Lesson Plan

Using Games to Tackle Complex Social Issues

A Five-Part Lesson

Students will be able to...

  • Think about and discuss various issues relating to global issues such as international conflict and pollution
  • Think about and discuss various issues relating to domestic issues such as poverty, national security, and immigration
  • Take action to help someone in their community
Social Studies
civic engagement
social justice
cultural understanding
power structures
Grades 9 - 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 The Hook: A Chaotic Discussion

Activity: Conversing

Start the lesson by showing a clip from a politically controversial film such as An Inconvenient Truth. Explain why the film is controversial and use this to spark a lively discussion between students. It is alright if the dicussion gets heated and maybe a little out of control.

2 Direct Instruction: The Peacemaker Game

The class will play the 'Peacemaker' game together. This game simulates the choices government leaders have to make in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Students will follow along as the teacher navigates through the game. The students will take turns making decisions individually. We don't need any discussion for this game, we are just trying to get them to realize the complexity of the situation.

3 Guided Practice: SimCity Pollution Challenge

SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!
$19.99 individual; $49.99 to $649.99 license packs

The class will now play the SimCity Pollution Challenge game together. In this game, the player tries to develop and manage a city while also controlling pollution and protecting the environment. This time, the class will have to reach a consensus on all strategic decisions. Discussion is encouraged, but if they can't agree on something it will be put to a vote. The purpose of this game is to get the class to realize that even when goals are clear (stop pollution and save the planet), the path to achieving them may not be.

4 Independent Practice with Critical Thinking Games

At this point in the lesson, the students will individually play games designed to examine their feelings on key social issues. In the 'Spent' game, players face a simulation of a life in poverty and are forced to make tough decisions and try to live with the consequences. The 'Papers, Please' game is similar, but focuses on the difficult decisions immigration officials face. After giving the students time to explore these games, the teacher should bring them back together to discuss their experiences and thoughts on both games.

5 Driving it Home

Activity: Exploring

While playing and discussing the issues from the different games, the students will develop a new appreciation for the complexity of different social issues. The goal of the lesson is not to make people agree; instead, it is to get students to acknowledge that social issues are more complicated than they are often portrayed to be by mass media. 

After sparking discussion and provoking thoughts on different issues, the climax of the lesson will be for students to explore www.DoSomething.org. Inspired by the games they have played, students will find a cause they support and sign up to participate in a 'Campaign' which helps someone else in the community.