Teaching with the News Archive

This lesson was published in November 2007.

The U.S. and Iran: Confronting Policy Alternatives

News about the U.S. relationship with Iran and Iran’s uranium enrichment program appears frequently in the headlines these days. The United States and other governments around the world worry that Iran wants to build nuclear weapons. Iran claims it is only developing nuclear power, which it has a right to do under international law. There is much debate internationally about how to respond to this issue. There is also disagreement in the United States on how best to deal with Iran.

A two-period lesson plan focuses on role-play and deliberation exploring four Policy Options concerning U.S. policy toward Iran today. Scholars Online videos provide background.

Objectives - students will:


Policy Options
Four Policy Options help students think about divergent policy alternatives, each driven by different underlying values, each with merits and trade-offs. The Options provided have been developed with input from the research staff at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

KWL Chart: The Iranian Nuclear Challenge

Scholars Online Video Clips (5 selected - additional clips are available here)

Guidelines for Deliberation

Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options

Online Survey - U.S. Policy Toward Iran: What Do You Think?

DAY I—Exploring Contrasting Policy Options

Introducing the Issue
Use The Iranian Nuclear Challenge (KWL chart) to chart what students know, want to know, and have learned.

1) Know: Have the class brainstorm what they already know about U.S.-Iranian relations and Iran's nuclear program. As ideas are being generated, students should fill in the left-hand column of their chart.

2) Want to Learn: Once students have generated a list of things they already know about the situation, have them develop a list of 5 or 6 things they would like to learn to better understand the issue.

Scholars Online Videos (Five clips are selected here.)

3) Learned: In order to complete the right-hand column of the KWL chart, have students view the Scholars Online video clips that accompany this lesson. With each of the five clips, have students write down at least two things they learned about the issue.

To help students get the most out of the video clips, it is also advisable to debrief after each clip. Possible debriefing questions include:

  • Why is it so hard to determine whether or not Iran is attempting to build a nuclear bomb?
  • In light of the dilemma that exists between the right of countries to produce nuclear energy and the challenge of distinguishing between peaceful nuclear energy programs and nuclear weapons programs, what does Mr. Cirincione see as the best solution for the Iran nuclear challenge?
  • How does Ms. Hart characterize the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, and what impact does this relationship have on our ability to resolve the nuclear issue?
  • What appear to be the risks involved if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon?

4) Summarize
With their KWL charts completed, challenge students to succinctly summarize the issue in 40-50 words.

Note: Click here for additional Scholars Online Videos on this topic.

Preparing and Presenting the Options
Break your class up into five groups. Assign four of the groups a Policy Option (one for each group). Assign the remaining group the role of the president and his advisors or of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Options Presenters: Their task will be to review their assigned Option, consider the values that underlie it as well as the tradeoffs involved, and then develop a short presentation to give to the class. This presentation should make the best possible case for this Option.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Their task will be to review each of the Options presented in the material and prepare clarifying questions to ask of the "advocates" of each Option after their presentation. The intent is to make sure that the Options, as they are written, are fully understood prior to deliberation on their merits, risks, and tradeoffs.

Foreign Representatives: If your class is large, you may want to assign some students the role of representatives of other nations. They can be asked to present their views on the Options after all of them have been presented.

DAY II—Shared Deliberation and Individual Judgment

Deliberating on the Options
Begin your deliberation by asking students to identify the things they like and the things that concern them about each of the options presented. Encourage students to listen carefully to each other rather than to try to "win" the argument. The intent of deliberative discourse is to see that all perspectives are heard and considered and that all participants have a place at the table. The outcome should involve a more sophisticated understanding on the part of all participating.

See Guidelines for Deliberation. You may also find Deliberating "Pros" and "Cons" of Policy Options a useful activity.

Articulating Their Own Views
After students have deliberated together on the merits and tradeoffs of the Options presented in this lesson, give all of the students an opportunity to come to terms with their own views on this issue.

Online Survey: U.S. Policy Toward Iran: What Do You Think?

Option 5: What should we do? Have them articulate their own considered judgments on the issue by framing their "Option 5 " using the format of the Options presented. Students may find the questions provided with the Options a useful organizing tool.

Let Your Voice Be Heard
Encourage your students to express their views and continue the dialog.

Contacting Elected Officials: Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at www.whitehouse.gov/contact and their U.S. Senators and Representatives at thomas.loc.gov.

Writing Locally: Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper. Or they could write an article for the school or community newspaper.

Bringing the Topic to Others: Students could also play a leadership role bringing this topic to other groups. Possibilities include engaging other classes in school in this topic, holding a forum in the school, or sponsoring a discussion with community members in a public setting. [Students who prusue such projects are encouraged to contact the Choices Program at choices@brown.edu. Put "student projects" in the subject line.]

Additional Resources from the Choices Program

Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution
A publisehd unit that traces the history of Iran from its early dynasties to the present and help students understand the political and cultural conditions that led to the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath.

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons
A published unit that introduces students to the history of nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence. It examines arguments for and against nuclear weapons and looks at the leftover arsenals of the Cold War, proliferation, and the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Scholars Online
Resources to accompany Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution and The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons.

Mapping the Nuclear World
An online lesson in which students analyze maps and data to draw conclusions about the status of nuclear weapons today.

Supplemental Materials
Materials for Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution.

Supplemental Materials
Materials for The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons.

Additional Online Resources

Country Profile: Iran - BBC News Online
Provides an overview of Iran.

Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (PBS)
Governing Iran provides continually updated interviews and news stories on a range of issues related to Iran.

Inside Iran - BBC News Online
Provides interviews, news stories, analysis, and fact sheets on Iran.

National Public Radio - Iran
NPR provides audio and print stories on Iran.

In Focus: IAEA and Iran
The International Atomic Energy Agency provides links to reports, documents, and press stories.

Council on Foreign Relations - Iran
The Council on Foreign Relations provides news and analysis on Iran.

US State Department - Iran
The U.S. State Department provides background, news, Congressional testimony on Iran and U.S. Iran policy.

This online lesson was developed with support from the Ploughshares Fund.