Off to South America once again … virtually, of course!


Following the success and very positive feedback from our first multi-schools event (, we decided to offer another virtual ‘scintillating South American adventure’ to Upper Key Stage 2 teachers and their pupils.  This time, more than 450 children and staff from five schools across the south west were involved (Coalway Junior School and Berry Hill Primary School in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire; The Bishop’s C of E Learning Academy, Cornwall; Barncroft Primary School, Hampshire and Blaise Primary School and Nursery near Bristol).

From my end.

And, from the other end!

The day took a similar format to before, with the content tweaked very slightly due to our previous experience.

I began by sharing the learning objectives with participants, many of which linked very closely to the National Curriculum Key Stage 2 programme of study for geography and encouraged the development of critical thinking skills, as well as the format of the day:

  • To locate the world’s countries, using maps to focus on South America, concentrating on its environmental regions, key physical and human characteristics, countries and major cities.
  • To understand geographical similarities and differences through the study of human and physical geography of a region in South America.
  • To describe and understand key aspects of physical geography, e.g. climate zones, biomes and vegetation belts.
  • To describe and understand key aspects of human geography, e.g. types of settlement and land use, economic activity including trade links and the distribution of natural resources, such as energy, food, minerals and water.
  • To use maps, atlases, globes and digital/computer mapping to locate countries and describe features studied.
  • To understand how our modern lifestyles are impacting upon the Amazon rainforest.
  • To create a piece/s of artwork using natural artefacts.
  • To connect with a Brazilian school and share your thoughts and feelings about the Amazon rainforest, as well as pieces of artwork.
  • To formulate and express your opinions/thoughts clearly and concisely.
  • To encourage high quality independent, pair and group work.
  • To evaluate your work/performance.

Each school was given a name based on groups with an interest in the Amazon region, e.g. loggers; miners; conservationists; indigenous people; researchers.

In order to ‘set the scene’, I accessed Google Earth and took pupils and teachers on a virtual trip from Bristol in south west England to Manaus in Amazonas.  I emphasised the cities, regions, countries and continents being explored at the same time too; many children seem to find it very difficult to grasp the difference between a country and a continent!  I quizzed pupils about how far they thought we had travelled and how long it might take to get there.  This also provoked discussion about the means of transport that might be used and costs involved.  I then showed the following movie clip so that the children gained an insight into ‘what it is like’:

The morning session, led by myself, had a geography focus, but attempted to integrate literacy and critical thinking too.

Firstly, we looked at the distribution of tropical rainforests.  Within their classrooms, pupils either worked in pairs or independently (whichever their teacher deemed most appropriate given the current situation and their setting).  They were asked to access Google Earth, use an online atlas, such as Digimap for Schools, or a globe to discover the answer to the question: ‘On which continents and in which countries are tropical rainforests found?’.  Pupils were expected to write their answers around the outside of the map that they had been given.  Next, they were prompted to ‘zoom in’ on South America, Brazil and the Amazon basin to gain a ‘bird’s eye view’ of an extensive area of tropical rainforest.  Afterwards, I called upon different schools to provide answers to the above question and, again, reinforced the difference between countries and continents.

Pupils using Digimap for Schools to ascertain on which continents and in which countries tropical rainforests are found.

Annotating the map that they had been given to show the distribution of tropical rainforests.

Working once more either in pairs or independently, pupils were given a climate graph and data for Manaus, a city located on the River Amazon in the state of Amazonas in northern Brazil.  They were requested to use these sources to help them identify or calculate answers to a number of questions on the sheet that they had been given.  After pupils had attempted all of the questions, which included identifying months with the highest and lowest temperature and precipitation and calculating the range in temperature and annual precipitation, we reconvened to share our findings.

Analysing and interpreting a climate graph and data for Manaus in Amazonas, northern Brazil.

The third activity concentrated on the tropical rainforest biome.  The children were given a short piece of text to read carefully and expected to select a word from the table to fill the gaps.  I later revealed the answers on the screen and then asked pupils, ‘What have you learnt about the tropical rainforest biome?’.  Not only were they able to recall many details, but also use topical vocabulary accurately and confidently.

