Science project

Build a Rainforest Terrarium

Difficulty of Project



$8 per student

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

2-3 weeks


The 'Build a Rain forest' Project is a group activity in which students can apply their knowledge of greenhouse effects and the rain forest climate to a small terrarium. Students will create a small 'rain forest' and monitor it over several weeks to watch how heat and water effect the plant growth and habitat conditions. The goals of the 'Build a Rain forest' Project are for students to better understand the layers of the rain forest and how water is used efficiently by the plants of a rain forest. Teamwork and caring for living plants is also an underlying lesson and theme of this project.

Materials and Equipment

  • Glass fish bowl (or similar sized see-through container; ie. pickle jar, large water bottle, etc.)
  • Sand
  • Potting soil
  • Fern (or other tropical plant)
  • Construction paper
  • Cling wrap


Background information

The below diagram provides the top to bottom sequence of item placement in the glass jar: Sand► Potting Soil ► Plant ► Construction Paper Animals/bugs ► Water ► Cling wrap

Research Questions

  • What are the layers of the rain forest?
  • What kinds of plants live in the rain forest?
  • What is the temperature of a rain forest?
  • How much water does a rain forest receive every year?
  • How does the ecosystem of a rain forest function?

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

The concept of the layers of the rain forest and the habitats these layers provide for plants and animals are essential.  

Experimental Procedure

  1. Rinse fish bowl (or container) thoroughly with water.
  2. Begin by adding a layer of about 1/2 inch of sand to the bottom of the bowl.
  3. Next add a layer of about 1 1/2 inches of soil on top of the sand. Ensure each layer is spread evenly and flatly, and that the layers are not stirred or mixed. Two distinct layers should be seen from the side of the glass bowl.
  4. Insert the roots of the fern (or chosen plant) into the soil. Add another 1 inch of dirt to the bowl to ensure the plant is sturdily planted in the soil. The plant should fit completely inside the bowl; trim any additional leaves that may be sticking out of the top.
  5. Slowly add 2-3 cups of water (depending on size of bowl and amount of soil added) to the plant. The soil should be fully saturated.
  6. Provide construction paper to each student and ask them to draw a bug or animal they would find in the rain forest. The drawing should be small enough to fit inside the bowl (several images may be added to each bowl).
  7. Cut the animal shapes out and tape them or simply place them inside the bowl.
  8. Securely place cling wrap over the lid of the bowl.
  9. Place rain forest in window with partial direct sunlight.
  10. Monitor rain forest over several weeks.

Links to related sites on the web

How to Make A Terrarium With Kids

Rainforest Alliance

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Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.

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