September 2013
For an updated lesson on this topic (May 2018), see here.


Students will:

  • Analyze the issues that frame the current debate on U.S. policy towards Syria.
  • Consider the role of the U.S. public, the president, and Congress in the decision of whether to use military force.
  • Work cooperatively within groups to integrate the arguments and beliefs of the options into a persuasive, coherent presentation.
  • Explore, debate, and evaluate multiple perspectives on U.S. policy towards Syria through a role-play activity.


The Civil War in Syria KWL Chart (optional)

Information on the Situation in Syria

U.S. Policy Options

Options: Graphic Organizer

Tips for Role-Plays
Learn about ways to ensure a successful Choices role-play or simulation experience for students.

1. Understanding The Moment of Decision

Ask students to brainstorm what they know about the civil war in Syria and what the United States is considering doing.

Note: You may wish to distribute copies of the KWL (Know-Want to Know-Learned) handout to students and have them record what they already know about events in Syria, and what they want to know. As ideas are being generated, students should fill in the left-hand and middle columns of their chart.

Distribute the handout “Information on the Situation in Syria” to students, and ask students to read it individually, or read it aloud as a class.

To make sure students have a firm grasp of the topic before beginning the role-play activity, prompt discussion with some of the following questions:

  • Why is there a civil war in Syria? What is the current state of the war?
  • How has the civil war affected Syrians?
  • How have other countries in the Middle East been affected by or involved with the civil war? Which countries have a stake in the conflict?
  • What is the United States’ historical relationship to Syria? How has it responded to the conflict?

Ask students to reread the quote by President Obama. What does he mean when he says, “I believe that the people’s representatives must be invested in what America does abroad”? Do students agree with President Obama? Ask students to recall the Constitutional prerogatives given to Congress and the president about war. Why do students believe the founders wrote the Constitution that way? Some have stated that President Obama does not need Congressional approval for military action against Syria. Challenge students to make a case for not seeking Congressional approval. Challenge students to make the case for seeking Congressional approval. What are their own personal feelings about the matter?

You may also want to have students explore the following online resources to learn more about current events and key players in the conflict:

Online Resources

Associated Press: US Considers Syria Strike

BBC: Syria Conflict

PBS NewsHour: Your Cheat Sheet to the Syrian Conflict

Al Jazeera: Connecting Syria’s Allies and Enemies

Al Jazeera America: Syria’s War

Statement by President Obama on Syria (video and transcript)

Jadaliyya: Syria

2. Exploring Contrasting Policy Options

Break up your class into five groups and distribute “U.S. Policy Options” and “Options: Graphic Organizer.” Assign four of the groups a policy option. Assign the remaining group the role of senators in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. (If you have a large class, you may want to make a sixth group of foreign representatives.)

Option Groups: Each group will review its assigned option and develop a three-to-five minute presentation to give to the class. The presentation should make the best possible case for their option.

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: This group will review each of the options and prepare clarifying questions to ask of the option groups during or after the presentations. Each student should come up with at least two questions for each option.

Foreign Representatives: If your class is large, you may want to have some students be representatives from other countries. You should assign students (individually or in small groups) a country and tell them to research that country’s position on the conflict in Syria. These students can present their countries’ views on Syria and the options for U.S. policy after the presentations. (Here are a few suggestions for countries: Great Britain, France, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey.)

Give students about 15-20 minutes to prepare their presentations and questions. Then organize the room so that the four option groups face a row of desks reserved for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Explain that the simulation will begin with short presentations by each option group. Encourage students to speak clearly and convincingly. All students should fill in the graphic organizer. You may wish to have the senators ask questions after each presentation, or save all the questions for the end.

3. Considering U.S. Policy

After the simulation, ask students what they think about the different options. How would each of these options affect the U.S. relationship with Syria in the long term? The U.S. relationship with the rest of the world? How would it affect people in the United States? What about people in Syria? What values underlie each option? What role do students believe the United States should have in addressing this issue, or other international issues?

Now have students consider what policies they would suggest the U.S. pursue in Syria. What aspects of the different options do students support? What policies are students concerned about? Can students identify some of the difficult trade-offs that policy makers face? What do students think should be the primary aim of U.S. policy in Syria? What policies would achieve this aim?

Ask students what role they think the public should play in decisions to go to war or use force. How can we be sure that information in the media and from the government is accurate? What are acceptable grounds, if any, for military intervention? Should any use of military force be authorized first by Congress? What costs are acceptable in human and financial terms? Should the United States commit itself to working with the international community? How can we reduce the likelihood of war in the future?

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Encourage your students to express their views on U.S. policy towards Syria.

Contact Elected Officials
Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at and their U.S. senators and representatives at

Write Locally
Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper or write articles for the school or community newspaper.

Image Credits: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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