After a short break, pupils and teachers returned to the classroom for two further activities.  Before we embarked upon these, I provided a little background information as to why the tropical rainforests are so important and, since we are living in the throes of a global pandemic, shared a few facts and statistics about its status as a ‘pharmaceutical wonderland’.

Tropical rainforests are both a local and global resource.  They are coming under increasing pressure as countries see the exploitation of rainforest resources as a way of earning money in order to improve living conditions in some of the poorest parts of the world.  Consequently, there is often conflict between developers and those who feel that the rainforest should be conserved for future generations.  Activity 4 explored deforestation within the tropical rainforest.  I showed a couple of short movie clips ( and, before displaying an image on the screen and using the 5Ws + how? approach to convey some fundamental points.   The main threat to tropical rainforests is, in fact, illegal activity.  It is estimated that 50% of deforestation in tropical rainforests is due to illegal activities, such as logging, mining and agriculture.  These activities create few opportunities for the local people and bring no benefit to the government, thus adding very little to the overall well-being of the population.  Illegal deforestation causes huge amounts of environmental destruction too since it is unregulated and ignores any environmental laws that exist.  These people destroy large areas of the forest to obtain the most valuable trees and their mining activities pollute the land and rivers.  Deforestation has increased significantly in the last couple of years.  If illegal activities could be controlled, then the threat of deforestation would be reduced and tropical rainforests could be managed more effectively.  I projected some statistics to highlight how drastically things have changed and the gloomy predictions for the future; half of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed within the past 100 years and, at current rates, will disappear completely within the next 100 years.  We discussed action that is being taken, but also appreciated that much more needs to be done.

Our final activity centred on a ‘thunk’ about the Amazon rainforest.  Working in pairs or independently, pupils viewed three images of the tropical rainforest and selected a suitable caption to go alongside each one.  Next, they were asked to consider the following options and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Option 1:             Let the indigenous people live and manage the land as they have for thousands of years.

Option 2:             Clear the land for cattle ranching.

Lively discussions ensued in each classroom, which was lovely to witness.  In order to inject some positivity and provide inspiration for the second half of Activity 5, I outlined some ways in which the tropical rainforest might be protected, e.g. selective logging; replanting trees (reforestation/afforestation); introducing environmental laws to make logging illegal (this can be hard to police, however); setting up national parks and nature reserves; encouraging ecotourism; persuading people to stop buying tropical hardwood; helping poorer countries develop, so they do not have to use rainforest resources unsustainably.  Next, the children were asked to think deeply, philosophically and for themselves about the following ‘thunk’: What would your ‘dream’ Amazon be like?.  I emphasised that they could not be wrong, or right.  It was suggested that they jotted down a few key words and tried to expand each of these until they had a series of bullet points or paragraph of writing.  They were then asked to share their bullet points or paragraph of writing with one or more of their peers and ponder whether their ‘dreams’ for the Amazon were very similar or different.  During the subsequent discussion, I invited one or two pupils from different schools to reveal what their ‘dream’ Amazon would be like.  I sincerely hope some of these become reality for the future of the Amazon.

The dreams for the Amazon from pupils at Berry Hill Primary School.

After lunch, we came together again virtually for the afternoon session, led by Adriana Meirelles, a Brazilian film producer with first-hand experience of the Amazon, to learn about the indigenous people’s culture and lifestyle through the medium of art and design and technology.  Adriana encouraged the children to imagine that they were in Manaus.  Using  a series of photographs, she took them into the heart of the Amazon to visit a smaller town and some indigenous communities.  Adriana explained that the rivers are seen as roads and she projected images of river boats with hammocks and many people.  She talked about some of the issues people in the Amazon face and asked the children to consider how this might relate to them.  Next, a film about riverside villages and indigenous people was screened.  Adriana explained that people live in the forest and work with nature, protecting it and living in harmony.  They have a simple life, living in communities and maintaining strong traditions.  They live extensive distances from each other.  Such traditions encourage them to meet up, have fun and help each other.  Adriana discussed the indigenous people’s philosophy in order to ensure the sustainability of the tropical rainforest; living within its limits; relating to it in an ‘affectionate’ way; ‘dreaming’ about the forest; belief about ‘forest spirits’.  Marcella Haddad, a professional photographer and close Brazilian friend of Adriana, joined us.  She had spent a day with the indigenous people in Adriana’s film and pupils were given an opportunity to ask her any questions that they had.

