Structured Academic Controversy Lesson

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Thomas Pantazes


Structured Academic Controversy Lesson

Dr. Stoddard

Structured Academic Controversy Lesson Plan: To Drop or Not to Drop?

This structured academic controversy lesson is designed to teach students both sides of the debate surrounding the use of the Atomic bomb at the end of World War II. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the catalysts that caused the end of World War II and are the only two times that a nuclear weapon has been used in war. It is important that students learn about the circumstances leading to their use and understand the controversy that surrounds those events. It is also important for students to understand the magnitude and significant destruction caused by atomic weapons so that they can be informed participants in today’s world. The purpose of this lesson is to present students with arguments from both sides of the debate so that they may draw their own conclusions regarding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Students will begin the lesson by refreshing their understanding of the events that led up to the use of the atomic bomb. Then they will be divided into groups of four with two students presenting arguments for the side in favor of bombing and two students presenting arguments for the side against bombing. Each side will be given time to present while the other side listens quietly. Then the side that listened will have an opportunity to ask clarifying questions. The arguing and listening roles will then be reversed and the process repeated. After the initial round of exchanges students will switch positions on the issue and have to present arguments for the side opposite of which they initially argued. The presentation and listening process is repeated. Finally, the whole class comes together for a final discussion and consensus building.

Designed for a 9th grade world history class, the structured academic controversy lesson format was selected because it allows students to practice and develop important discussion skills while exploring the arguments surrounding this controversial issue. This lesson will be the last in a unit on World War II. It will take approximately sixty minutes to complete this lesson.

1. Students will be able to identify Harry Truman and his significance to World War II through verbal explanations during class discussion. (WHII.11.a)
2. Students will be able to explain why Japan surrendered unconditionally by writing a brief paragraph explaining their position on the use of the atomic bomb. (WHII.11.c)
3. Students will be able to identify the dropping of the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a significant event of World War II by writing their opinion on the bombing. (WHII.11.a)
4. Students will be able to explain the questions raised by the prospective use of a new technology by charting the arguments for and against the use of the atomic bomb. (NCSS VIII)
5. Students will be able to discuss controversial issues in a polite manner by participating in group discussion during the course of the lesson.


Students will demonstrate understanding of the two sides on the issue by creating a chart of arguments for and against the use of the atomic bomb by the US at the end of World War II. Students will also write a brief paragraph explaining their own perspective on the issue. The teacher will also monitor student participation and activity during the lesson.

Content and Instructional Strategies:

  1. Hook / Controversy Background (ten minutes)

Using a pre-existing journaling routine, students will be asked to write down what events had occurred in World War II leading up to the end of the war. (depending on my CT’s teaching I may shift this to a series of review questions) The whole class will spend a few minutes reviewing student responses before handing out the introduction sheet. Students will read this sheet and correct any misconceptions that they had regarding the lead up to the use of the bomb. Next students will view a brief clip introducing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Manhattan Project and the Atomic Bomb Attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki from United Streaming. (1:49)

  1. Organization of groups / room (twelve minutes)

Students will be divided into groups of four with two students sitting “knees to knees and eyes to eyes.” In second block this means moving desks with the natural student groupings that already exists. In third block students will use their tables as groups. Two group members will be given the first “For Bombing” sheet and asked to pick out the best arguments and be prepared to explain them to the other people in the group. The other two group members will be given the first “Against Bombing” sheet and asked to pick out the best arguments and be prepared to explain them to the other people in the group. Remind students they will need to take active notes on what they are about to hear from their other group members so they can ask good questions and be prepared to complete the homework.

  1. Round 1 Positions (eight minutes)

Ask the “Against” students to present to the other students first. Remind the “For” students that all they can do is listen. Once the two minutes for the “Against” students is up, the “For” students will have one minute to ask clarifying questions. Demonstrate some clarifying questions to the students. Then reverse the situation, giving the “For” students two minutes to present their best arguments and then another minute for the “Against” students to ask clarifying questions. Time may be adjusted as necessary so that the students have a sufficient amount of time to present and ask questions.

  1. Round 2 Positions (twenty minutes)

Next, hand out the second “For bombing” sheet to the original “Against Bombing” students and the second “Against Bombing” sheet to the original “For bombing” students. Have them repeat the process of identifying important arguments to share with the other half of the group. Give the new “For Bombing” students two minutes to present while the new “Against Bombing” students listen. Then give the “Against Bombing” students a minute to ask clarifying questions. Repeat this process with the new “Against Bombing” students presenting and the new “For bombing” student getting a minute to ask clarifying questions.

