2 hrs
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.


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.

50 mins
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.


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:

  • describe a case study of a dam and explain its impacts on several countries along the Danube River
  • 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

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 SocietyNational 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 resourcesISTE 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



natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.


artificial waterway.


city where a region's government is located.


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


a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.


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


agricultural produce.


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


in the direction of a flow, toward its end.

drainage basin

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


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


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


conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.


overflow of a body of water onto land.


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


water that is not salty.


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

hydroelectric power

usable energy generated by moving water converted to electricity.


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


political unit made of people who share a common territory.

physical features

naturally occurring geographic characteristics.


introduction of harmful materials into the environment.


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


natural or man-made lake.


large stream of flowing fresh water.


small sediment particles.


buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.


movement of people or goods from one place to another.


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


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


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