Lesson Plan

Freeing the Elwha (A Long and Difficult Process)

Nature proved the Elwha Dam a failure in 1912 just a year after construction.


It would be nice if a few sticks of dynamite could quickly remove a dam, but there are many big issues involved in dam removal, what are those issues and how do they relate to the Elwha River dam removal project?


  • Identify the purpose of the Homestead Act;
  • Decide what was needed to move west during the 1800s;
  • Describe the day-to-day life of homesteaders;
  • Explore who moved onto the Olympic peninsula;
  • Develop a time line for events and developments along the Elwha River and Port Angeles, WA.


In this lesson, students working in four groups will use Exploring Dam Removal: A Decision Making Guide, a web document published by American Rivers and Trout Unlimited, to research one of four issues involved in dam removal as it relates to the Elwha River. The students will synthesize their research for presentation to the class.


  • Computer/ internet access
  • Pencil and paper
  • Handouts


Review the Essential Question, introduce the Guiding Question.

Give the students a few minutes to respond to the Reflection Journal question then take a few minutes to discuss their responses. (Reflection Journal 1 handout)
Tell the students they will be using an online document titled Exploring Dam Removal: A Decision Making Guide, to examine the issue of dam removal.
Divide the class into four teams. Each team will look at one of the four issues: ecologic, economic, societal, and technical/mechanical that Exploring Dam Removal: A Decision Making Guide identifies as important. Give the teams the student page so they know exactly what they are expected to do then send the teams to computers to answer some questions about the introduction to the guide all teams will answer these questions as background before adventuring into their issue. ( Student page & Handout 1)
After teams have completed the first set of questions, give them the handout that relates to their section of the Guide and have them begin their study. (Handouts 2).
When the teams have finished outlining their issue, tell them that they will relate the information they have gathered to the issue of the Elwha River Dam removals which they will expertly report on to the class. (Handouts 3)
Students will make an oral presentation on their issue. ( Oral Presentation Rubric)
Have students complete the final Reflection Journal page. (Reflection Journal 2)


Reflection pages (see rubric)
Completed handouts
Final presentation (see rubric)