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  • Photo: A river bend in Hungary.

    Students read about a project to dam the Danube River for hydroelectric power and flood control, and the conflicts that surround the project. Then students take on stakeholder roles and imagine they will present their point of view about how the conflict can be solved to the International Court of Justice. They present to their classmates.

    Tips & Modifications


    Have students use the Cornell Note Taking method with the reading passage. Click here to find and download a blank Cornell Note Taking worksheet.


    If possible, start the activity by discussing local water issues and usage, so students can make connections between your local area and the area of the Danube River Basin.


    If students need additional background information on rivers, read aloud the NG Education rivers encyclopedic entry, pp. 1-3, as a class.

    1. Discuss the importance of rivers.

    Display the Physical Map of Europe. Have students identify physical features they observe. Ask: Why might rivers be important physical features? Do you think a river would make a good country border? Why or why not? As a class, brainstorm possible reasons for rivers to be a source of conflict between nations. List students' ideas on the board. Then use the list to discuss positive and negative aspects of sharing resources like rivers.

    2. Have students read about a project to dam the Danube River.

    Distribute copies of the handout The Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project (pronunciation: gob-CHET-ko-vo NAHJ-mo-ra) and the maps The Danube River Including the Gabčíkovo Dam and Major Drainage Basins in Europe to each student. Have students read the passage independently or in pairs, taking note of new vocabulary words and/or any questions they have based on the reading. As they read, students should refer to the maps to identify the locations, borders, and drainage basins mentioned. Project the provided MapMaker Interactive map of the Gabčíkovo Dam at the front of the room and zoom in to locations not shown on the hard copy map. Rotate around the room, providing support to students who wrote questions or identified sections or terms they did not understand.

    3. Create a timeline of events.

    Provide students with a visual of the chronology of the dam project conflict. Draw a timeline on the board and ask students to help complete it with a title, dates, events in the dam project’s history.

    4. Have small groups discuss the reading and answer questions.

    Divide the class into small groups of approximately four students. Distribute one copy of the worksheet Solving the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Conflict to each group. Have each group reread the passage together and complete Part 1 of the worksheet. Review the answers. Then ask:

    • Where is the Danube River in relation to the country borders in the area?
    • Based on the borders, who should control the river? Why?
    • Why would countries downstream from the dam care about the project? Countries upstream? Should they be allowed to help make decisions about the dams? Explain.

    5. Have groups take on stakeholder roles.

    Assign each group only one of the questions in Part 2 of the worksheet. Ask students to be prepared to present their ideas to the class. Provide support, as needed. If possible, have students conduct additional research on the dam and its impacts before they present their answers to the rest of the class, including creating a chart of positive versus negative effects on the aspect of the dam that they explored.

    6. Have groups present their ideas to the class.

    Invite a volunteer from each group to present their group’s ideas to the class, supporting them with facts from the reading. Allow time for classmates to ask the presenting group questions and for the presenting group to defend and/or debate their position. If time allows, encourage groups to make posters to illustrate their positions.

    Informal Assessment

    Write the guiding question on the board and have students write 2-3 paragraphs in response, using any of the information on positive versus negative effects from the class discussion in Step 6 to support their viewpoints.

    Extending the Learning

    Use the BBC video "Glacier Melt Changes Italian Border," which describes how the border between Italy and Switzerland is being redrawn due to climate change, to introduce and discuss the concept of a moveable border.

    Photo: Sunset over a river

    Students select an alternative location for the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Dam that causes less conflict in terms of environmental concerns, shifting borders, and trade.

      50 mins Directions

    1. Have small groups discuss alternative locations for the Gabčíkovo dam.

    Divide students into small groups. Distribute copies of the map The Danube River Including the Gabčíkovo Dam to each small group. Ask groups to look at the map and the location of the disputed dams. Write the following question on the board for groups to discuss and write notes on: Where might a dam be placed that would cause less conflict between countries? Encourage students to address the following issues in their discussion, noting why their location would cause less conflict in terms of each:

    • environmental concerns, including flooding
    • shifting borders due to shifting the course of the river
    • trade and financial concerns about who can collect money from use of the river

    If students have difficulty selecting their own locations, you can suggest the project could be moved south of Budapest, in the center of Hungary. This would place the project in one country only. Ask: Would that solve the issues that people have with the dam? Would it solve the issues that other countries have with the dam? Explain.


