Lesson Seven: Pros and Cons of Energy Sources

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Grade Level:

4th Grade


Part 1: 60 – 90 minutes


  • Energy Pro & Con sheets (one set for each student) – (sources 1-15) TEACHER NOTE: These will need to be saved for lessons 8 & 10.
  • Energy Resource labels
  • Masking tape (optional)
  • Padlet (www.padlet.com) or Post it Notes – If using the Padlet option, computers need to be set up.
  • Poster paper
  • Colored pencils, crayons, or markers

Suggested Teacher Preparation:

  • Become familiar with the Energy Resource fact sheets
  • Use masking tape to create a pro/con/neutral line on the classroom floor
  • Clearly mark one end: CON, the opposite end: PRO, and the middle as: NEUTRAL
  • Print the Energy Posters and post them in different sections of the classroom. Posters are included for nuclear, coal, natural gas, oil, wind, and hydro.

Activity Type:

Evaluate multiple perspectives.

Purpose Statement (content Focus & Enduring Understanding/Knowledge/Skills and connection to the unit and preceding lessons):

Students will understand that energy sources can be classified as renewable and nonrenewable and that each have pros and cons. Students will gain an understanding that one energy source is not sufficient in meeting state, national, and global needs, and that weighing the pros and cons of multiple resources is a complex process.

Explanation of how the activity enables students to answer the overarching question:

After analyzing the pros and cons of each Energy Resource, students will express why it is necessary to 1) use our energy resources wisely and 2) incorporate a variety of energy resources into the production of energy. Students will understand the importance of being stewards of the variety of energy resources in Wyoming to benefit current and future generations.

Essential Question:

How can we be stewards of Wyoming’s minerals and energy to benefit current and future generations?

Supporting Questions:

How are minerals and energy developed, used, and cared for? How do minerals and energy impact Wyoming’s culture and economy?


Science: 4-ESS3-1 (explicitly taught)
ELA: L.4.4, L.4.5, L.4.6, SL.4.1.d (all practiced/encountered) CVE: CV5.3.3 (practiced/encountered)


  • Pro- the favorable factors or reasons; advantages
  • Con- the unfavorable factors or reasons; disadvantages
  • Review vocabulary from lessons 1-5.

Instructional Procedure/Steps:

  1. Divide your classroom into six sections by labeling each area to represent one of the energy sources: nuclear, coal, natural gas, oil, wind, and hydro.
  2. Direct students to pick the one energy source they think is the best and stand in that section of the classroom. (At this point, the instruction is deliberately vague.) Within their groups, students will spend a few minutes discussing why they selected the resource they did. One spokesperson can share out each group’s thinking with the whole class.
  3. Choose an energy resource for the whole class to work with coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, wind, or hydro. Give each student a copy of the fact sheet for the energy resource. Say: “Individually, you will now mark your sheet to show whether each fact is a pro, a con, or a neutral fact. Also think about how important each fact is in considering the bigger picture of energy. The numbers located at the end of many of the facts are footnotes that provide source information. They don’t have any bearing on whether the fact is positive or negative.”
  4. Once students have marked all facts on the selected student sheet, direct their attention to the line in the middle of the classroom. Say: “One end of the line represents that the energy resource is positive, and the other represents that the resource is negative. The middle of the line is neutral. You will use your individual evaluation of the pros and cons of the energy source to place yourself on the line. You can stand anywhere on the line.”
  5. Say:”Place yourselves on the line to show whether you feel the energy resource is mostly positive, mostly negative, somewhat positive, etc.” When all students have found a place on the line, ask a couple of students to share their thinking about why they chose the position they did.
    • Possible strategies to use as students discuss their positioning:
      • Fold the line (pros discuss with cons)
      • Shift the line (middle of the line goes down to one end or the other so neutrals are matching with pros or cons)
      • Chips in (students are each given a predetermined number of chips. When a student wants to participate, he/she puts in a chip. When the student is out of chips, he/she is out of turns. All students are encouraged to spend all their chips.)
      • Ten-word summary (Students share a ten-word summary with a partner telling what they learned or why they are standing where they are. The number of words can change for different rounds of discussion.)
    • Teachers might also ask if students would like to move based on someone else’s argument, or tell students to go to a different spot on the line and justify an alternate point of view.
  6. Repeat steps 3-6 using a second energy resource.If you started with a nonrenewable resource, pick a renewable, or vice versa.
  7. Have students work in small groups to review, rate, and discuss two additional energy resources. Monitor their discussions to ensure that students are actively listening to one another and disagreeing respectfully.
    TEACHER NOTE:The emphasis of this lesson is not that students learn all of the content information for all 6 resources. Although exposure to the information is important, the bigger picture of the lesson is to help students understand that ALL energy sources have both pros and cons, and that weighing the pros and cons is a complex process. It is also important for students to have the opportunity to practice sharing their opinion, giving an explanation for it, and disagreeing with others in a safe and respectful environment.
  8. End the lesson with a class discussion. Arrange students in groups of 4 so that there is a mix of members who reviewed different industries in the preceding activity. Pose the following questions and ask the small groups to discuss:
    • What did you learn as you did this activity?
    • How did your thinking about energy resources change as we looked at the pros and cons of each?
    • Do you think it’s realistic for us to try and use just one energy resource? What might be the benefit of using multiple resources? What might be the challenges?
    • How does knowing the pros and cons of each energy source relate back to our essential question: How can we be stewards of Wyoming’s minerals and energy to benefit current and future generations?
  9. After giving the small groups 5-10 minutes to discuss these questions, bring the whole class together to discuss the last two questions. Use the discussion as an opportunity to reinforce the complexity of the industries and of making stewardship decisions regarding the industries. Ask:
    • Do you think it’s realistic for us to try and use just one energy resource? What might be the benefit of using multiple resources? What might be the challenges?
    • How does knowing the pros and cons of each energy source relate back to our essential question: How can we be stewards of Wyoming’s minerals and energy to benefit current and future generations?
  10. Ask students to reflect on the lesson using one of the following options:
    • Create a poster for students to post a sticky note with their “ah-ha” statements or take away messages. OR
    • Use the app “Padlet” (a sample padlet is set up here: https://padlet.com/andreahayden97/eak0hrl7ltk0 password: energy). Once all students have posted their thoughts, you can print off the padlet and have a hard copy to post in the classroom, use as student notes, use for teacher assessment info, etc.

