Educator Resources

The materials provided in this section of the website are one means of connecting students with the management of public lands and helping them develop skills in issue analysis and problem solving. These materials are designed to supplement your existing curriculum and lesson plans. You are encouraged to regionalize your materials to help students understand that fire is an issue in their own backyards.

Lessons: Hot Questions

Do people think that the effects of fire are good or bad? Your students can find the answers to these and other questions by making a fire questionnaire and asking friends, family, teachers, and neighbors to participate in an opinion poll. Students will refine interviewing and researching skills.


Develop a questionnaire
Conduct interviews
Calculate statistics on the results


Students will refine interviewing and researching skills.

Who: Groups of two students.

Where: School yard at recess.

Estimated Time: 30–60 minutes on the first day
30–60 minutes on the second day.


  • paper,
  • pencils,
  • markers,
  • clipboard,
  • flip chart,
  • calculator,

Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science

Background Information

Fire policies for public lands have evolved over time. Previously, natural resource managers advocated suppressing all fires. More recently, though, policies changed to include a fire management perspective, a scientifically based philosophy that examines each fire situation individually.

From the late 1800s until the mid- 1950s fire was considered to be detrimental to the health of ecosystems. During the 1930s, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service adopted identical fire policies. According to these policies, any wildland fires would be extinguished by 10 a.m. the following day. This is commonly referred to as the 10 a.m. rule. During the 1930s, though, some researchers began to suggest that fire was a natural component of ecosystems. Finally, in the 1960s and 1970s, fire policy began to shift from suppressing all fires to allowing some fires to bum and even to igniting prescribed fires.

The fires of Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area in 1988 brought fire policies to the public’s attention. The public questioned the management of wildlands we consider as part of our United States national heritage. Public concern prompted review of fire management policies. The opinions and knowledge of the people of the United States greatly influence the management of public lands. It is important for land managing agencies to understand public opinion and how much the public knows about fire management.

Lesson Activities


Questionnaires are used to gather all types of information. Businesses often use questionnaires to find out if customers are satisfied with the business or service. Opinion polls (asking respondents for their opinions) are conducted and reported in newspapers. Topics such as which candidate is preferred in the presidential election are often examined through polling.

  • How many people have ever witnessed a wildland fire?
  • What do people think about wildfires?
  • Do people think that the effects of fire are good or bad?
  • Why do they think this way?
  • Do people have other feelings about fires?

Your students can find the answers to these and other questions by making a fire questionnaire and asking friends, family, teachers, and neighbors to participate in an opinion poll.

Conduct Interviews

Review the background information with your students. Divide the class into groups of two students. Have each pair develop a four to eight question survey. They can ask any questions about fire ecology, but suggest the following as guidelines:

  • Most questions should be short and easy to answer, such as yes/no or multiple choice.
  • Include people from different age groups and both sexes.
  • Keep a record of the age and sex of each person they question.
  • Have all groups interview the same number of people.

Some examples of questions that could be asked are:

  • Have you ever seen a wildland fire?
  • If so, where was the fire you saw?
  • Do you think wildland fires are beneficial?
  • Which of the following do you think starts more wildfires each year?
    • a) lightning
    • b) humans
  • Do you think that wildland fires should be allowed to burn if human life and property are not threatened?

After each team has written its questions, ask the groups to exchange questionnaires. Each team can read and evaluate another team’s questions. This will help ensure that the questions are clear and understandable. Each student should be required to interview at least one person. Students should review their team members' answers.

Have the class conduct surveys during recess, lunch time, after school or during other breaks they may have. Emphasize that students should carefully record each respondent’s answers.

Once the data are collected on the survey, ask each group to tally their results and share the information with class members. Discuss how the respondents felt about fire. Did the results show a positive or negative attitude toward fire? Are there any differences in responses between males and females? Are there differences among age groups? Do you think if these people were taught about fire ecology their answers or feelings toward fire would change?

Calculate Statistics

To better interpret the results of the polls, guide the entire class through calculating some survey statistics. Groups can calculate:

  • The average age of those polled: add all of the respondents' ages and divide by the number of people. This is known as the mean.
  • The percentage of males and the percentage of females who answered the poll. For example, if the group polled 100 people and 40 of the 100 were female, then 40 percent were female (40 / 100 = 40/100 = 0.4 or 40%). From this, groups can figure the percentage of male respondents (100% total – 40% female = 60% male).

Groups can design graphs and charts to better communicate the findings.

Glossary Terms

Mean: The arithmetic average of a set of numbers.

Opinion Poll: A process of collecting (polling) opinions from a sample of individuals or groups in order to make generalized statements about the entire set of individuals or groups from which the sample was drawn.

Questionnaire: A written instrument used for gathering information on a specific set of questions.

10 a.m. Rule: A fire policy advocated in the 1930’s which stated that all fires would be extinguished by 10 a.m. on the morning following their ignition.