Making Decisions and Decision Scenarios


Even small decisions may have large consequences.

How does one make decisions? The daily news is filled with news accounts of the results of decisions people have made. Some you may agree with and some not so much. People's life experiences, values, and situations effect the decisions they make. You may agree or disagree with their choices

Resources for

  1. Critical thinking, decision making processes, and change
  2. Worksheet with Six step decision making process
  3. Blank Worksheet for a six step decision making cycle
  4. Blank Worksheet for a 9 Step Decision Making Cycle

People make decision every day. Here are three examples:

1. Soldier Disobeys Orders

Soldiers were ordered to attack a small group of villagers by their commanding officer, who believed they were aiding the enemy. One of the soldiers stands down, without lifting their weapon and refuses to take part in the attack on unarmed people. Knowing they are going against military orders, and will likely be punished.

2. Youths Vandalize Train

As the mass transit vehicle speeds along the track a group of teens are alone inside a car. A security guard walks through and goes to another car. When the guard leaves several in the group take out permanent markers and scrawl graffiti on the train's walls. One of them simply watches until one of the group hands them a marker and urges them to join in. They hesitate and ...

3. Government Official Releases Secret Information

An employee of the government has security clearance and access to government documents. The documents contain facts about a war in which their country is involved. Facts about illegal events and decisions kept from the public knowledge. The employee goes against the law when they copy the documents and make them public on the Internet and others publish them in newspapers. Some people say they were seeking personal fame and others say they were informing the public who have a right to know what their government is doing.

Making decisions

When people make decisions they may be pulled in different directions by different influences. What they believe they should do may be in conflict with what they are being told to do by others at the time when they need to make a decision. Strong influences may be orders from a commanding officer, boss, friends, or by rules and laws.

Any group of people (society) has rules or codes of conduct which govern how they live together. The rules usually are based on what the majority of the people consider important at the time when the rules or laws were made. If the values of a majority of the people change, then the rules or laws will need to change, if there is going to be peace and cooperation among the people.

Over the years peace and order, or law and order, have been attempted to be kept in balance by a variety of means: education, rituals, laws, courts, prisons, military, police, and religion for example. These differences have been and continue to be studied by historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists.

Values that affect decisions

Work - In general American society values work. Having a job is considered important. The value of work in our country goes back to colonial days with an agricultural based economy and religious sects, like the Puritans, who took the saying: idle hands are the devil's workshop, to heart and practiced a religion which taught work was important. Their followers and descendants continued the idea and saying such as: living off the government dole, are related to the value of work.

The idea that work is good for everyone has not been a value in all societies. Ancient Greeks, for example, valued leisure time to think and to create in the arts and had slaves, who they considered less capable or worthy, do the work.

Military Might - Many nations value military strength and believe it necessary to maintain their way of life and survive. The United States and Soviet Union, for example, spend much money on armies and weapons.

Not all societies have engaged in war. The Eskimos, for example, are not war-like as a group. They have been known to commit individual acts of violence and a person who feels wronged may kill the other person who has wronged them. However, the idea of one village battling another is strange to some cultures.

Youth - In some societies older people and ancestors are valued. For example, in ancient China, people practiced ancestor worship. In many Native American tribes, councils of elders ruled the people's affairs. In some historic European societies a child learned to value any adult's opinion over his own. Old people were thought to be wise by virtue of their age and years of experience. Children were punished if they did not respect their elders. Past ideas that have been practiced for a long time and traditions were honored.

In some societies. Family ties are of great importance and the oldest man or women in the household are responsible to make the family decisions.

Many nations are said to be youth-oriented today. Value is put on being young or looking and acting young. Ads in newspapers and magazines show the extent to which youth is valued. Lots of hair on the head, wrinkle-free skin, and slim shapes are made to seem desirable for people of all ages.

In some societies, children feel free to criticize parents and other adults for their old fashioned ideas. Lack of respect for adult ideas may cause problems for society to function well. In school and other situations.

Nature - Native Americans are sometimes referred to as our nation's first ecologists as they lived in harmony with nature. They would hunt animals when they needed food or supplies. They did not hunt for sport. They honored the natural forces that made the land fruitful and believed their ancestors were a part of nature.

Other nations, have looked upon nature as something to conquer. Chopping down trees for farm land, taming rivers, strip mining, building roads, cities, and parking lots. Killing plants and animals, eroding the Earth, polluting the water and atmosphere, and changing the climate.