    2. Have groups present their new locations to the class.

    Project the same map on the board where the whole class can see it. Ask each group to come up to the board, identify their proposed location, and explain why they chose it. After each group presents, encourage students to ask the presenting group questions about problems with or advantages of their dam locations in terms of the environment, borders, finances, or other impacts. Include in the discussion impacts on stakeholders, such as people who live upstream, farmers who rely on the water for irrigating their crops, and people who make a living fishing.

    Informal Assessment

    Assess students either on their site selection and reasoning, or on the questions that they ask of their classmates.

    Extending the Learning

    Have students research the use of rivers in their own region or state. Or, give students national or international examples to research, such as the Hoover Dam bordering Arizona and Nevada, dams on the Columbia River in Washington state, the Three Gorges Dam in the People’s Republic of China, or the Aswan Dam in Egypt. Ask students to find the answers to these questions:

    • What dams or other modifications have been built on the local rivers?
    • What impacts did this have on the river? On the community?
    • Was the action controversial? Why or why not?
  • Subjects & Disciplines


    Students will:

    • analyze environmental, political, and other issues that surround the building and maintenance of dams on shared rivers
    • explore how country borders can add complexity to decisions surrounding dams and other uses of natural resources
    • describe a case study of a dam and explain its impacts on several countries along the Danube River

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Brainstorming
    • Cooperative learning
    • Discussions
    • Hands-on learning
    • Reading
    • Visual instruction

    Skills Summary

    This lesson targets the following skills:

    Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

      National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards

      • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
      • Theme 3: People, Places, and Environments
      • Theme 8: Science, Technology, and Society

      National Geography Standards

      • Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
      • Standard 13: How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface
      • Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment
      • Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources

      ISTE Standards for Students (ISTE Standards*S)

      • Standard 2: Communication and Collaboration
      • Standard 4: Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • What You’ll Need

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Internet access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector

    Physical Space

    • Classroom


    • None


    • Large-group instruction
    • Small-group instruction

    Accessibility Notes

    • None
  • Background Information

    Rivers have long been sources of transportation, food, and water. Today, the world's rivers contain a vast network of levees, dams, and locks to control water and harness its potential. Students' misconceptions often include thinking that all rivers flow from the north to the south. In fact, river flow is entirely dependent upon the gradient of the riverbed. Thus, rivers move from high (upstream) to low (downstream). Rivers are dynamic, or constantly changing. The flow of a river, and the amount of water in a river, changes. The form or shape of a river also changes. Rivers shift their course naturally, but sometimes people deliberately change the shape or course of a river in order to prevent flooding or harness hydroelectric power, such as on the Danube River.


    The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga River in Russia. Its source lies in the Black Forest mountains of western Germany; it flows for approximately 2,850 kilometers (1,770 miles) to its mouth at the Black Sea. The Danube has approximately 300 tributaries. The river basin covers about 47,000 square kilometers (18,000 square miles).Most of the major river basins of Europe exist within more than one country. Along its course, the Danube passes through nine countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine. The Danube River has had a critical role in the history of Europe, as it has been used as a boundary, a trade route, a source of hydroelectric power, a source of residential water, and a major economic influence.


    Prior Knowledge

    • Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros project to dam the Danube River

    Recommended Prior Lessons

    • None


    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    border Noun

    natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'border'}
    canal Noun

    artificial waterway.

    capital Noun

    city where a region's government is located.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'capital'}
    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'coast'}
    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    country Noun

    geographic territory with a distinct name, flag, population, boundaries, and government.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'crop'}
    dam Noun

    structure built across a river or other waterway to control the flow of water.

    downstream Noun

    in the direction of a flow, toward its end.

    drainage basin Noun

    an entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries. Also called a watershed.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'ecosystem'}
    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    flood Noun

    overflow of a body of water onto land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'flood'}
    flood plain Noun

    flat area alongside a stream or river that is subject to flooding.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'flood-plain'}
    freshwater Noun

    water that is not salty.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'habitat'}
    hydroelectric power Noun

    usable energy generated by moving water converted to electricity.

    location Noun

    position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'location'}
    nation Noun

    political unit made of people who share a common territory.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'nation'}
    physical features Noun

    naturally occurring geographic characteristics.

    pollution Noun

    introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'pollution'}
    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'region'}
    reservoir Noun

    natural or man-made lake.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'reservoir'}
    river Noun

    large stream of flowing fresh water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'river'}
    silt Noun

    small sediment particles.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'silt'}
    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    tributary Noun

    stream that feeds, or flows, into a larger stream.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'tributary'}
    upstream Adjective

    toward an elevated part of a flow of fluid, or place where the fluid passed earlier.

    wetland Noun

    area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: {'slug': u'wetland'}