  1. Discussion and Consensus (ten minutes)

In groups students will each share their own opinion on whether using the atomic bomb was justified. The group will attempt to reach some kind of consensus regarding the information presented. Afterwards each group will then share their consensus decisions. Then the teacher will wrap up the exercise and explain the homework assignment.

15 copies of the Round 1 For Bombing and Round 2 Against Bombing Sheet

15 copies of the Round 1 Against Bombing and Round 2 For Bombing Sheet

Video clip

30 copies of the setting the stage document

30 copies of the homework assignment


This lesson can easily be differentiated by adjusting the level of the material presented. If the lesson needs to be made easier for students a bulleted list of the for and against lists could be made instead of using the small primary document excerpts. If the lesson needs to be made more difficult the primary examples can be increased in length and the headers can be removed. Use of opinion news pieces might also help to increase the difficulty of this exercise. If necessary, students could also be given a graphic organizer which would assist them with organizing their thoughts for their presentations to the other members of their group. This would help to make the lesson easier for students.


For a hypothetical struggling reader, this lesson could be adapted by providing the resources to the student ahead of time for them to review and understand. I might also provide a simpler version of the arguments to that reader’s particular group. Maybe give that group the arguments in bulleted form instead of in paragraph form. I could also extend the time for reading and argument formation to give this hypothetical student more time to read and understand the text with out singling the student out specifically for additional assistance.


Some potential hang ups with this lesson include getting students to actively engage the texts, making sure students have the proper discussion skills to carry out the lesson, and students having enough background knowledge. First, getting students to actively engage the texts I selected may prove to be challenging if I can not generate interest in the overarching question. I might want to revisit my hook if I don’t feel like students really got into the lesson. Second, I do not know how good the students discussion skills actually are. If they do not have good discussion skills I may need to take time to review and go over those skills. Third, I will not have a clear picture of what students have learned before I teach the lesson. I hope that by the time I get to teach they will know who Truman is and some basic ideas of what was going on in the Pacific theater.


I taught the lesson to a second block and third block history class with both lessons taking a little over an hour to complete. I found it very difficult to get the students to engage and work on the information for the various arguments. Second block seemed to start getting the hang of it after some initial work but third block really did not want to read or pull out arguments at all. To me this feels like a failure even though I know that students walked away knowing more than when they began class. I feel like I did not do enough to motivate students to engage the material. If I were to use this lesson again I would want to re-structure the hook in an attempt to try and get them more into debating the dropping of the bomb.

I could have done a better job of laying out the steps of the argument and also with informing students exactly who is talking with whom and at what times. Students rebelled against the structure and just wanted to talk in their groups of four instead of discussing arguments in their pairs before going to the whole group. I tried two different styles in an attempt to get them to do this between the two blocks and neither was very successful.

I think particularly for the third block students, a bulleted list of points would have been more effective than using the primary source documents. The students tended to ignore the primary sources and focus just on the headers that I provided for each primary source.

After trying this style of lesson plan, I do not know if it is something that I would like to use in future classes. I think it lends itself better to more advanced or motivated classes and I don’t know that the dropping of the atomic bomb was controversial enough to use a SAC format.

Setting the Stage
With the advent of the nuclear age, new dilemmas in the art of warfare arose. The war in Europe had concluded in May. The Pacific war would receive full attention from the United States War Department. As late as May 1945, the U.S. was engaged in heavy fighting with the Japanese at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In these most bloody conflicts, the United States had sustained more than 75,000 casualties. These victories insured the United States was within air striking distance of the Japanese mainland. The bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese to initiate United States entrance into the war, just four years before, was still fresh on the minds of many Americans. A feeling of vindication and a desire to end the war strengthened the resolve of the United States to quickly and decisively conclude it. President Harry Truman had many alternatives at his disposal for ending the war: invade the Japanese mainland, hold a demonstration of the destructive power of the atomic bomb for Japanese dignitaries, drop an atomic bomb on selected industrial Japanese cities, bomb and blockade the islands, wait for Soviet entry into the war on August 15, or mediate a compromised peace. Operation Olympia, a full scale landing of United States armed forces, was already planned for Kyushu on November 1, 1945 and a bomb and blockade plan had already been instituted over the Japanese mainland for several months.
The Japanese resolve to fight had been seriously hampered in the preceding months. Their losses at Iwo Jima and Okinawa had been staggering. Their navy had ceased to exist as an effective fighting force and the air corps had been decimated. American B-29's made bombing runs over military targets on the Japanese mainland an integral part of their air campaign. Japan's lack of air power hindered their ability to fight. The imprecision of bombing and the use of devastating city bombing in Europe eventually swayed United States Pacific theater military leaders to authorize bombing of Japanese mainland cities. Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe all were decimated by incendiary and other bombs. In all, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in these air strikes meant to deter the resolve of the Japanese people. Yet, Japanese resolve stayed strong and the idea of a bloody "house to house" invasion of the Japanese mainland would produce thousands more American and Allied casualties. The Allies in late July 1945 declared at Potsdam that the Japanese must unconditionally surrender.