Replanting forests, preventing soil erosion, treating waste water before it's returned to nature and controlling emissions are ideas recently developed by industrialized nations and have become more widespread as people value nature.


We are all a product of the society in which they lived. As we develop, we learn attitudes and values that surround us: influences from family members, peers, schooling, religion, laws, and other social and culture interactions. Often, we make decisions. It is important we understand the influences which effect our decisions.

Some people, even adults, are unsure of their own values, which can be constantly changing resulting in decisions so others see the choices they are making as inconsistent and as a result don't know what they value. When this happens young children are confused as to what values are important and wonder what is right or wrong.

What values did these leaders use to make their historic decisions?

Leader #1

This leader has seen his followers driven out of four areas for practicing their religion. The group's property has been destroyed and members have been killed. He could advise his people to practice their religion in secret or he could lead them on a dangerous journey into a foreign wilderness to build a new settlement. The leader decides to make the trip. In time, the group is successful in the new land.

Leader #2

A group of lawmakers accuse their country's leader of improper conduct. They are close to reaching the number of votes needed to remove him from office with one lawmaker holding the deciding vote. He dislikes the leader, but feels the evidence against the leader is false. The lawmaker is threatened with violence and the loss of his job if he votes in favor of the leader. He votes in favor of the leader anyway. The lawmaker is not re-elected, and is reduced to poverty.

Leader #3

An important official of a large nation must decide whether to buy a vast tract of land, that most people believe is useless, for his country, or miss the opportunity. Fishermen of his nation have been fishing off this land, however the fishing rights could be denied by the country that claims the land. The official knows if he buys the land, many citizens of his nations will think he is foolish. Yet he feels the land will become valuable. He buys it. Years later, many natural resources are found there.

Leader #4

A shuddering crunch shakes the huge ocean liner. It has struck an iceberg. The captain sends radio signals and rocket flares. No help comes and the ship is breaking up. The captain finds there are not enough lifeboats to save everyone on the ship. He can escape with his crew in some of the boats. Or he can order that all boats be used for loading passengers. He makes the second choice. The captain, crew, and some passengers go down with the ship.

Leader #5

A country sets unpopular taxes on its settlements or colonies around the world. In the Massachusetts colony three ships arrive with taxable goods. The colonists refuse to unload the cargo and demand its return to England. The colony's governor (Thomas Hutchinson) refuses. Sixty colonists board the ship and throw the cargo into the water.

Leader #6

The leader of a powerful nation wants to end a war his country is in. He has a new weapon of mass destruction. He can continue to press for victory with soldiers and conventional weapons. Or he can use the weapon in an unoccupied area, hoping to frighten the enemy into surrender. Or he can order the weapon to be used against enemy cities. He takes the third choice. The war ends eight days after the weapon is first used.

Historical decisions to debate:

Any of the above examples could be used for decision making investigations or debate.
The people involved in each are as follows:

  1. Brigham Young 1847,
  2. Senator Edmund G. Ross 1868,
  3. Secretary of State William Seward 1867, Decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. (Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Robert Livingston). Review question, Fact sheet, & possible solutions
  4. Captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith April 14, 1912,
  5. Sons of Liberty, Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773,
  6. President Harry S. Truman August 6 1945.

Other historical event to investigate:

  • Who fired the first shot at Lexington & Concord?
    Review six first person historical documents and analyze each document to explain what information in each might be accurate and which might not. Is it possible to make a decision as to who fires the first shot at Lexington & Concord? Why or why not.
  • George Washington decision, in 1797, to step down after two terms as President. President Thomas Jefferson followed by stepping down and established a tradition until President Franklin. (twenty-second amendment).
  • President Johnson's trial in lesson and Fact sheet
  • In 1965 Malcolm X was assasinated. Three articles, written the day after have different tones. Read the articles and decide what might have influenced the authors to make the decisions they made for the tone of their writing. Suggested articles:
    • Peter Kihss, The New York Times, Febnruary 22, 1965, p. 1.
    • Newsweek, March 8, 1965, 1965.
    • Thomas Skinner, “I saw Malcolm Die,” The New York Post, February 22, 1965, p. 1. Source


In School Decision making play

Every day you are faced with decisions. Many are easy to make, others not so easy. This is a play where the plot is about a decision the main character must make.

Characters: Miss Rivera, Sam, Gretchen, and Gretchen's mental voice. Audience participation at the beginning by talking with each other as the first scene opens...

Whole Class: All talking to each other.

Miss Rivera: All right, class time to get started, if you want me to let you out on time.

