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This lesson provided by:
Author:Kelly Morton
System: Blount County
School: Cleveland High School
Lesson Plan ID: 23991

The Tragedy of the Commons


Tragedy of the Commons is the mind set: "If I don't use the resources then someone else will." This is a simulation that allows students to explore how the common usage of a potentially renewable resource can lead to its exploitation. Students will complete an activity, a data sheet, an analysis of the data, and a comparison of this problem to a local environmental issue. Students will pose solutions to this problem.
This lesson plan was created as a result of the Girls Engaged in Math and Science, GEMS Project, funded by the Malone Family Foundation.

Content Standard(s):
SC(9-12) Environmental Elective1. Identify the influence of human population, technology, and cultural and industrial changes on the environment.
SC(9-12) Environmental Elective9. Describe land-use practices that promote sustainability and economic growth.
SC(9-12) Environmental Elective12. Identify positive and negative effects of human activities on biodiversity.
TC2(9-12) Computer Applications5. Utilize advanced features of spreadsheet software, including creating charts and graphs, sorting and filtering data, creating formulas, and applying functions.
TC2(9-12) Computer Applications7. Utilize advanced features of database software, including merging data, sorting, filtering, querying, and creating reports.
Local/National Standards:

National Science Education Standards:
TEACHING STANDARD A: Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program for their students.
TEACHING STANDARD B: Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning.
TEACHING STANDARD D: Teachers of science design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science.
TEACHING STANDARD E: Teachers of science develop communities of science learners that reflect the intellectual rigor of scientific inquiry and the attitudes and social values conducive to science learning.

Primary Learning Objective(s):

Understand the conditions that lead to a "tragedy of the commons". Learn and implement strategies that prevent the destruction of a common resource.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

Apply these strategies to local or global environmental issues and suggest solutions.

Approximate Duration of the Lesson: Greater than 120 Minutes
Materials and Equipment:

Plain M & M's or Skittles; plastic cups RED (1 per group); plastic cups BLUE (1 per student); straw (1 per student); data table (see attachment tragedy of the commons.doc)

Technology Resources Needed:

Computer with Internet resources, word processing software, and presentation software


This activity is best introduced with little background to the "tragedy of the commons" so students can learn the concept through this activity (see article in introduction). Students need a basic knowledge of Internet use, presentation software, and word processing software.

1.)Students are given a lab sheet (see attachment tragedy of the commons.doc).

2.)ROUND 1: Students need to be divided into groups of four. Each person represents the head of a household that must be fed. The only food source is a small pond that can only hold 16 fish. The pond begins with 16 fish and is adjusted after each round. After each round of fishing, the fish will double in number (spontaneous reproduction). Each head of the household can take as many fish as they want, but must take more than one to keep their family alive. Each head of the household can only fish for 30 seconds at a time.

3.)The red cup is the common pond. The straw is the fishing pole. The student sucks in the straw until they think they have a fish, then they take the fish off the straw (pole). The M&Ms or Skittles are the fish. The pond should be taken to the teacher after each round of fish so it can "reproduce". (Remember, each fish can double, therefore, 3 fish become 6, 6 fish become 12, etc.)

4.)Each round of fishing, the order should be rotated so that each head of the household gets to go first.

5.)There is to be no talking during this round. The students are not permitted to look in the pond in this round.

6.)There will be 3 rounds of fishing.

7.)Complete the data table (see attachment tragedy of the commons.doc) after each round of fishing.

8.)ROUND 2: In this round there will be the commons pond (red cup - same rules as last time) and a private pond (blue cup - one pond per student). The students can talk in this round and look in the pond while they are fishing. It will be possible to see how many fish are available at all times. The private pond has a capacity for only 4 fish. The common pond still begins with 16 fish. You must take at least one fish from each pond each round. You may remove as many fish as you wish from each pond, as before. The ponds will reproduce (take to teacher - same as last round) after each round.

9.)Complete the data table (see attachment tragedy of the common.doc) after each round of fishing.

10.)Upon completion of round 2 students should answer questions in the analysis section of lab sheet (see attachment tragedy of the commons.doc).

11.)Students should choose an environmental management issue where "tragedy of the commons" is relevant. This should be presented to the class in the form of a brochure, PowerPoint, or mock newscast.

12.)Lab is graded for correctness.

13.)Presentation is graded according to rubric (see attachment tragedy rubric.xls)
Allows you to create your own rubric to meet your criteria.

Attachments:**Some files will display in a new window. Others will prompt you to download. tragedy rubric.xls
tragedy of the commons.doc
Assessment Strategies:

Students will be graded according to correct answers on their lab sheets. Students' presentations will be graded using the rubric (see attachment: tragedy rubric.xls).


Students who finish and are interested in the topic can use Google Earth to make a layer of locations in the US where this happening. They could extend this to the world. This could be extended throughout the year. These students could also serve as peer helpers.


Students may be required to answer fewer questions or have the assistance of group members.

Each area below is a direct link to general teaching strategies/classroom accommodations for students with identified learning and/or behavior problems such as: reading or math performance below grade level; test or classroom assignments/quizzes at a failing level; failure to complete assignments independently; difficulty with short-term memory, abstract concepts, staying on task, or following directions; poor peer interaction or temper tantrums, and other learning or behavior problems.

Presentation of Material Environment
Time Demands Materials
Attention Using Groups and Peers
Assisting the Reluctant Starter Dealing with Inappropriate Behavior

Be sure to check the student's IEP for specific accommodations.
Variations Submitted by ALEX Users:
Alabama Virtual Library
Alabama Virtual Library

Hosted by Alabama Supercomputer Authority
The University of Alabama at Birmingham
The University of Alabama at Birmingham
The Malone Family Foundation
The Malone Family Foundation
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