Based on what you have heard and read in class create a chart of the arguments for using the atomic bomb and the arguments against using the atomic bomb.
After completing the chart write a minimum of five complete sentences telling me which side of the argument you support. Do you think President Truman did the right thing when he dropped the atomic bomb or do you think that President Truman made the wrong decision? Explain your answer using at least three items from your chart.
You may use this sheet or create your own. The assignment is due Monday November 23, 2008.
Arguments Supporting Bombing Arguments Against Bombing

Paragraph response:

Round 1 - Arguments For Using the Atomic Bomb
A. Marshall, King, and Leahy, military advisors to President Truman, discuss predicted casualties during the planning for the invasion of Japan:
“He said Marshall and King both strongly advocated the invasion of Kyushu (one of Japan’s islands) at the earliest possible date. Leahy had been opposed to invasion of the Jap mainland. Marshall held that such an attempt on Kyushu would cost in casualties not more than 63,000 of the 190,000 combatant troops estimated as necessary for the invasion.”1
“Admiral Leahy recalled that the President had been interested in knowing what the price in casualties for Kyushu would be and whether or not that price could be paid. He points out that the troops on Okinawa had lost 35 percent in casualties. If this percentage were applied to the number of troops to be employed in Kyushu, he thought from similarity of the fighting to be expected that this would give a good estimate of the casualties to be expected.”

B. The Japanese did not want to surrender and considered it a question of honor to defend their homeland.

"The bomb was unfortunate, but it was the only means to bring Japan to a surrender," argues Sadao Asada, a historian at Doshisha University in Kyoto. Professor Asada cites Japanese archival evidence that military officials were likely to fight on, furiously, until the end. "Sacrifice 20 million Japanese lives," a senior Japanese navy official urged in August 1945, with tears in his eyes, as he proposed a huge suicide attack on the Allies.” 2

C. To justify the large expense of the Manhattan project:

The cost of the project that designed and built the atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was $ $1,889,604,000 dollars. Today the same project would cost $21,570,821,000.3

Round 1 - Arguments Against Using the Atomic Bomb
.A It killed too many civilians
It was estimated that around 200,000 to 240,000 Japanese were killed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the vast majority of that number being civilians who were going about their daily lives. Around 70,000 people died from the bomb blast at Hiroshima with another 90,000 dieing from burns, radiation and related diseases by the end of 1945. About 80,000 died at Nagasaki. Official numbers are hard to determine because the bombs destroyed most of the records on the cities populations.
B. It may not have been militarily necessary

The 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that it had been unnecessary to the winning of the war. After interviewing hundreds of Japanese civilian and military leaders after Japan surrendered, it reported:

"Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."4
C. The bombing of Nagasaki came too quickly

The bombing of Nagasaki came only three days after the bombing of Hiroshima which was not enough time for the confused and battered Japanese to respond to the American demands for peace.

D. The Americans saw the Japanese as savages instead of humans.
From the July 25, 1945 diary entry by Harry Truman:
“Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.”
Round 2 - Arguments For Using the Atomic Bomb
A. Warning the Soviet Union of the US’s new power
On July 24, at the Potsdam conference, Truman walked carefully around to Stalin, who had stood up and was preparing to leave the hall and told about the test explosion of a nuclear bomb. Truman did not use the word "nuclear" and simply related that the United States had just successfully tested a new weapon of great explosive power and that he wanted the Soviets to know this fact. Truman proudly annotated the photograph of adjournment of the July 24 session, "This is the place I told Stalin about the Atom Bomb, which was exploded July 6, 1945 in New Mexico. He didn't realize what I was talking about.5
B. Punish the Japanese for their surprise attack of Pearl Harbor

Telegram from Senator Richard Russell to President Harry Truman:

