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Research and Debate Climate Change Solutions

Students will explore a graphic to understand what scientists have learned about global climate change. Then they will conduct research to learn about different ways to tackle the problem and hold a debate to identify what students consider to be the best solution.


  1. Remind students that when scientists and climate modelers met at the National Museum of Natural History in 2018, they created a model to illustrate historical climate change. Display the PhanTASTIC graphic. Tell students that this graphic is that model.
  2. Explain that the graphic shows warm and cold periods in Earth's history. Point out the red and blue line. Tell students that they are likely to associate red with "hot" and blue with "cold." However, this blue line only dips down to about 50° F-which isn't that cold. The line changes color at roughly 67° F because that is the point at which polar ice caps melt or form.
  3. Further explain that the red and blue line shows Earth's average temperature-from the equator to the Poles-not highs and lows. Have a volunteer identify the average temperature today (about 60° F). Encourage students to use information from the graphic to describe what it might be like if Earth's average temperature rose to 92° F.
  4. Finally, point out that this graphic covers hundreds of millions of years, but the small box in the upper right corner highlights the past 20,000 years. Discuss what the information in the small box reveals.
  5. Then, pose a question to the class: "How should people tackle the issue of climate change?" Divide the class into teams. Encourage teams to brainstorm ideas and then conduct research to learn more. Challenge them to seek out credible sources to support their ideas.
  6. Give teams time to summarize their ideas and create visuals that highlight their key points. For example, students could create a map that shows what Earth would look like if melting glaciers caused sea levels to rise 197 feet, as the article suggests.
  7. Guide teams as they use their information to debate how people should tackle the issue of climate change. Following the debate, have the class vote to identify which solution they think would work best to solve the problem.


Following the debate, encourage students to explain why they voted for or against different proposed solutions. Challenge students to identify specific arguments that swayed their opinion one way or the other.


Grades 3-4:
Prior to conducting the debate, have students create a list of rules for students to follow. For example: Each student gets one minute to speak; each speaker is only allowed to speak once; and audience members are not allowed to interrupt while someone else is speaking. Invite each student to share his or her opinion. Challenge students to follow the rules as they conduct their debate.
Grades 5-6:
Divide the class into four teams. Give teams time to conduct research and formulate their opinions. Instruct each group to write an opening statement, craft a detailed summary and create at least three visuals that support its key points. Then hold two short debates. Have students vote after the second debate is finished.
Grades 7-8:
Divide the class into two groups. Give groups time to conduct research and formulate their ideas. Challenge them to locate source documents that support their positions. Encourage them to incorporate that data into graphs, charts or other types of visuals that they can use during their presentations. Then have groups select members to present their ideas during the debate. All other group members should prepare rebuttal questions to ask after hearing the opposition's position.
Grades 9-10:
Prior to conducting this activity, create an eight-team bracket. Divide the class into eight teams and assign each team a position on the bracket. Give groups time to identify credible sources, conduct research and formulate their opinions. Instruct groups to write an opening statement, craft a detailed summary and create at least five visuals that support their key points. Then hold a classroom tournament in which students debate their ideas on the issue. In each match, each competing team gets three minutes to state its position. After both teams have presented, they get two minutes to confer and then one minute to present a rebuttal. Class members select a winner after each round. The winner goes on to the next round.