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Coral Bleaching: Making Our Oceans Whiter

Teaching Materials by National Geographic - Starting Point page by R.E. Teed (SERC).
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: August 30, 2006


This lesson plan deals with coral reefs and the recent increase in coral bleaching. The students will be learning about the ecology of reefs, the habitats they create, the algal symbiosis that ends with bleaching, and the role of human impact. The plan also outlines a role-playing debate for the students and an in-character written assignment to come up with a compromise to protect the reefs and the economies that depend on them.

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Learning Goals

Students will:
  • Understand what coral reefs are, where they are located, and how humans impact their future.
  • Build writing skills and search the internet for relevant information.
  • Gather the knowledge to critically reason and debate issues about coral reef issues.

Context for Use

The original middle-school lesson plan is expected to take three to four hours for presentation of the topic, student research, and the debate itself. In a university classroom, introducing the material and the exercise will probably take an hour, debating and the debriefing another, but the research (and probable writing) in between will take the students longer, depending on the instructor's expectations.

Teaching Materials

The Coral Bleaching: Making Our Oceans Whiter web site contains a broadly defined lesson plan and a number of helpful links on corals and coral bleaching. For research, the students will at least need access to computers with Internet connections.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The original lesson plan is for middle-school students, but is somewhat vague. The roles for the debate are broadly defined (and probably a little too polarized for interesting interaction). The instructor will need to choose a specific problem reef case, possibly fictionalize it somewhat, and develop specific roles.


The lesson plan recommends having students write an in-character letter offering and defending some sort of acceptable (to the character) compromise.

References and Resources

Scientific resources on coral bleaching are fairly easy to find. There are also papers on global economic impacts. Getting pro vs. con positions can be more challenging, but Debate Central's collection of articles on Coral Reefs includes some of those along with information on damage sustained by deep-water reefs due to fishing activity. What might be useful in this case are specifics for scenarios based in real localities.

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