Adriana also showcased some items that she had collected during her trip to the Amazon rainforest and demonstrated how she had used these to create her own ‘forest spirit’ and allow its character to be unveiled using her fantastic animation skills.  It was then time for pupils to be creative!  She invited the children to create their own ‘forest spirit’ using natural artefacts (an English forest spirit, who would become friends with a Brazilian forest spirit).  Teachers were requested to take photographs of pupils’ artwork, so that they could be shared with Brazilian teachers and their pupils at a later date.  Subsequently, Adriana led a whole group discussion, challenging pupils to think about what the children in Brazil have taught them, e.g. living in a simpler way; helping communities; exploring their own traditions to keep them alive, as well as have fun at the same time, and envisaging what they might now do to support those in Brazil, which generated some deep and thoughtful answers from the youngsters.

Half an hour before we were due to finish, we gathered for a period of reflection and shared our learning and experiences.  Both pupils and teachers were asked to sum up the day in five words or a sentence or two.  Some of their ‘concluding comments’ can be viewed below:

‘Packed full of new learning.’

‘Extremely informative, lots and lots of learning done in one day!’

‘Informative, interesting and engaging.’

‘Interesting, engaging, exciting.’

‘Thought provoking.’

‘Very thought provoking.’

‘Lots of learning about the Amazon, which helped our understanding of Brazil.  We have studied slums in Rio, so it helped us to understand how diverse Brazil is.’


‘Interesting; extraordinary; intriguing; wonderful; informative.’

‘A big thank you from Crantock class at The Bishops.’

‘Thank you very much.  The children are all going home now, but enjoyed it today.’

‘Thanks for Wednesday, it was fab!’ 

‘Thank you for a great day on Wednesday.  The children loved it and all engaged well.  I have included some photos from the day and also some pupil voice contributions.


Surprised, interested and fun.

Full of learning.

Fun and lots of learning.

Lots of fun!

I hope that by 2050 the world becomes a better place.

Interesting, fun, enjoyable, wonderful and cool.

I learnt lots of things I didn’t know.

Packed full of learning. 

Creative, wonderful and fun.

I had a lot of fun today – thank you!

I learnt about Brazil rainforests and deforestation.’

‘Thank you for allowing us to be part of the multi schools event on Wednesday; our staff and children thoroughly enjoyed it! … here are some of the responses we received when completing the staff and pupil voice:


  • ‘I liked making my spirit animal.’
  • ‘I thought today was exciting.’
  • ‘It made me more aware of how important rainforests are.’
  • ‘I have found out a lot about the rainforest which I did not know before I started.’
  • ‘It has been fun because we have learnt about the rainforest and got to create some lovely art work.’


  • ‘The children really enjoyed taking part in something new and different.’
  • ‘It helped to open their eyes to other parts of the world.’
  • ‘It developed some of the children’s key geographical skills.’
  •  ‘It was an interesting day and I think helpful for our future biome’s topic.  It also gave the children an idea of how diverse Brazil is as we have already looked at slums in Rio.  The only session we didn’t feel like we got a lot from was one where we filled in the gaps as we felt the vocabulary was very complex for our children to understand.’

Pupil voice shared by those at Berry Hill Primary School.

Next, I posed a number of questions to pupils, namely:

  • What do you think the Amazon will be like in 2050?;
  • What now needs to be done in order to secure a positive future for the Amazon?
  • Is there anything that you could personally do?

The children responded willingly with some very profound answers, demonstrating that they had acquired much knowledge, in-depth understanding and new skills during our virtual adventure.

A review of the learning outcomes received plenty of thumbs up from both pupils and teachers in the five schools that had taken part.  A thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding, if not rather exhausting day.


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