Hydroelectric Dam Debate

Warm-Up:  What Do You Know about Dams?

1. Have students brainstorm what they already know about dams.  Ask questions such as:

a) Why do we build hydroelectric dams?  What are they used for?

b) How do they work?

c) What are some positive aspects of dams?

d) Can you think of any negative impacts?


Activity One:  Becoming a Senator 

  1. Pass out Reproducible #1- Pros and Cons of Building a Hydroelectric Dam.  Go through the instructions with students and ask if there are any questions.
  2. Let students use the computer for the rest of the class period to research information for their worksheet.
  3. Before class ends, pass out and explain Reproducible #2- Explanatory Letter Assignment.  Determine an appropriate amount of time for your students to complete the assignment at home, or schedule another day of class for them to work on it.


Activity Two:  Debate

  1. On the day the assignment is due, have students split into two groups based upon whether they voted yes or no on the bill.
  2. Have students from each side give an explanation of why they voted the way that they did.
  3. Give each side the opportunity to ask questions of those on the opposing side, and allow for discussion and debate in response to the question.  Make sure they consider all angles, such as downriver rights and energy potential for their area, and have them consider other options and compromises such as changing the size of the dam.
  4. At the end, have a final vote on whether or not to pass the proposal.  Let students know that they do NOT have to vote the same way they did in their homework if the debate changed their mind.  As the teacher, and therefore the President, you can choose to either pass or veto the bill.


Wrap-Up:  Reflection

  1. Have students fill out Reproducible #3- Hydroelectric Dam Reflection and Discussion Questions on their own and/or as a journaling activity. When they are finished, go through the questions together and share their responses.  



  1. Other ViewpointsBuild on the students’ debates and letters by having them represent other interests in the hydroelectric debate. Visit this website http://www.icenetwork.ca/about_us/gwcvictoria%20island/ to read about endangered species and displaced peoples to be impacted by a proposed hydroelectric project on Victoria Island, Ontario, Canada.  Have students read the letters and viewpoints on this website and debate the issue from various perspectives (i.e. that of the American Eel, a tribal representative, an environmental activist representing the Endangered Species Act, the electric company, local businesses and townspeople, a fisherman, the local government, the Minister of Environment, etc.)
  2. Hydroelectric Energy Consumption - Use the following websites to compare and contrast Hydroelectric Energy Consumption by state (http://www.statemaster.com/graph/ene_hyd_ene_con-energy-hydroelectric-consumption) and by country (http://www.energyinsights.net/cgi script/csArticles/articles/000001/000133.htm).  Based on their research, have students brainstorm and discuss why various regions may use different amounts of hydroelectric energy.  How does your state compare?  Why might this number be higher or lower than other states?
  3. Actual Dam Debates– Have your students do Activity One, but substitute the imaginary scenario for a real one. Research cases such as the Aswan, Three Gorges, or James Bay dams, or find one in your area. Students can write their letters to actual organizations involved in the issue.



By taking on the role of a senator and researching how to vote on a proposal, students will learn decision-making and research skills, as well as have a better understanding of the role of policymakers.  They will also realize the importance of water to our society, understand hydroelectric dams and water usage, and learn some arguments for and against hydroelectric projects.