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Roots of Terrorism
teachers guide

Classroom Activities

Activity 8: Debates, Discussion Questions, and Writing Prompts

  • Strategies for Discussion
  • Program Descriptions
  • Credits and Acknowledgments

  • Background
  • Key Events
  • Select Individuals by Program
  • Key Organizations
  • Maps of the Region
  • Country Briefings
  • "Basic Facts About Islam"

  • Classroom Activities
  • Activity 1: Roots of Hatred
  • Activity 2: Defining Terrorism
  • Activity 3: Defining an Ally
  • Activity 4: Views of bin Laden
  • Activity 5: U.N. Simulations
  • Activity 6: Making Connections
  • Activity 7: Media and Perception
  • Activity 8: Debates, Discussion Questions, and Writing Prompts
  • Activity 9: How Are You Being Represented?

  • Resources
    Where to go on the Web for more information

    These activities can be used with any of the FRONTLINE programs, though several of the items are especially recommended for a particular program, as noted.

    These activities will provide students an opportunity to:

    • Explore a variety of issues related to modern-day terrorism and U.S. responses.

    • Practice persuasive writing, narrative writing, public speaking, and debating skills.


    After students watch the program(s), use the following questions to facilitate discussion and to explore a variety of issues.

    • At the beginning of "Target America," host Bill Moyers asks: Who and what were the forces that led to the attack on Sept. 11? How did Americans fail to understand the threat? How should we, as a country, respond to terrorism?

    • At the end of "Hunting bin Laden," host Bill Moyers asks: How do we bring the guilty to justice without making them martyrs? How do we distinguish the terrorists from those who share their culture but not their cause?

    • If the U.S. withdrew its troops from Saudi Arabia tomorrow, would the terrorist threat end? Why or why not?

    • If the Palestinians were granted a state tomorrow, would the terrorist threat end? Why or why not?

    • If the U.S. finds and incarcerates or kills Osama bin Laden, would the terrorist threat end? Why or why not? (This is specially recommended for use with "Hunting bin Laden" or "Looking for Answers.")

    • Should the CIA have been able to prevent the attacks on Sept. 11? If so, how? How far should the CIA go to prevent terrorism? Can they use assassination? Bombing raids? Should they be allowed to organize protests to undermine validly elected governments? What are the broader consequences of such methods? (This is especially recommended for use with "Looking for Answers.")

    • Given that 15 of 19 perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks were Saudi, should the U.S. go to war against Saudi Arabia? Why didn't the U.S. go to war against Saudi Arabia? (This is especially recommended for use with "Saudi Time Bomb?")

    • Is the use of military force the only way to prevent terrorism? What are the other possible alternatives? Which strategy is best and why? (This is especially recommended for use with "Target America," but will work with any of the programs.)

    • Imagine that you are a 19-year-old Pakistani man who has decided to become part of Al Qaeda and is leaving home to attend one of Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan. Write a letter to your parents explaining your decision. (For background, see the "Journey of Haroun Fazul" on the FRONTLINE website for "Saudi Time Bomb?" and the FRONTLINE program "Trail of a Terrorist.")

    Related Web Materials

    FRONTLINE: Roots of Terrorism
    Includes extended interviews, corollary readings, recommended links and resources, and transcripts that could be helpful for debate or writing assignment preparation.

    National Commission on Terrorism Report
    The Federation of American Scientists website contains the full text of the June 2000 report of the National Commission on Terrorism. The report outlines the perceived sources of danger to Americans, including weaknesses in U.S. preparedness to deal with terrorist attacks. It also makes specific (and controversial) recommendations for anti-terrorism measures.

    American Civil Liberties Union
    Contains background information on issues related to tensions between government power and individual liberties in the context of ensuring national security and responding to terrorism.

    You may also want to have students check the websites of their local newspapers to find related opinions from their community.

    Related Curriculum Standards

    14. Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life

    22. Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy

    23. Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations

    6. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions

    Language arts
    1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

    2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

    3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions

    4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

    7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

    8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

    9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

    Thinking and reasoning
    1. Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument

    2. Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning

    3. Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences

    5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques

    6. Applies decision-making techniques

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