Conflict Transformation: Unit 10: What Is Cooperative Negotiation?

Conflict Transformation

Standards-Based Lesson Plans for Middle School Students



For my first five years of teaching middle school, many of my units involved debates. Students loved them. They were actively engaged and enthusiastic about their roles. After studying conflict resolution, I realized that debates reinforce unproductive communication habits. Negotiations and simulations, designed to teach cooperation, demand that students demonstrate flexibility, critical thinking, empathic listening, clear speaking, and creativity. The result is a win-win solution rather than a competitive, win-lose outcome.

In this unit students will practice their negotiation skills with the complicated question of immigration. Students will need to analyze facts, reframe concerns, and identify interests / needs, so that they can find common ground between the two positions.

Background Reading For Teachers:


  • Students will be able to differentiate between positions, interests, and values.
  • Students will analyze, in a response to literature, the failure of a fictional negotiation.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to use listening, problem-solving, and creative thinking skills when proposing a solution to the immigration question in the US.

McRel Standards:

  • Behavioral Studies
    Standard 1 (Level III. 5) Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior
  • History, World History
    Standard 44 (Level III.1, 8) Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world
  • Language Arts
    Standard 1 (Level III. 12) Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
    Standard 8 (Level III. 2, 3) Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
    Standard 10 (Level III. 6) Understands the characteristics and components of the media
  • Life Skills, Thinking and Reasoning
    Standard 1 (Level IV. 1, 2,7) Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
    Standard 5 (Level III.2) Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
    Standard 6 (Level III. 2, 3, 8) Applies decision-making techniques
  • Life Skills, Working Together Standard 2 (Level IV.1, 2, 4, 6, 9) Uses conflict resolution techniques


Procedure: 3 hours

What is cooperative negotiation? (hour 1)

  1. Pass out the Prisoner's Dilemma handout. Consider reading the article on "Game Theory" for your own background information. Read through the dilemma itself as written on the handout with the students.
  2. Give students several minutes to write down their responses and then discuss them in groups.
  3. Next ask students to turn over their papers and examine the chart of the Prisoner's Dilemma. Give them time to answer the questions. Debrief.
  4. Read "Interests, Positions, Needs and Values" by Michelle Maiese and complete the worksheet that goes with it.
  5. Read William Carlos Williams' "The Use of Force" aloud in class. Ask students to reread the story and answer the accompanying Use of Force Questions.
  6. Homework: Finish questions for "The Use of Force" if not completed in class.

What is cooperative negotiation? (hour 2)

Response to Literature RubricWriting Frame

  1. Hold a short discussion on "The Use of Force." Grade students for supporting their arguments with evidence from the text, for responding to their peers' comments, and for asking clarifying questions of their peers during the discussion. You may use the following questions as jumping-off points:
    Main Question: Are the doctor's or Mathilda's negotiation tactics more powerful?
    Supporting Questions:
    • What makes Mathilda so powerful?
    • What makes the doctor so powerful?
    • What role do the parents serve in the dispute?
    • What might have been a win/win solution to the dispute?

    Note:This story is useful because we can see that the girl and the doctor ultimately want the same thing. The doctor wants the girl to be healthy and the girl wants to avoid any pain or discomfort. She does not seem to grasp that by acknowledging she is sick, she will prevent further pain (potentially death). They fight over their positions, not their interests. They are driven by emotions -- fear, frustration, anger and resentment -- into rigidly oppositional positions.

  2. Explain that in conflicts two parties often hold to their separate positions even when their interests overlap.
  3. Introduce the Immigration Simulation. Explain to students that this is a problem that you want students to solve together, despite their different views on the issue. The key here will be cooperation.
  4. Give half the students Pro-Immigration identities and half Anti-Immigration identities. Read through both identities together (both are included in the immigration simulation packet).
  5. Allow students time to check the facts on the Internet as directed by their worksheet.
  6. Then ask them to complete the Negotiation Guide (included in their simulation packet).
  7. If there is time, allow students time to prepare for the negotiation as a group.
  8. Homework: Write a response to literature on "The Use of Force." Use the to help focus your essay. Answer the question: Why did the negotiations in "The Use of Force" escalate the conflict to force? Ask for a if you have difficulty structuring a response to literature.

What is cooperative negotiation? (hour 3)

  1. Give students five minutes to prepare for the negotiation.
  2. Begin proceedings. Ask students to begin by presenting their positions, then by describing their interests.
  3. Ask students to focus on the interests and begin discussing possible solutions. Make sure students are aware that you grade them for acknowledging other's comments ("The point made by Stacey made me think...") and for asking probing questions of their peers.
  4. Ask students to take a break about half way through the discussion. Ask them to brainstorm in their identity groups where the common ground lies between both sides. Ask them to think about the 1,1 option of the Prisoner's Dilemma and encourage them to consider ways that might be applicable in this situation.
  5. At the end of the discussion, ask students to try to agree upon a proposal to make to Congress as a solution to the immigration debate.
  6. Debrief the experience.
    Question: How was it different to engage in negotiation instead of debate?