Mitigation or Adaptation?

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Students use a card sort activity to explore different actions we can take to reduce the risks of climate change and learn to recognize different types of climate solutions: mitigations and adaptations.

Learning Goals

  • Students will consider risks due to climate change.
  • Students will learn to distinguish between mitigation and adaptation actions as climate solutions.
  • Students will explore several current climate solutions.
  • Students will make connections between their own ideas about climate actions and those that currently exist.


  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Class time: One 50-minute class period for the activity

Educational Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

  • MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
  • MS-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.



  • Print and cut enough sets of the card sort materials - Climate Solutions Cards and Column Titles - (each set is two pages) for students to work in pairs. If possible, laminate the cards and column headings so they can be used more than once.
  • Read through the Climate Solutions Card Sort - Teacher Key to prepare for the card sort activity with your students. The key provides explanations for how each solution reduces climate change risks.
  • Students should have some understanding of sources of greenhouse gas emissions and the role of the greenhouse effect in climate warming before beginning this activity. Plan to introduce these topics beforehand if necessary.


Introduction: What can we do to reduce the risks of climate change? (15 minutes)

  1. Tell students that today's lesson will be about climate solutions, which are the actions that reduce the risks of climate change.
  2. Share that the climate is changing, that it has already warmed 1 °C since the 1800s, largely as a result of burning fossil fuels and other human activities. Climate change is causing risks that increase as the amount of warming increases.
  3. Project the World Wildlife Fund Climate Risks Infographic, which shows risks under two different warming scenarios. Tell students that scientists, as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have set a goal to limit warming to no more than 2 °C, with an even better outcome if we limit warming to 1.5 °C.
    • Ask students to share observations about the infographic. What do you notice? What do you wonder about?
    • Discuss how risks change as the amount of warming increases and how these changes might affect people living in different parts of the world.
  4. Pass out sticky notes and pens/pencils. Ask students to brainstorm ideas for solutions to the problems shown in the infographic. Tell them to think about what we could do to reduce the risks caused by global warming.
    • Students should write one solution per sticky note.
    • Consider having students brainstorm and write their sticky notes in pairs.
    • Give them enough time to write two to three different solutions.
  5. Have students post their solutions on the board or chart paper. As a class, decide how to sort the sticky notes, perhaps putting all the solutions that address the same risk together.

Categorizing Actions: Mitigation and Adaptation Card Sort (25 minutes)

  1. Tell students that the actions to reduce the risks of climate change fall into two different categories: mitigation and adaptation.
  2. Introduce the definitions of mitigation & adaptation. Post the definitions for students to reference during the card sort activity.
    • Mitigation: Taking action to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Adaptation: Making changes to reduce your vulnerability to the harmful impacts of climate change.
  3. Share a brief example of a mitigation action and an adaptation action (students will explore more examples during the card sort activity).
  4. Pass out a set of the Climate Solutions Cards to each pair of students. Tell them that these cards contain examples of actions people can take to address climate change.
    • They should spread the cards out in front of them on a table, placing the column headings (Adaptation, Mitigation, and Both) across the top of their workspace.
    • Tell students to read each card and decide which heading it should be placed under.
      • Encourage students to engage in discussion with their partner as they sort the cards - explain to each other why they think the card goes in one category versus the other.
      • Tell students to discuss how the solution on each card will reduce risks associated with climate change.
      • If your students are unfamiliar with this discussion style, provide prompts as scaffolds, such as the Sharing and Building Upon Each Others’ Ideas prompts from STEM Teaching Tools.
  5. Have students compare their card sort to others around them. Again, have students focus on discussing with each other to justify their choices.
    • Encourage students to revise their card sort as needed based on new ideas that emerge during their discussions.
  6. Come back together as a whole class and make sure that everyone has a clear understanding about the difference between adaptation and mitigation. You might ask students to explain their thinking about how a particular solution reduces risks.
    • Use the Climate Solutions Card Sort - Teacher Key to provide further explanation about how the solutions on the cards reduce the risks of climate change, as needed.
  7. Now, introduce the idea of scale - not all solutions can be implemented by individuals. Ask students to think about what actions could be done as individuals versus which actions could be done as a larger community (at the city, state, or national level). Ask students to re-order their cards, keeping them in the same category/column but placing them in order of scale. The actions that they think individuals can take should be placed at the top, and the actions they think larger communities can take should be placed at the bottom.
    • Again, encourage students to discuss with their partner as they re-sort the cards - explaining to each other why the action is best at the larger community level or the individual level, or perhaps why the solution works well with both, and how to represent that in their sorting.
    • Share out, asking students to explain their rankings.

Wrapping Up: How do my solutions compare? (10 minutes)

  1. Return to the solutions that students suggested at the beginning of the class period. Now that we know about mitigation and adaptation, ask students to sort their sticky notes into either mitigation or adaptation groups.
  2. Hold a discussion, asking students to make comparisons between the solutions they suggested and those on the cards. Discuss whether there seem to be more adaptation or mitigation solutions suggested, and if so, why might that be. Is one type of solution more important than the other? Is one easier than the other?
    • Reinforce the idea that both mitigation and adaptation solutions are necessary to reduce the risks associated with climate change. Each community will need to take different actions depending on their resources and needs.


As an exit ticket, have students record one example of a mitigation action and an adaptation action that they think could be helpful for their community. Have students explain specifically how the actions would help their community to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) or reduce vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change (adaptation).



Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the Sun in the atmosphere and is causing the climate to warm through the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been increasing over the past 150 years due to human activity, such as burning fossil fuels for transportation and generating electricity. The warming climate is negatively impacting the Earth’s systems in many ways. To slow climate warming, solutions are needed that both stop the addition of new greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and remove greenhouse gases that are already there. Because climate warming is already causing change, we must also invest in solutions that help people to adapt to these changes in ways that keep us safe.

Climate Change Mitigation

Mitigation efforts will both slow down how quickly carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere and help to remove carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere. There are many different strategies to mitigate climate change, including the following: moving away from the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity and transportation, increasing energy efficiency, eating lower on the food chain, and increasing ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as by reforestation.

Climate Change Adaptation

Actions that make people and places less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are called adaptations. These actions are needed on the individual, community, and even global levels. Adaptation efforts can be challenging to implement, but because the climate is already changing, it is important to find ways to decrease the negative effects on people and environments. Examples of adaptations include planting crops that are drought resistant, building water storage systems, constructing buildings to withstand severe weather, and investing in health and education.

About the Climate Solutions Cards

The climate solutions cards contain examples of current actions people and communities are taking to mitigate or adapt to climate change. These solutions could provide a springboard for rich discussions with students about climate change impacts, challenges to implementing solutions, or equity and social justice. The links below provide, in many cases, the source material for the examples used on the climate solution cards.

Related Resources

Teaching about Adaptation & Mitigation: CLEAN Library - Humans Can Take Actions to Reduce Climate Change and Its Impacts


This activity was developed by Melissa Rummel at the UCAR Center for Science Education.