Sinking island

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati recently announced its purchase of land in mountainous Fiji for its population to move to when sea level rises make life on its own low-lying islands impossible. In this activity students use data to predict sea level rises, including uncertainties, and decide whether humans are to blame for climate change. If humans are to blame, then should the biggest polluters pay for land for vulnerable islanders to escape to?

Learning objectives

  • Apply knowledge about climate change to explain rising sea levels
  • Make a prediction about rising sea levels and estimate the uncertainty in their prediction
  • Evaluate evidence to decide whether humans are to blame for climate change

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Curriculum link

England National Curriculum KS3:

  • Working Scientifically: Analysis and evaluation – evaluate data showing awareness of potential sources of random and systematic error.
  • Chemistry: Earth and atmosphere – the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the impact on climate.

GCSE Combined Science subject content:

  • Working Scientifically: Analysis and evaluation – representing distributions of results and make estimations of uncertainty.
  • Chemistry: Earth and atmospheric science – carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.


This activity can be run in 30 minutes or  be extended to 50 mins.

Running the activity

Starter Discover that Kiribati has bought land for its islanders to escape to. Explain rising sea levels.
Core task Make predictions about rising sea levels in Kiribati.
Plenary Discuss the impact of rising sea levels on the people of Kiribati.
Extension Evaluate evidence to decide whether humans are to blame for climate change.
Plenary Vote on whether climate culprits should buy land for vulnerable islanders to escape to.
For detailed running notes, download the teachers guide.


Kiribati video

Video outlining the challenges faced by Kiribati as a result of rising sea levels.

Newspaper article

Recent article about Kiribati’s purchase of land in mountainous Fiji for vulnerable islanders to escape to when the time comes.

Pictures of life on Kiribati

Pictures about life on the islands.

Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC)

Useful teacher background and student extension materials. See, for example, the summaries for policy makers.

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  • fstanyer says:

    Great activity

    My year 10 class were really engaged throughout this activity; they were even debating it as they left my classroom. They worked in groups and were each assigned different roles which made the tasks flow even smoother. Fantastic resource which I will be recommending to my whole department!

  • ngraham11 says:

    Great activity

    I have yet to download an activity with which I was disappointed. Pupils need a mixture of teaching styles and these activities play a major role in giving a “balanced diet”. I jump from ‘chalk and talk’ to these activities (as I did with Upd8). Pupils like variation. The open-ended nature of the tasks allows for differentiation. The structure is very simple yet, as with all things so, it works a treat. Pupils get a glimpse of another culture (global education etc).

  • natdrak says:

    Sinking Island

    I have tried the “Sinking Island” activity in my Biology class ( group age: 13-14) and I became a great fun of engaging science activiites. The students were really involved in the process, since the subject was intriguing, plus they love working in groups. I believe their main gain was the fact that they were able to criticise arguments and form their own opinion based on facts.

  • fjw1 says:


    This was a fantastic resource to engage my high flying Yr. 9 group. They were interested in all the information given and the discussion that happened because if their interpretations of the data were fantastic.

    • Gemma Young says:

      Thanks for your comment

      Great to hear that the resource engaged your students and it helped them to practise their data interpretation skills.
      Gemma (from the writing team)

  • lindsayblack says:


    My students really engaged well with this topic. the resources give a good context to scientific ideas

  • alex says:

    Relevant and engaging activity

    This is very useful topic ! I will definitely use this activity with my students. Another interesting URL about this theme is: “