Ethical Dilemma Scenario Activities

It is important to learn how to think through ethical dilemmas.
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Ethics concentrate on the ability of the person to determine right from wrong, and to consistently evaluate his or her ethics in relation to actions and decision-making. In almost every facet of business, education, medicine and public service ethics is an important factor. Therefore, developing ethical dilemma scenarios in the classroom builds ethical decision-making practices to be applied in the professional world.

1 Analyzing the Past

Have an open discussion and encourage participation.
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There are numerous periods in world history that have had outcomes based on ethical decision making. Whether the outcome was positive or negative, these instances provide a foundation for students to analyze ethical decision-making and learn from it.

Step 1: Select a moment of historical significance that would interest the students in the classroom and that is grade level appropriate. Some examples might be the German social order and Hitler’s rise to power, or the 2009 economic crisis in the United States.

Step 2: Present the facts of the historical period that pertain to the main participants in the issue. For example, in Hitler’s rise to power the class can be presented with facts about the issues that plagued German society and the social classes during that time. Those facts would demonstrate society’s willingness to support his eventual control over the social order.

Step 3: Now discuss with the class what the ethical turning points were at the particular time in history in which one person, or group of people, made a right or wrong ethical decision and why. Allow the students to discover these ethical turning points.

Step 4: Encourage the students to hypothesis about how the outcome of the event might have been altered if ethical standards had been applied differently.

Step 5: Give the students an opportunity to make their own ethical decisions. Pick another time in history that the students have yet to learn about and focus on a particular event, giving the students only the information pertaining to two opposing sides that lead to an ethical decision. Divide the class into groups, and each group in half: one half for one side of the event and the other half for the opposite side. Have the students work in the groups to come up with their own ethical decision. Openly discuss these decisions in class and how the students' decision might have altered history.

2 Role Playing

Role playing is an effective learning tool.
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The simplest method of using role-playing in relation to ethics is through presenting the students with a dilemma and having them act it out.

Step 1: Describe situations between two people in which an ethical decision must be made in a sentence short enough to fit on a strip of paper. Place the strips in a hat or box.

Step 2: Have two students at a time draw a slip of paper from the hat or box and decide who will oppose the situation and who will be for it.

Step 3: Have the students act out the situation through improvisation, consistently focusing on ethics as their primary concern. The improvisation is complete only when both students have reached an ethical decision that is beneficial to both sides.

Patrice Lesco has been a writer since 2001. Also a certified teacher, she writes for newspapers, magazines, books, theater and film. Lesco holds a Master of Fine Arts in theater from Michigan State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in education and theater from Methodist College.