Investigating Issues That Matter

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 1 class period
10 minutes to make copies.
Materials: Handout describing final project requirements.


Students are often reluctant to do research because they have negative connotations attached to the process—many think of research as tedious and boring, but when they are interested in their topic, research becomes a quest rather than a chore. This goal is at the heart of our lesson today, to get students interested in the research topic that will be the cornerstone of their final end-of-quarter project, and to set the parameters of their research.

Purpose – The goal of this lesson is help students get engaged in an important environmental issue while learning to use different research tools.

Students will be able to:
1. Become more informed about the dangers of water contamination by sharing their prior knowledge with each other.
2. Discover the importance of communicating these dangers to the public.

National English Education Standard
Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

Teacher Background
The teacher should be familiar with environmental health issues related to this lesson, including water contamination by arsenic, the nature of arsenic, and the ways it affects human health. See web sites below.

Resource Websites



1. Before students enter the classroom, write the question of the day on the board: “Why is it important to be an independent learner?” This question will refresh students’ minds about the previous day’s discussion and allow the teacher to see what students understood from the lesson. Give students 5 minutes or so to write down their answers, and then have some students share their thoughts. You may decide to revisit some of the issues from the previous day.

2. Prepare students for group work with 3-4 people per group. Explain to the students that today they are going to begin research on a very important environmental health concern, which involves water pollution. Give the students 10-15 minutes to write up a list of what they know about water pollution in their community or in general. Some questions for them to consider might be:

  • What is water pollution?
  • How do you determine if water is polluted of not?
  • Where in the world do you most often see contaminated water? Why do think this is?
  • What are some common water contaminants?

Encourage students to ponder and write about all of these aspects of the issue in detail.

3. After the students have had a chance to discuss and write down their thoughts on water pollution, allow some time for groups to share their ideas. You might have a spokesperson from each group present their thoughts, come back together as a class for discussion, or have 2 members from each group swap places with members from another group. The teacher or a student should then compile a list of all the class knows about water contamination, either on the overhead or on the board. Explain that this will serve as the background knowledge for their final project, which has to do with a dangerous water contaminant known as arsenic. You may want to distribute a handout outlining the project parameters and review it, or this may be done on the following day.

Pose this final question to the class to think about and discuss: “Why should people be aware of water pollution? How can we help them be more aware?”

Embedded Assessment
The teacher should assess student responses to the question of the day to ensure that the students are beginning to understand that being independent learners allows them to have the information with which to make informed, wise decisions on a variety of issues. While students are working in groups, allow them to ponder all that they know about water pollution issues. Students should be generating and sharing their ideas.

Ask students to find and bring in an article concerning water pollution.

Embedded Assessment




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
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