Lesson Plan

Debating Change

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Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.6, 11-12.RI.1, 11-12.RI.6, 11-12.SL.1, 11-12.SL.4, 11-12.W.1, 11-12.W.2
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

What importance do place names have? How do land managers balance different, and sometimes conflicting, uses of the same public space?


Students will be able to identify textual evidence from primary sources. Students will be able to use textual evidence to defend their position in a debate.


The National Park Service (NPS) is tasked with conserving "the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations" (NPS Organic Act of 1916). Furthermore, it is "the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian... including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites" (American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978).

Over two dozen tribes are officially associated with the Tower site, and many American Indians declare it a sacred site. As climbing gained popularity through the 1980s, controversy over climbing the culturally significant formation came to the forefront as the park developed a Climbing Management Plan (CMP). The CMP, implemented in 1995, sought to find compromise between recreational climbing and traditional indigenous uses of the site. As with any compromise, stakeholders still hold competing views regarding climbing at Devils Tower.

Related to, but separate from, the issues surrounding climbing the Tower is the name of the site itself. Facts about the origins of the name "Devils Tower" are still debated; some argue a simple mistranslation of an indigenous name while others claim a deliberate name change. Regardless of why the name changed, many American Indians find the name "Devils Tower" to be ludicrous or disrespectful. In the 1990s, efforts to change the name back to an indigenous moniker gained public recognition, with the agreed-upon appellation of "Bear Lodge." No official change has taken place, and controversy still exists over the idea of a name change.


Decided if you want your class to debate one or both of the questions below:

  • Should climbing Devils Tower be restricted because of its significance to Native American cultures?
  • Should the name of Devils Tower be changed?
Determine the style of debate activity you would like to lead, and divide your students into teams. Prepare information packets for students groups using the information provided below ("Materials" links). It is recommended that the teacher review all materials so they are familiar with the issues and can act as an effective moderator for the debate.


This is a typed document from 1997 that provides additional background about these issues.

Download Extra Background Info for Teacher and/or Students

Articles which argue in favor of broader climbing access.

Download Climbing - Pro Access

Articles which argue in favor of climbing restrictions.

Download Climbing - Pro Restrictions

Excerpts from a paper written about origins of the name "Devils Tower."

Download Name Change - General Information

Newspaper article which details both sides of the name change debate.

Download Name Change - Both Sides

Articles which argue in favor of keeping the name "Devils Tower."

Download Name Change - Pro Keep

Articles which argue in favor of changing the name "Devils Tower."

Download Name Change - Pro Change

Lesson Hook/Preview

How do you feel about the name "Devils Tower"? Do you think climbing the formation Devils Tower is an acceptable form of use for this public space?


  1. Explain to the class that they will be practicing the art of debate. The class will be divided into two sides, one for and one against a specific topic. Within each side, each individual will have the opportunity to state their opinion. However, they must have evidence from a reliable source to support their opinion.
  2. Introduce the students to the topics of debate. Begin by showing the students where Devils Tower National Monument is located. Use the park website (or another source) to show an image of Devils Tower. Explain that this site is very important to many American Indian cultures. Some tribes consider it sacred. Because of this, the name of the place and the issue of climbing Devils Tower have come under much debate within the last few decades. Using the resources included, students will read about their topic and use textual evidence to argue their side. 
  3. Hand out a copy of each article to the students (depending on which side they are on). Allow them a class period or overnight to go through the articles and determine the evidence they will use to back up their claims. 
  4. Debate Option A: Place two chairs (one for each side) facing each other in the center of the room. These are each side's "hot seats." Allow each team to come to the front and pick a side. When students are ready, explain the rules of the hot seat debate. 1) Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion; if you disagree, you must find a way to respectfully disagree. 2) Only the person in the hot seat may talk; if you have something to say you must ‘tag’ in. 3) Everyone must have a turn in the hot seat and say something significant. Remind them to cite their article when introducing their textual evidence (according to…).
  5. Debate Option B: Arrange the desks into a circle, or have students stand in a circle where everyone can be seen. When students are ready, explain the rules of Philosophical Chairs. 1) Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion; if you disagree, you must find a way to respectfully disagree. 2) Only one person may talk at a time. 3) Everyone contribute something significant. Remind them to cite their article when introducing their textual evidence (according to…).
  6. Introduce the first topic, either the debate over climbing or the name change, and allow students to begin.


Debate - a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public forum where opposing sides of an argument are presented
Controversy - disagreement, particually in a public format, that is prolonged and heated
Primary Source - a piece of information (artifact, document, recording, etc.) that was created during the time under study

Assessment Materials

Concluding the Debate

Have students make their final arguments, review the major points of each side, then encourage them to find a compromise.

To end the debate, allow each side one spokesperson for a final argument (1-2 minutes).

After the final arguments, restate the points each side has made and lead a class discussion. Identify major differences in opinions as well as similarities. While discussing the similarities, elude to compromises that could be made on each topic.

Have students go back into their respective sides and have each side come up with a proposal for common ground (20 minutes). Have each side present their proposal, and as a class create a final solution which may appease both sides.

Enrichment Activities

If using this as an introduction to writing an argumentative essay, have students use the information they gained from the hot seat debate to create an introduction paragraph to the essay and identify three main points they would argue.

Additional Resources

Below are links to online articles related to climbing management at Devils Tower:

Contact Information

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Last updated: August 3, 2018