[...Noise gets less, but continues.]

Miss Rivera: [ ... in a firm voice ...] I mean it now.

[Class gets quiet.]

[Sam raises his hand.]

Miss Rivera: Yes, Sam - what is it?

Sam: I was absent and didn't hear about the book give-away.

Miss Rivera: It's after school across the hall in the gym. You'll be able to choose any three books to take home. The library is getting rid of books it doesn't have room for.

Sam: Oh, that's nice. May I sharpen my pencil now?

Miss Rivera: Yes, then you'd better sit down and get busy.

[Sam sharpens his pencil.]

Miss Rivera: Gretchen, will you come up? Please take this note to the office for me.

[Gretchen picks up the note]

Gretchen: All right. Miss Rivera.

The scene shifts to the school gym, where Gretchen has paused while taking a short-cut to the office. Books are piled on a table.

Gretchen's mental voice: Oh, its quiet in here... and empty too... The gym classes must be meeting on the playground today. Mmm, maybe I'll take a peek at the books.

[She picks up one book, then another.]

This one looks interesting ... and this one too...

[She picks up and sets aside three more books for a total of five.]

Gretchen's mental voice: Why not take your books now? You can have first choice that way. Why wait until 3:15?

Gretchen: Do I dare take them now?

Gretchen's mental voice: No one will know. You can even take as many as you like. Like those five.

Gretchen: Oh, I don't know. I couldn't take them back to class.

Gretchen's mental voice: Put them in your locker on the way to the office... Why not?

Gretchen: It seems like stealing.

Gretchen's mental voice: Stealing? You'd be taking books at 3:15 anyway. You're just taking yours early. So what if you've got more than three? So many are left, no one will know the difference.

Gretchen: I don't know. I just don't know. Should I?

Complete a six step decision making cycle.

Finish the play... What might Gretchen's mental voice or Gretchen say next?

What might you do if you were Gretchen?


Case Studies / Scenarios for
Substance use: alcohol, prescription drugs, & other ...

Mary Mason is, in many respects, a stay at home housewife. Her husband owns a small business and makes a reasonably good living for his family. The have three children of school age. Mrs,, Mason has found that mixing vodka in with her morning orange juice helps to get her day started better. She usually has several drinks with her lunch but she does not get drunk. She says, to herself that she drinks to keep from worrying or feeling lonesome when her family is gone.

Her husband doesn't know about his wife's daytime drinking. He knows that she has several cocktails before dinner and several after dinner. Mrs. Mason buys several extra bottles of liquor with her grocery money and keeps these bottles hidden from her husband.

Mrs. Mason feels quite guilty about using grocery money to buy liquor, but she doesn't want to give up drinking in the daytime. Mrs, Mason als0 feels guilty because she is drinking more than she did previously. Mrs. Mason's children know that she drinks, but they are not aware that it is a problem. Mrs. Mason drinks about 200 drinks per month. Is she and an alcoholic? Adapted from Scholastic Newstime March 26,1973. pp. 3-7.


Harry Wosjowski works as a mechanic for an automobile dealer. He is fairly competent as a mechanic, but he has changed jobs several times in the last few years. Harry is a non-drinker most of the time. He almost never goes to a bar nor does he drink at home. Harry drinks only on special occasions such as weddings or New Year's celebrations. On these occasion he gets loud, drunk, and may sometimes gets violent after he has been drinking and causes trouble. Normally he is a quiet peaceable man. On two different occasions he has gotten into fights that required his arrest. After one drinking bout he got into a fight with his wife and they were separated for two months as a result of that fight. On the days following these drinking bouts, Harry is incapacitated with a hangover. He has been in trouble with several employers because of missing work because of his actions. However, Harry does not really drink very much. He often goes for one or two months without taking a drink. Harry drinks about six drinks a month on the average, because he does not drink at all most months. Is Harry an alcoholic? Adapted from Scholastic Newstime March 26,1973. pp. 3-7.


