Grade 6-8

Cost/Benefit Analysis:Three Gorges Dam

Updated: July 14 2015,
Author: Joyce Zimmer

This lesson will allow students to evaluate the costs/benefits of the Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River in China. The purpose of this lesson is to encourage students to look at a complex issue from differing viewpoints and to reach a decision on its merits after examining multiple points of view


China beachWithin the next seven years, life along the Yangtze River in China will change. Millions of people will be displaced. Ancient artifacts will disappear and the environment will be altered forever. At the same time, however the Chinese will increase their capacity to produce electrical power in the area, and they will gain new ability to control damaging floods. Also, some say air quality will be improved with the increased use of electrical power. Is this new project an appropriate one for the Chinese to undertake? What are the costs and benefits of this new dam and who is affected by the decision made?

Learning Objectives

  • Explore the issues surrounding the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China.
  • Research this region of the Yangtze river to determine the economic, social, environmental, and cultural impact of this construction project.
  • Evaluate their research data according to differing perspectives using a PMI strategy.
  • Complete a cost/benefit analysis of this project.

Resource List


In groups of four, students will work to research and evaluate this project. Each student will assume one of the four roles listed below. Select your role; then read the information about your role and the perspective you will bring to your group's preliminary decision.



The students are now returning to their original group to share what they have learned. They will need to listen to differing points of view about this project and then discuss/decide how they as a group would vote on this project if they could. Please use the following process:

  1. The students take turns sharing what they have learned. The students will briefly describe their roles and points of view, then share the questions/answers they researched.
  2. Work together to fill out the Group Report Sheet.
  3. Within the small group, vote on the merits of this project. The students will try to reach a consensus, but use majority rule if they must.
  4. The groups will select a reporter who will share this information with the rest of the class at the appropriate time.


I think this activity should take four days to complete.

  • Day One: The teacher would introduce the topic and provide resources about the Three Gorges Dam. The teacher should also make sure students understand that capital resources, like the investment in machinery and new technology, can raise the standard of living for people now and in the future. These resources could be online for the whole group via a computer and projection system. Students would also be familiarized with the roles included in this activity and have an opportunity to meet with their basic jigsaw group.

    • Jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy that enables each student of a group to specialize in one aspect of the learning unit. Students meet with members from other groups who are assigned the same aspect, and after mastering the material, return to the original group and teach the material to the group members.
    • Students are divided into groups and each group member is assigned a section or a portion of the material selected for study. Next, each student meets with the member of other groups who have the same assigned section, forming a new group. This new group learns together, becomes an expert on their portion of the assigned material, and then plans how to teach the material to members of the original groups.
    • Students later return to their original groups, whose members are each now an expert in one of the different areas of the topic being studied, and teach their area of expertise to the other group members.
    • What are the benefits of using a jigsaw approach?

      • builds a depth of knowledge
      • discloses a student's own understanding and resolves misunderstanding
      • builds on conceptual understanding
      • develops teamwork and cooperative working skills
  • Day Two: Students would be online to conduct the research. Then they would fill out the worksheet to prepare for their jigsaw group.
  • Day Three: Jigsaw groups would meet to share information from the various perspectives.
  • Day Four: Allows for a class processing of this activity.


Once the activity is complete and you are ready to have a class discussion (and perhaps a class vote online), you could use questions/activities such as these:

  1. Vote on this project–in class and online

    Take Survey

  2. Use the demographic information presented to compare your vote with the nationwide survey information.
  3. Have the students vote on this project–in class or online
  4. Now discuss with the students why they voted the way they did

    • What were the benefits of this project?
    • What were the costs of this project?
  5. How persuasive were the arguments from the differing perspectives?
  6. What were the weak points from each role's viewpoint?
  7. What caused you to vote the way you did? Which one group or issue became more important to you, causing you to give it more "weight" in your decision. Why or how was it more important?
  8. How should decisions like this be made?
  9. How was this decision in China actually made?


Evaluation tools would be the handouts the students complete within their roles, the handout used by the jigsaw groups to combine and analyze the information from the various roles, and the cost/benefit analysis sheet.