Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Teaching Activities > Effectively engaging with climate skeptics

Effectively engaging with climate skeptics

Jessica Kleiss, Lewis and Clark College
Author Profile

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: May 30, 2013


One of my persistent challenges as a climate scientist involves friendly conversations with my extended (climate skeptic) family over the Thanksgiving table, as I try to inform and guide their perceptions about climate change. I modeled this writing assignment after these family gatherings, to give my students a chance to respond respectfully and completely to a skeptical argument in a safe setting, before entering the Thanksgiving arena!



I used this assignment at the END of an undergraduate introductory course in Climate Science for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

How the activity is situated in the course

I used this assignment as a lab activity. Students had 3 hours, working in pairs, sitting in our campus computer lab to work on this activity. Some pairs of students finished during this time, and some required out-of-lab completion.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

- consider the details of an argument, and critically consider the validity of each
- realize that contrarian arguments are not just blatant lies, but they contain a rich blend of accurate and misleading aspects.
- Differentiate between the accurate and misleading aspects of an argument.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

I implemented this activity during one of the weekly, 3-hour lab sessions of my Introductory Climate Science course. I first gave the students a personal introduction, indicating that I find that talking with my intelligent, well-informed family members and friends about climate change can be very challenging and stimulating, and get me to really think about the science behind climate change, as well as strategies for successful communication.

Students are sitting at desktop computers in the computer lab. I have them work in pairs (or alone if they prefer). This makes the assignment more fun, encourages more discussion and debate, and makes the "transcript" writing process a bit more realistic.

I have students write their final products (essays, screen plays, dialogues, whatever they turn out to be) electronically, and submit them to the course web page. No other materials needed!

Include the class handout that I provide the students, describing the assignment. In particular, I direct them to the following websites for information:

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students demonstrated the following general pitfalls:
The reflective paragraph at the end is particularly meaningful for me to read.

Many students asked about specific criteria: how many pages? what line spacing? I would point them to the bullet list of objectives at the end of the assignment, and say that once they met those objectives, they can consider themselves done.


The assignment includes a bullet list of objectives for this assignment. I created a loose rubric based on these criteria for grading.

References and Resources

See more Teaching Activities »