Paul Carson is a mason. He is skilled at his trade and has worked at it for a number of years. He is married and has two children. Paul's drinking habits are as follows: After a period of abstinence for weeks and sometimes months, he will stop after work and drink two bottles of beer. Then he will go home and drink no more that day. Paul never drinks at home because his wife is strongly opposed to drinking and she will not allow him to keep any alcoholic beverages at home. For several days Paul will repeat this pattern of two bottles of beer after work and then home. After a few weeks of this type of moderate drinking, Paul will increase the number of drinks he has after work and he will begin to get home later, which causes problems with his wife. The stress at home will increase until Paul, not wanting to go home, will respond by staying at the bar until it closes. He will get drunk and when he arrives home, the problems with his wife and family are extreme. The next day he will miss half day or whole day of work because of a hangover. Paul will feel remorseful about his drinking for a few weeks or month and will, again, not stop at the bar or have a drink. However, after awhile he will again stop after work for a drink and the whole pattern will begin again. Paul drinks on the average about 7 drinks per month. Is Paul an alcoholic? Adapted from Scholastic Newstime March 26,1973. pp. 3-7.


Dr. Charles Dento is a successful dentist. He is successful from both a financial and social point of view. He has plenty of patients and is well liked by his patients. He is often considered as an important man in the community, and is often a leader in community affairs.

Dr. Dento doesn't believe in drinking during the day because of his close contact with patients. On rare occasions he will have a drink after he comes home from the office before he eats dinner. Dr. Dento has lots of activities where he is gone from home in the evenings. At a few of these evening meetings he may sometimes have a cocktail or two. Mrs. Dento goes with him to some of these evening meetings. She may also have a cocktail if the occasion seems to call for it, but she prefers not to drink.

When Dr. Dento gets home from these meetings or at the time of the evening news, he has a drink before going to bed. This is a rather large drink. He fills a rather large water glass with ice cubes and then fills the glass with whiskey. This is about five ounces of whiskey which is the equivalent to three or four normal size drinks. As soon as Dr. Dento finishes this drink, he goes to bed. Dr. Dento has been drinking this amount for a long period of time. Dr. Dento drinks about the equivalent of 120 drinks per month. Is he an alcoholic? Adapted from Scholastic Newstime March 26,1973. pp. 3-7. bar
Family Story for Kalan

Six months ago, Kalan’s dad was involved in a car crash that left him with a broken hip. He was prescribed a painkiller to help with the pain, and has been taking it ever since. Although he went back to work six weeks after the accident, he missed quite a bit of time the last month. This week he has not gone to work at all. No one has said anything, but Kalan wonders if his father lost his job. He seems to have a lot of doctor’s appointments, one with a new family doctor that is in a different town. Kalan’s dad seems to be in his own world, and his mom seems angry. Source Project Alert 2016.

Family Story for Stephanie

Stephanie’s mom had been taking a tranquillizer for two years to help her with anxiety and sleeping. Recently, Stephanie heard a news story on television that said no one should take that type of drug for more than three to four weeks at a time as it can lead to dependency and complications when a person stops using the drug. When Stephanie researched the side-effects and complications she noticed that her mother's recent behaviors might be considered a result of her tranquillizer. Twice her mom forgot to pick Stephanie up at a friend’s house, which never happened before. She always had supper on the table, but now it seems that Stephanie is always looking for something to make for supper for her little sister, as her mom is in her room with the door closed. She seems to be taking more of the pills than when she started, and she seems to be sadder than previously. Stephanie is worried about her mother. Source Project Alert 2016.


Family Story for Dana

Dana has always looked up to her older brother. He was always full of life and into many things; that filled the house with laughter and pleasure when he was home. He was very good to Dana, he would drive her where she needed to go and made sure he picked her up again. Hover, since he started 11 th grade, things have been different. He is still as popular as ever and spends a lot of time with friends. However, when he is home he just seems to sit around a lot without much to say, or he just stays in his room. He is out late every Thursday and Friday night. Also he pays very little attention to Dana, and she has heard him yelling back and forth with their dad. Source Project Alert 2016.

Family Story for Kyle

Kyle’s mother has always enjoyed a good drink and a good party with friends. Lately, however, it seems to Kyle that she is drinking more often and at different times than before, including in the morning. When Kyle gets home from school, he can smell alcohol on his mother, and sometimes it is even noticeable when he opens the front door. Sometimes, his mom comes out to greet him, talking about things he cannot understand, slurring her words and staggering. The worst times are finding her asleep on the couch smelling like alcohol. Kyle is embarrassed by her behavior. He has stopped inviting his friends around and makes excuses so that he does not have to invite his mother to school events. Source Project Alert 2016.

Causes of accidents: car, home, and work to use for
Decisions making scenarios

Causes of car accidents: Distractions: texting, music, talking, interacting with other people or goofing around; Speeding; Drug use; Wreck-less driving; Weather; other.

