A revised version of an individual lesson plan developed by

Harvey R. Rabinowitz, Oceanside High School, Oceanside, Long Island, NY.

Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended:

Middle school and junior high school general science classes.

Earth science classes

Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson:

Students are presented with a hypothetical scenario for discussion. Students work in cooperative groups of three. Each group strives to reach a consensus decision. Each group devises a skit in which members role-play the hypothetical scenario. Summary questions are provided for further group discussion and completion for homework.

Category that Best Describes this Lesson:

Social issues.

Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson:

Environmental values; relationships between law and ethics; personal responsibility; responsibility for the behavior of others; effective communication; negotiating consensus.

Lesson Plan


Students work in cooperative groups of three. They are presented with the hypothetical scenario described below, along with two questions for discussion. They are instructed to strive for a consensus decision in their responses to the questions. Then each group will be asked to devise a short skit in which members role-play the individuals and situations outlined in the scenario. Finally, summary questions are provided for further group discussion and completion for homework. Homework assignments can be for each student to prepare alone, or each group can be asked to prepare a consensus statement that represents decisions and responses arrived at by all members.

Hypothetical Scenario:

A student has just completed a short unit of study on recycling in her science class. As a part of this unit, she receives a copy of the official town policy on recycling, which recommends the placement of newspapers, scrap (non-glossy) paper, and all metallic and plastic objects in an official town container that is placed curbside each week. She has become convinced of the importance of and need for recycling. This student and her family are friendly with their next-door neighbor; she has done some minor chores and run errands for the neighbor. While walking to school, she has observed her neighbor setting out trash containers which, she notices, never contain any recyclables. In her own home she is careful to recycle all acceptable materials, but her parents only recycle a few items, sporadically, and sometimes not at all.

Questions for Study Group Discussion and Formation of a Consensus Decision:


Group member         Role                 Group Notes

____________     _______

____________     _______

____________     _______

Summary Questions (to be completed after group discussion and presentation):



This lesson requires students to engage in shared reflection on their convictions concerning a significant issue in society today--recycling. It also requires them to connect what they learn in science class with their daily affairs. In the hypothetical scenario it is clear that the student believes that recycling is important, and she incorporates this in her own treatment of recyclable materials. However, the scenario raises another kind of question of responsibility. What responsibility, if any, does one have to attempt to persuade others to share, and act on, that same belief?

An interesting feature of the lesson as described here is that students work together in small groups, and they are expected to try to reach consensus. This is a valuable activity in its own right, since such cooperative undertakings are typical of much of what we must do in our everyday and work worlds. Furthermore, striving for consensus requires listening carefully to others and trying to negotiate differences in ways that extend respect for those whose views may be different. This often results in genuine changes in our ideas, since others may bring up important matters that we would not think of on our own. But it also exemplifies some of the features of democratic life, especially those that require cooperative action even when there is not full agreement among those who must act together.

At the same time, insisting on consensus, particularly in controversial areas, is not always desirable. A consensus view is not necessarily more likely to be more adequate than a dissenting view. So, students should not be encouraged to think that consensus necessarily determines what is best.

As described above, this lesson requires groups to role-play attempting to persuade others to recycle. It is quite possible, however, that some groups will reach a consensus that, while the student should try to approach a parent, she should not (or need not) approach the neighbor. Or a group might conclude that the neighbor should be approached, but not a parent. Or a group might conclude that neither should be, or need be, approached. For these groups, role-playing the student approaching neighbor or parent might be difficult (although still worth trying). A possible variation on the lesson would be to allow groups simply to role-play whatever consensus they obtain. For example, the student could be portrayed as discussing with her friends why she is reluctant to approach either a parent or the neighbor. The friends can be portrayed as trying to convince her that she should. Or she could be portrayed as discussing with a parent why she (or the parent) thinks it best not to approach the neighbor. And so on.

The final assignment, writing responses to the summary questions, is important because it requires students to put their thoughts on paper--after there has been much exchanging of ideas with others. This will encourage further reflection, and it will encourage students to refine their thoughts even further. This can be a group assignment, requiring an effort to formulate a group consensus statement (although it would be good to allow individual differences to be expressed as well). Or each student could be required individually to write responses to the questions.

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