Teaching Resource

World Environments

Literacy, numeracy and science through the topic of World Environments.

It is critically important for children (and adults) to understand and appreciate their own (and others’) environments and an awareness of how we affect our environment should be encouraged. This section offers activities to support the teaching of Literacy, Numeracy and Science through the theme of World Environments or as part of a wider environmental topic. Whilst there are obvious links with geography, our direction for this section comes from the National Curriulum and QCA Schemes of Work for Literacy, Numeracy and Science.

Teachers’ notes

Our world has seven continents:

  • Africa
  • Antarctica
  • Asia
  • Australasia
  • Europe
  • North America
  • South America

On each of these continents can be found a huge variety of environments, and this section will look at three types:

  • Mountain environments
  • Rainforest environments
  • Desert environments

Mountain environments

Mountains form some of the world’s most spectacular, remote and beautiful landscapes and cover about a quarter of the Earth’s surface. Two of the world’s most famous mountain ranges are in the Americas – the Rockies in North America and the Andes in South America. As you cross over to Europe, you find the Alps, which cover parts of France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, and the Pyrenees which separate France and Spain. However, it is in Asia that the world’s highest mountains can be found – in Nepal and China. The Himalayas is home to the world’s highest mountain: Mount Everest, whose summit is 8,848 metres above sea level.

With regards to a mountain environment, the weather can vary considerably depending on the mountains’ distance from the Equator and height above sea level. However, all mountains that are high enough will have a permanent covering of snow. Even Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which sits on the Equator, has snow on its top all year round. This is because the higher up a mountain you travel, the colder it gets. In fact, the temperature roughly falls by 6.5 degrees Celsius every 1,000 metres. Many mountains are also very wet. As warm, moist air rises up over mountains, the air cools, condenses and forms clouds. Clouds, of course, equal rain.

Rainforest environments

The world’s rainforests are some of the most humid places on Earth and the heat and moisture makes the – ideal places for plant growth. This means that rainforests are packed full of a huge variety of plants, and with the plants come an equally huge variety of animals, birds and insects. This range of living things is called biodiversity and a rainforest’s biodiversity is the greatest on Earth. Tropical rainforests contain more than half of the world’s species of plants and animals. If you look at the poster (Attached below), you will see an illustration of a rainforest, showing the different layers. The rainforest can be divided into horizontal bands.

Forest floor

At the bottom is a dark and moist forest floor. Here dead leaves collect and rot and there are many insects and fungi. Larger animals like jaguars and armadillos live here as well.

Shrub layer

As you move up, a little more light makes shrubs appear. Again, it is still pretty moist and dark here, so it is a haven for insects.

Under storey

This is the halfway point (roughly) between the forest floor and the tops of the trees. Here you will find the bare trunks of trees, often linked by great vines called lianas. Few animals live here except frogs and insects.


This is the area where all the leaves form the tops of the rainforest trees join together to form a vast green sea of leaves. It is home to many different animals and birds, including many types of monkeys, sloths, macaws, toucans and even snakes.

Emergent layer

Finally at the top of the rainforest, a few trees burst out from the canopy and attract even more types of monkeys and birds.

Desert environments

The worlds’ driest places are its hot deserts. However, the hot deserts are not found along the Equator. The Equator is very hot, but is also very wet. Instead the world’s hot deserts are found mainly on the edge of the Tropics. Here is a list of some of the worlds’ major deserts:

  • Arabian – covering most of the Arabian peninsula.
  • Kalahari – covering much of the southeastern tip of Africa.
  • Namib – running down the southwestern coast Africa.
  • Patagonian – in southeastern South America.
  • Saharan – a huge desert covering much of northern Africa – the biggest desert in the world.
  • Takla Makan-Gobi – a continental desert in central Asia.
  • Thar – in northwest India.

The world’s largest desert is the Sahara Desert. The Sahara covers most of north Africa, more than a third of the continent, and an area around the same size as the United States. It is a desert of extraordinary variety. Temperatures in excess of 55° Celsius have been recorded in parts of Libya, while in some places frost can be seen during the winter. All the standard desert landscape types are present in the Sahara, from great fields sand dunes to vast plains filled with rocks. Deserts are very harsh places to live in. Plants and animals that live in hot deserts have become adapted to their environment. With so little water, plants need to be able to collect and store water for long periods of time. Animals, too, have to adapt. For example, the camel can walk for days without food or water. The camel’s hump stores fat which it can use if there is no food or water available and wide flat hooves help it travel over hot sand.

Did you know?

  1. Rainforests once covered 14 per cent of the Earth’s land surface; now they cover only 6 per cent and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years.
  2. Giant bamboo plants can grow up to nine inches a day.
  3. The trees of a tropical rainforest are so densely packed that rain falling on the canopy can take as long as 10 minutes to reach the ground.
  4. In the rainforests of South America, sloths move so slowly that algae are able to grow in their fur.
  5. The forests of Central Africa are home to more than 8,000 different species of plants.
  6. Flying animals of Asian rainforests include frogs, squirrels and snakes.
  7. Eighty per cent of the flowers in the Australian rainforests are not found anywhere else in the world.
  8. One out of four ingredients in our medicine is from rainforest plants.

World Environment Project plan – Poster (Open Access)

World Environment Project plan – Literacy Plans (Open Access)

World Environment Project plan – Numeracy Plans

World Environment Project plan – Science Plans