Lesson Plan Title : Comparing Oil Spills

Age Range: Grade 9 through Grade 12 (High School)

Overview and Purpose: Oil spills have devastating consequences, both for the environment and for communities. In this lesson, students compare the Exxon Valdez spill with the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They look at similarities and differences in the way it happened, how it was contained, and how long it took (or will take) to repair the damage.

Objective: The student will be able to compare and contrast similarities and differences between the BP oil spill in the Gulf and the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.


Internet access for students

Map of Alaska

Map of Gulf coast


Start the lesson by asking students to name as many facts about the Gulf coast oil spill as they can. Ask who has heard the of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. If anyone has ask them what they know. Give the students a brief history of the Valdez spill. If possible show some news clips from that time.

Have students work in pairs (or alone) to investigate any similarities between both spills. Ask them to look at amount of oil spilled, effect on the ecosystems, cost of clean-up, media coverage, and public outcry.

They can organize their data in any of several ways. They can create a PowerPoint presentation or a poster size chart, write a report or give one orally.

Wrap Up:

An extension of this activity could be for students to analyze whether any lessons were learned from the Valdez spill that helped contain the devastation of the spill in the Gulf. The damage to the Gulf will take years to repair. Teaching students now the effects such industrial accidents have on our lives and ecosystems can help prevent them in the future.