Lesson Plans

Research and Debate: The Battle Over Land in the Brazilian Amazon

Image by Sam Eaton from PBS NewsHour. Brazil, 2018.


Students will be able to evaluate reporting on the battle for land in the Brazilian Amazon in order to craft arguments that use evidence to describe how they think land in the Amazon should be used.

Warm up:

1) Discuss what you know about the Amazon rainforest. Consider the following as part of your discussion:

  • Where is it?
  • What does it look like?
  • What, or who, might live in the Amazon, and why?

Compare your observations to a quick search of images of the rainforest. Here is an example from Getty images.

2) In Brazil, the country which includes the largest area of Amazon rainforest within its borders, there is a debate about how the land should be used. On your own, or with a partner, brainstorm at least three reasons to support each of the following arguments:

  • The Amazon should be preserved in its natural state.
  • Land from the Amazon should be used to support Brazil’s economy.

Explore Two Stories from PBS NewsHour

Journalist Sam Eaton explored how Brazil is navigating the two arguments above as part of two broadcasts for PBS NewsHour. As you watch each video, respond to the comprehension questions below.

Video 1: "Amazon Forest Guardians Fight to Prevent Catastrophic Tipping Point"

Video 1 Questions:

  1. Who is cutting down trees in the Brazilian Amazon, and why?
  2. According to the scientists interviewed, how is the rainforest connected to pollution from all over the world?
  3. What does scientist Carlos Quesada say is adding pressure to the forest?
  4. What do some scientists argue is the role that Indigenous people should play in the rainforest?
  5. What argument do some politicians make for expanding use of the Amazon for business?

Video 2: "How Brazil Nuts Are Helping Protect the Amazon Rainforest"

Video 2 Questions:


  1. Why is the Amazon rainforest called “the lungs of the planet” throughout the story?
  2. What increased the demand for Brazilian soy crops?
  3. What do the scientists interviewed in the story believe is “taking a toll on the rainforest”?
  4. According to the climatologist interviewed in the story, what is the impact of reducing the number of trees in the rainforest?
  5. How does the story suggest that Brazil explore preserving the rainforest while also investing in the economy?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What moments from the two broadcasts stick with you, and why? How might these stories connect to issues facing your community?
  2. Why do you think Eaton produced these stories at the same time? How might they connect?
  3. How does Eaton balance opposing viewpoints throughout the broadcasts? Where do you see moments of disagreement and where do you see moments of compromise?

Extension Exercises:

Option 1: Debate

Break the class into two groups: Indigenous community members and farmers. Present the following scenario to each group:

Government officials in Brazil are willing to hear arguments about how a plot of land on the border of the Amazon rainforest will be used. All arguments must address how land use will impact the environment and Brazil’s economy. Both are major priorities for the officials and their constituents.

Have students prepare and present arguments that address the following questions:

  1. How should the land be managed, and why?
  2. How will this plan for the land enrich Brazil’s economy, while also minimizing damage to the rainforest?
  3. Why should you, and not other groups, manage this project?

Option 2: Visualizing Conflict and Solutions in the Amazon Rainforest

How can you use pictures to communicate the impacts of human action in the Amazon rainforest? What action do you want people to take in the Amazon, and how can you use images to encourage them to take that action?

Explore these questions by creating three still images capturing the moments that most stuck with you from Sam Eaton’s reporting. Feel free to use whatever medium makes the most sense to you. (drawing, collage, photography, etc.)

Option 3: Persuasive Writing

On Monday, October 29, 2018, Brazil elected a new president: Jair Bolsonaro. Write a letter to Bolsonaro that outlines how you would like Brazil’s new government to manage the part of the Amazon rainforest within Brazil’s borders. Use evidence from Sam Eaton’s reporting, as well as your own research, to justify your argument.

Educator Notes: 

This lesson is aligned with the following Common Core standards:


Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

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