Burning Issues

Activity Source: 

Learning Outcomes

Students will become familiar with fire terminology, realize how fire can be used as a management tool, and better understand the factors that need to be considered when planning a prescribed burn.


In this activity the students will form opinions around fire management issues. They will then work in small groups to get more information around the issues and make a more informed decision.

Activity Information

Skills: problem solving, critical analysis, decision making
Duration: one hour
Group Size: any size
Setting: indoors
Materials: four index cards for each student, copies of the background information sheets for survey questions one and two (see below), coloured markers


The following questions are designed to help students understand and explain different types of human perspectives related to fire management issues. They will formulate informed judgments about what they think would be the most responsible and appropriate actions to take. There are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers. Teachers are encouraged to have students do additional research so that decisions are based on the best factual information available.


A. The original opinions

  1. Give each student a coloured marker and four index cards. Have the students write a letter on each card (A- D) which will correspond to the opinions listed below. On the board write the following information:

    A - Definite NO
    B - Uncertain NO
    C - Uncertain YES
    D - Definite YES

  2. Read aloud each "Survey Question'to the entire class. Ask students to think about the question and choose an "opinion letter.'When the class is ready, have students hold up their index cards with the letter facing you. For each question, tally the results and record the number of students choosing each of the four opinions on' the board. Ask several students why they chose the opinion they did. (You may choose to have the students make bar graphs representing the class's original opinion for each question)

Survey Questions:

Question #1 Should fires in the forest, both natural and human-caused, be put out?

Question #2 Is prescribed burning a good idea?

B. The Informed Decisions

  1. Divide the class into four groups (two for each survey question). Give each group a copy of the Background Information Sheet for their question.
  2. Groups are to read their Background Information Sheet. Students may further research newspaper and magazine articles or talk to local experts and fire agency people. After considering all the information and sides of the issue, the group will then formulate an informed group decision. Have students use the tables to summarize the information they collect on the question.
  3. 3. Have each group present their findings and their informed decision to the class. The class is encouraged to ask questions. After each group's presentation, each student in the class will make their own informed decision about the question. Have the students hold up an index card containing the letter corresponding to their decision. The class-informed decision is tallied and new bar graphs may be drawn.
  4. 4. How many students changed their opinion after they learned more about the issue? Discuss with students why their opinions may have changed.


Compare the original opinions and informed decisions. Discuss the importance of learning about all sides of an issue before making a decision or forming an opinion. Opinions and decisions are based on available information, which may or may not be complete or accurate. How can the public get the information they need to make informed decisions? Discuss the need to be open to new information.


Have students create an informational brochure which explains prescribed burns, giving examples of where fire might be used as a management tool and listing factors which might affect the use of fire as a tool. Have students do the Fire Vocabulary exercise.


Focus on Forests, Intermediate/Senior, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Wildfires: Should we let them burn or put them out?, National Geographic World, v (177), May, 1990 pg. 10

Wildfire: it's a hot topic, National Geographic World, v (169), Sept. 1989 pp. 26-31 The Book of Fire, by William H. Cottrell Jr.; ISBN 0-87842-255-2