas are located and discuss how animals and plants can(t) travel in the area.
    • Look into the logging practices around Blanchard Mountain and the efforts to prevent logging from happening
    • Make sure to look into innovative and sustainable logging practices that are happening around the state and the country
    • Research forest management practices in Washington, focus on a single law that the class or small groups choose and write persuasive argument letters to government entities



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