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Theme-based lessons for teens: Into the woods

January 28, 2020 by Nora Nagy

Trees and forests are magical places in literature with a powerful symbolism. Apart from their essential role in our environment, they also have special significance in mythologies and cultures all over the world. A good way to learn about their environmental and cultural importance as well as abstract meaning is through reading and building narratives which represent trees and forests. Let's take a look at some of their features plus some titles which can help us  build theme-based lessons for our teen and young adult learners.

The Wild Woods in The Wind of the Willows written by Kenneth Grahame. Illustration by Andrea Alemanno. © Helbling Languages

Trees and woods of the world

It's fascinating to see how trees and woods shape our experience and memories of certain places. Certain trees and woods are intrinsically linked to certain places. Umbrella pines in Rome, birch trees in Finland, white pines in North America, oaks in England, pohutukawa trees (the Kiwi Christmas tree) and silver ferns in New Zealand, cherry trees and bamboos in Japan.

  • What are the most iconic and typical trees in your country?
  • What kind of flora do you visualise when you think of different places in the world?


Most forests in the world are becoming smaller and smaller every day, and deforestation is a serious threat in every continent.

  • How much of your country is forest land?
  • Do you know any examples of dangerous deforestation?
  • What are the consequences of deforestation?

Check out the website of WWF or National Geographic to learn more about this topic.

Famous forests

Do you know any famous forests? Why are they famous? Are there any in your region or country? Do you know any stories connected to these woods?

Here is a list of some famous woods and trees. Do some research and describe them, then tell a story connected to them.

  • Sherwood Forest and Major Oak
  • Black Forest
  • Congo Rainforest
  • Amazon Rainforest
  • Giant Sequoia National Monument
  • Redwood National Park
  • The Dark Hedges

Famous fictional forests

Most of our favourite stories also feature forests and woods we like, and they often have a special meaning. When you think of the symbolic significance of these forests, think about what happens in them, who rules or owns them, how they are described, what their atmosphere is like.

Here are a few examples of famous forests in literature. Do you know any of them? In which stories (novels or films) have you heard of them?

  • Middle-earth forests
  • Endor
  • Hundred Acre Wood
  • Wood between the Worlds
  • Enchanted Forest
  • The Wild Woods

If you'd like to read more about famous literary woods, we recommend this article on the Guardian website.

Trees and woods in six novels

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wild Woods

It is the story of four animals who are friends, and their adventures in the woods and on the river. On they Mole gets lost in the Wild Woods, which is a cold and grey place. How do you imagine the Wild Woods?

Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

Sherwood Forest

This is probably one of the most famous forests in literature, and all students will know something about Robin Hood. Major Oak can still be seen in the forest near Nottingham.

White Fang and The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Woods in Yukon Territory

The Yukon is a territory in the North-west of Canada, although in London's books the area spills over into Alaska. White Fang and Buck both have adventures in these snow-covered forests of dark spruce. What is the difference between a spruce and a pine?  What other trees and vegetation can you see in these areas?

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Congo Rainforest

The Congo River and the Rainforest are both symbolic and historical areas in this novel. Think about how this forest is depicted and what experiences Marlow faces in this woods. How can it be culturally significant? What inner state of Kurtz does the forest represent?

The Jungle Book - Mowgli's Brothers by Rudyard Kipling

The Indian jungle

It is a dangerous and exciting place, an unknown territory ruled by animals and the law of nature. What does the Indian jungle look like? Where is the story set exactly? What kind of trees and plants can you see there? How dangerous is it?

What are your favourite stories with trees and forests? Share them with us.

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