Argumentation- Should the United States Continue to Use Nuclear Power?

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Students will be able to use evidence to argue whether or not the United States should use nuclear power as demonstrated by writing an argumentative paper.

Big Idea

Nuclear power plants are used as a source of power throughout the world. This type of power has both benefits and detriments which are important to understand.


In this lesson students are led to come up with a position as to whether or not the United States should continue to use nuclear power and then write an argumentative paper.

  • This lesson covers the Next Generation Science and Engineering Performance Expectation 1-8: Develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay. It does so because students are learning about nuclear fission and fusion reactions.
  • This lesson aligns with the Next Generation Science and Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in an argument from evidence: It does so because students are writing a position paper in regards to their views on the use of nuclear power.
  • There are no additional resources need for this lesson.


10 minutes

To begin this lesson I pass out the nuclear chem assignment paper to students.  I then have students perform an anticipatory set to get at their initial ideas about nuclear power and where those ideas have come from.  I think that this is important as that this is a very controversial topic and it is helpful for students to gauge their prior understanding BEFORE reading the article and then reflect on whether or not they have changed AFTER reading and talking with their peers. 

I then tell students to look at the top of their papers and to write down if they agree or disagree with each of the three statements in the anticipatory set and to justify their answers.

  • This is a video of me explaining to students how to do this.

As students are getting done writing down their ideas but waiting for their peers to finish I tell them, "If both you and your partner have answered the anticipatory set you can share your opinions with each other."

After most students are done with the anticipatory set (about 5 minutes), I have the class share out their ideas.  I do this by going through each of their ideas and asking for students who agree or disagree.  I then ask one or two students to share their justifications for their opinions. 

  • This is a video of my going over students responses to the anticipatory set.

I then tell students that it is okay if they are not sure if the U.S. should have nuclear reactors because that is what we are going to learn about today.

This is a copy of one student's filled in anticipatory set.


5 minutes

For this next section of the lesson I go over the assignment with students.  I have them look at the back of their nuclear chem assignment paper where it explains how students will be coming up with a paper as to whether or not the U.S. should continue to use nuclear power.

I then pass out the two articles that we will be reading, How Stuff Works Nuclear Chemistry Article and Lives Saved Nuclear Article.

I tell students that as we read the articles they will be looking for pros and cons of nuclear power in order to help with forming an argument.   They can write them down on the from page of the nuclear chemistry assignment paper in the table, or they can simply highlight the pros and cons with different colors on the articles. 

  • This is a video of my explaining this to students.
  • This is a copy of a student's work with the pros and cons highlighted.
  • This is a copy of a student's work where they wrote out the pros and cons on their assignment paper.


80 minutes

For this section of the lesson students read the articles, revisit the anticipation guide, come up with pros and cons, and write out their argumentative paper.

  • For the articles I have students do popcorn reading.  To learn more about this strategy check out my reflection from Unit 3.  I start with the first article How Stuff Works.  This is a great, basic article that give students enough information to write up their essay.  I then have students read the second article, Lives Saved.  For this article I usually just have students read the abstract, and possibly the introduction as well.  I make sure to talk to them about scientific articles and how the abstract gives a summary of the article.  While students are reading I make sure to pause to allow them to highlight and/or write down the pros and cons of nuclear power.
  • Next, I have students revisit the anticipation guide on the first page of their nuclear chem assignment to see if their views have changed or stayed the same. 
  • Finally, I give students time to write their papers.  I have them either write them on the back of the paper or on lined paper and then staple with the original paper.  As students are working I walk around and help students who are confused with the assignment or are not sure how to get writing.  If they are stuck I help them come up with a claim, and then have them find the evidence in the articles to support their claims.  I also tell them to make sure that they have a counterclaim as well.  


After students have turned in their papers I grade them using the nuclear argument rubric.   The goal of this rubric is to allow me to quickly grade the papers without having to be super concerned about the details of grammar, spelling, etc.

Here are some examples of graded papers. 

For both of these papers the students earned all of their points (14 out of 14).

For this paper the student did a good job but did not include the flaws of the counterclaim so earned a score of 13.

For this paper the student earned a score of 11 because they did not have enough evidence or a complete counterclaim.

These last two papers were weak with scores of 7 and 8.