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Cycling Through Controversy
Debating Values and Viewpoints


2+ periods

Students practice taking different perspectives when debating environmental issues. Then they take these into account when proposing solutions.

Environmental issues are typically viewed from a variety of perspectives. Our views are often dependent on how things affect us personally. For example, some people believe that cutting trees in the rainforest is having a negative impact on the migration of songbirds and that it should be stopped. Others believe that this is having minimal negative impact and is necessary for the economic development of the country. In order to come up with creative and practical solutions to our environmental problems, students need to develop the tools to examine different perspectives.

Laying the Groundwork
If students run across an issue in their Journey North studies on which there seems to be opposing positions, engage students in pondering perspectives on the problem. As a class, list at least five statements that someone on each side of the issue might make.

Next have students mark those statements that are factual with an F and those that are opinions with an O. Ask, which types of statements are more likely to be persuasive? Discuss that fact that opinions must be backed up with evidence (facts).


  1. Have students choose a particular position to represent on the issue you selected, or write different positions on pieces of paper and have each student pick one without looking. Before doing so, discuss which types of people might have opinions on the issue. For instance, consider the issue of trees in the monarch's Mexican winter sanctuary being cut for firewood. Here are some roles students might play: a biologist, a logger, a father who lives near the sanctuary, and a local student.

  2. Create pairs or small groups of students taking the same role or position. Give them time to research the history, opinions, and facts related to the issue and to discuss how they will defend their position.

  3. Match groups with opposing positions and give each group 10 minutes to present its case. (If you have multiple roles/positions represented, you might have a full-class debate.)

  4. After each group has presented, allow 5 to 10 minutes for other groups to ask clarifying or challenging questions and for the groups in the "hot seat" to respond.

  5. Once each group has presented and defended its case, set up collaborative teams and challenge each one to propose a viable solution to the conflict. Each team should then present its unique solution to the rest of the class.

Making Connections — Discussion and Journaling Questions

  • If you defended a position that conflicted with your personal opinion, how did that feel?
  • Which types of arguments were most persuasive? (Did you shift your own perspective?) Were they more based more on facts or opinions?
  • What were the challenges of coming up with a solution that would satisfy people with different perspectives? What insights did you have about how to accomplish that?

Digging Deeper
Have students find another Journey North Classroom with which to share some of the environmental solutions they dreamed up. Try looking through the listings in our Phenology Data Exchange.


  • Check that students understand that there are multiple (and often equally valid) perspectives on environmental issues.
  • Check that they back up opinions and statements with factual evidence.

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