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Lessons Learned from the Three Gorges Dam

Essential Purpose

This module provides students with a case study of a major human modification to the environment, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China. Many of the important issues facing modern society are the consequence – whether intended or unintended – of human modifications to the physical environment. Environmental modifications have economic, cultural, and political implications for most of the world’s people, and therefore it is important for students to understand the reasons for and the consequences of human modifications to the environment. The goal of this module is to have students analyze of the costs, benefits, and impacts of the Three Gorges Dam.

The Yangtze River

National Geography Standards

The Geographically Informed Person knows and understands:

Places and Regions

  • Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of places

Environment and Society

  • Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment
  • How physical systems affect human systems

The Uses of Geography

  • Standard 18: To apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future

State/Local Standards

States should align these modules to their own state/local standards as appropriate.

Essential Questions

  • Why do humans modify their environment?
  • What are the physical and human characteristics of dams?
  • How do physical changes affect human systems?

Essential Content

Places, Regions, Locations

    • Human Characteristics of Places
    • Physical Characteristics of Places
    • Places change

Physical Systems

    • Environment

Human Systems

    • Development
    • Economic Impact
    • Land Use
    • Transportation System

Environment and Society

    • Environmental Impact
    • Human-Environmental Interactions
    • Technological Change

Essential Skills

  • Geography Skills
    1. Asking Geographic Questions
    2. Acquiring Geographic Information
    3. Organizing Geographic Information
    4. Analyzing Geographic Information
    5. Answering Geographic Questions
  • Issues analysis
    1. Taking a position
    2. Gathering, organizing, and interpreting information related to the position taken
    3. Presenting conclusions to those with both similar and different positions
    4. Analyzing each position and making a decision
    5. Writing a justification

Summative Assessment

This summative assessment and scoring guide should be reviewed with students prior to using the activities in the module. Students should do the assessment after the activities have been completed.

Essential question addressed in the assessment:

  • How do physical changes affect human systems?

Printable Student View

Prior Knowledge
Criteria for an Exemplary Response
Now that you have learned about why people build dams; have studied the cultural, economic, and environmental issues involved in the distribution of water; and understand that developing nation’s perspectives are not necessarily shared by other nations, you are ready to think about the advantages and disadvantages building a dam such as the Three Gorges Dam.

The World Commission on Dams, a commission created by the World Bank, has been asked to review some major dam projects from around the world. The Three Gorges Dam (TGD) on the Yangtze River is the focus of one of the case studies and will be reviewed for the social, economic and environmental costs and benefits. The commission plans to investigate the pros and cons of building the TGD.

Read the Letter of Invitation. You are requested to play the role of a member of the World Commission on Dams.

In this capacity, you must submit your findings in the following format:

  • An overview of the economic, cultural, and environmental advantages and disadvantages of building this dam based on information presented along with knowledge learned prior to this assessment.
  • What were the cost, benefits, and impacts of building this dam.
  • A recommendation with valid reasoning and issue analysis regarding if this was an effective project given today’s views.

Keep in mind that you need to show evidence of your knowledge of the general political, social, and economic situation concerning the Three Gorges Dam as well as previous information already learned in class readings about the positive and negative impacts.

Scoring Guide

Updated December 31, 2019 10:13am