Possible extension activities:

  1. “Power Up” from NASA: climatekids.nasa.gov/power-up/. (source 16) This is a game where students are given the challenge of powering a city given a certain amount of money. They can try out different strategies. Teachers can instruct students to use different constraints (choose the cheapest, the most environmentally friendly, etc.) and then compare and contrast the outcomes.
  2. Have students view “From Fossil Fuels to Renewables” a video made by a Wyoming high school student that was a national winner in C-SPAN’s 2017 Student-Cam competition. It features Governor Mead, Senator Enzi, and a number of Wyoming scientists discussing energy in Wyoming. Video length 7 minutes 43 seconds. https://www.c- span.org/video/?426777-1/fossil-fuels-renewables (source 17)


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  2. Petroleum Association of Wyoming. (2016). Wyoming Oil and Gas Facts and Figures (Publication). Retrieved July 8, 2017, from http://www.pawyo.org/images/2016_PAW_Facts_and_Figures_Brochure.pdf
  3. The NEED Project. (2016). Elementary Energy InfoBook (Publication). Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.need.org/files/curriculum/guides/Elementary%20Energy%20Infobook.pdf
  4. Wyoming Mining Association. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2017, from https://www.wyomingmining.org/
  5. WorldNuclearAssociation.(2016,May).SafetyofNuclearPower Reactors. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/safety-of-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx
  6. Koontz, R. Kids Discover. (2015, April 13). What’s Good and What’s Bad about Wind Energy? Retrieved June 27, 2017, from https://www.kidsdiscover.com/teacherresources/whats-good-whats-bad-wind-energy/
  7. Student Energy. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2017, from https://www.studentenergy.org/
  8. Rutherford,J.Student Energy.(n.d.).Natural Gas.Retrieved June27, 2017, from https://www.studentenergy.org/topics/natural-gas?gclid=Cj0KEQjwh428BRCnvcyI-5nqjY4BEiQAijebwpbhLABqr5r1qBMEN_bwTXPk4VFni3QX_GZzC3JjHkAaAuED8P8HAQ
  9. Hammons, L., & Biondolillo, C. Wyoming Public Media. (2013, February 4). Yellowstone’s new hydroelectric plant is up and running. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/yellowstones-new-hydroelectric-plant-and-running
  10. U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA. (2017, April 18). FAQs: What is U.S.electricity generation by energy source? Retrieved June 27, 2017, from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3
  11. U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA. (2017, May 10). FAQs: How much of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are associated with electricity generation? Retrieved June 26, 2017, from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=77&t=11
  12. U.S.EnergyInformationAdministration-EIA.(2016,March).Trendsin U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Upstream Costs (Rep.). Retrieved July 8, 2017 from https://www.eia.gov/analysis/studies/drilling/pdf/upstream.pdf
  13. Official Nebraska Government Website.(2017,April27).Wind Facilities Installed Capacity by State. Retrieved July 9, 2017, from http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/205.htm
  14. America Wind Energy Association.(2012,October).Economicand Environmental Benefits. Retrieved July 9, 2017, from http://www.neo.ne.gov/renew/NebraskaWind.pdf
  15. Windustry. (2011-2012). How Much Do Wind Turbines Cost? Retrieved July 9, 2017, from http://www.windustry.org/how_much_do_wind_turbines_cost
  16. USA.Gov-NASA. (2017, June 28). Play Power Up. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from climatekids.nasa.gov/power-up/
  17. C-Span. (2017, April 1). C-Span’s Student Cam 2017: Fossil Fuels to Renewable. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from https://www.c-span.org/video/?426777-1/fossil-fuels-renewables