Permit me to respectfully suggest that we cease our efforts to cajole Japan into surrendering in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration. Let us carry the war to them until they beg us to accept the unconditional surrender. The foul attack on Pearl Harbor brought us into war and I am unable to see any valid reason why we should be so much more considerate and lenient in dealing with Japan than with Germany..… The comptemptous answer of the Japs to the Potsdam Ultimatum justifies a revision of that document and sterner peace terms….Our people have not forgotten that the Japanese struck us the first blow in this war without the slightest warning. They believe that we should continue to strike the Japanese until they are brought groveling to their knees. We should cease our appeals to Japan to sue for peace. The next plea for Peace should come from an utterly destroyed Tokyo. …. With assurances of esteem, Richard B. Russell, US Senator.6

C. Fighting back against Japanese brutality
President Truman responds to the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America

My dear Mr. Cavert:

Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.

Sincerely yours, Harry S. Truman7

Round 2 - Arguments Against Using the Atomic Bomb
A. It was morally wrong and set a bad precedent
Telegram from the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America to the President of the United States,
Many Christians deeply disturbed over use of Atomic Bombs against Japanese cities because of their necessarily indiscriminate destructive efforts and because their use sets extremely dangerous precedent for future of mankind. Bishop Oxnam, President of the Council and John Foster Dulles Chairman of its commission on a just and durable peace are preparing statement for probable release tomorrow urging that Atomic bombs be regarded as trust for humanity an that Japanese nation be given genuine opportunity and time to verify facts and about new bombs and to accept surrender terms. Respectfully urge that ample opportunity be given Japan to reconsider ultimatum before any further devastation by atomic bomb is visited upon her people.8
B. Should not have massacred civilians in such a horrible way
Japanese Government’s Official Protest to US State Department over Bombing
"Combatant and noncombatant men and women, old and young, are massacred without discrimination by the atmospheric pressure of the explosion, as well as by the radiating heat which result there from. Consequently there is involved a bomb having the most cruel effects humanity has ever known. . . . The bombs in question, used by the Americans, by their cruelty and by their terrorizing effects, surpass by far gas or any other arm, the use of which is prohibited. Japanese protests against U.S. desecration of international principles of war paired the use of the atomic bomb with the earlier firebombing, which massacred old people, women and children, destroying and burning down Shinto and Buddhist temples, schools, hospitals, living quarters, etc. . . . They now use this new bomb, having an uncontrollable and cruel effect much greater than any other arms or projectiles ever used to date. This constitutes a new crime against humanity and civilization."9
C. The Americans saw the Japanese as savages instead of humans.
From the July 25, 1945 diary entry by Harry Truman:
“Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.”

I. Intro

1. What we are doing today – going to judge a decision made in the past based on historical record: whether dropping bomb was a good or bad idea and practice discussion skills

2. Journal questions

3. Introduction sheet

4. Movie clip

II. Divide into groups of four

1. Explain process

a. read

b. talk with partner and ID key arguments

c. For bombing group presents while other listens quietly

d. then chance for Against group to ask clarifying questions

e. minute for notes

e. Against group presents

f. For group asks questions

g. minute for notes

Remind students to listen to arguments and try to ID key ideas

2. Let students read

3. go through process above

4. hand out second sheet and repeat

Notes and References:
Reasons against bombing:

  • Fundamentally immoral

  • The bombing was a war crime ?

  • A form of state terrorism

  • Militarily bombing unnecessary

  • Racism and dehumanizing

  • Not military targets

Those who argue in favor of the decision to drop the bombs generally assert that they caused the Japanese surrender, preventing massive casualties on both sides in the planned invasion of Japan.

Those who argue against the decision to drop the bombs characterize them as inherently immoral, war crimes or, crimes against humanity and/or state terrorism. They may also argue that they were militarily unnecessary.
This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10. I have told the secretary of war, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.(8) He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance.

July 25 diary entry for Harry Truman

Hirohito said in the capitulation statement:
“Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.”

McArthur say anything about it
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists :
Argued – war is not necessary murder but by definition does involve killing,

Dropping the bomb was the best worst option, much more killing would have insued

Immoral to target cities, bombs were not necessary to secure japan’s surrender, US should have clarified its demands for surrender

1 Diary Entry June 1, 1945 from Ayers Papers. Accessed at

2 Kristof, Nicholas D. Hiroshima: A special report; The Bomb: An Act That Haunts Japan and America. New York Times, August 6, 1995. Accessed at


4 "United States Strategic Bombing Survey; Summary Report" pg. 26. United States Government Printing Office (1946). Retrieved on July 28, 2006.





9 The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Mark Selden, Kyoko Selden; M. E. Sharpe, 1989

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