Home and work accidents: Falling objects (cabinets, shelves, appliances, ); Tripping, slipping, falling, and running into objects (ladders, stools, chairs, sofas, other furniture, falling off beds, in bathtub and shower, roof, porches, trees, walls, doors, cabinets); Bruising, cuts, piercings, sprains (slamming doors on fingers, knives, sharp objects); Burns (fires, cooking, grilling, fireworks); Poisoning (medicine, cleaning supplies, chemicals), Choking (food, drinks, children getting caught in their own clothes, cords, ropes, chains); Glass related injuries (cuts from glass and metals); Drowning (pools, tubs, large containers like five gallon buckets); Firearm accidents; Lightening; Electrocution using electrical devices; Gas (smoke inhalation, natural gas leaks, carbon monoxide); Machine entanglement (clothes, shoes, jewelry, hair,fingers, hands); violent acts against other people; pets and other animals (bites, rabies)


Decision Dilemmas for discussion topics or role play

  1. You want to skip school to go to a movie, do you?
  2. Do you do your homework or watch T.V.?
  3. Do you cheat on a test so you may play sports?
  4. Do you fake that you are sick to get out of taking a test?
  5. You must choose between two after school activities. What do you do?
  6. You are babysitting and the doorbell rings, what do you do?
  7. Talking to a person you don't know.
  8. Spending your lunch money on something else.
  9. Your parents are not home and caller asks for them what do you say?
  10. You find a wallet with money in it what do you do?
  11. You find a puppy. Do you try to find the owner or keep it?
  12. You promise to babysit but something else comes up.
  13. You see someone stealing, do you tell?
  14. You see someone cheating, do you tell?
  15. Using something that belongs to someone else without asking.
  16. Taking money from Mom without asking.
  17. Borrowing something and then you damage it, do you tell?
  18. Telling a lie - what time you got home, what you did, etc.
  19. Back stabbing your friend.
  20. Having a party when your parents are gone.
  21. Copying off of a friends paper.
  22. Buying something and then returning it.
  23. Asking or giving directions for a location.
  24. You don't have enough money, do you shoplift?
  25. Vandalism
  26. Making prank phone calls with your -friends.
  27. Asking someone out for a date.
  28. Bullying someone because you know you can get away with it.
  29. Telling on a bully.
  30. Interrupting someone to correct them.
  31. Asking and giving a compliment.
  32. Accepting criticism. Dealing with rejection.
  33. Joining a "click" and forgetting your old friends.
  34. Being friends with someone that is not well liked.
  35. Saying "NO" to drugs, alcohol, sex, and smoking.
  36. Your friends want you to steal something, do you?
  37. Making fun of another persons appearance or characteristics.
  38. Doing something because"everyone else is".
  39. Winning and losing - gracefully.
  40. Cooperating with someone you don't like.
  41. Admitting you are wrong and saying "sorry"
  42. You are eating at a friend's house but don't like the food.
  43. Driving without your license or driving drunk.
  44. Would you tell a piece of gossip? What if it helped someone?
  45. Bragging about yourself.
  46. A friend asks your opinion about his new outfit - you hate it.
  47. You break a toy in a store do you tell anyone?
  48. Two of your friends are arguing, do you try to get them back together?
  49. You give a friend and expensive gift, then have a fight. Do you ask for
    it back?
  50. Do you read your sister's personal diary?
  51. The store clerk gives you too much $ in change. Do you return it?
  52. You are going to be late for school if you help an old lady in trouble. Do you?
  53. You know your bike has something wrong with it, do you sell it anyway?
  54. You know a class mate is being beaten at home, do you tell?


Beliefs, Questions, and Ideas to discussion and role play.
How would you answer?

Might want to use the Jurisprudential Inquiry Teaching Model for some of the ideas that students are divided on.

  1. What are you going to be when you grow up?
  2. Everyone should go to college, are you?
  3. Everyone should work.
  4. You can't do that you are a (girl, boy).
  5. The school should have a uniform or at least a dress code.
  6. Giving grades makes kids learn. Without them they wouldn't do anything.
  7. Students should be allowed to decide what they get to study and learn.
  8. Parents should decide and plan their children's future, because they know them best.

Politics, government, and common sense morality

cover image

A Parable of the New Commons, found in the first few pages of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. by John Green.

It is a tale of four different herding tribes who live beyond a central forest in the four different cardinal directions. Beyond this central forest each has their own common pasture for which they have created their own different ways of land distribution for their herds. The parable is certain to spark discussion for which discussion and dilemma topics could be created by those who read it. The topic could be debated and the Jurisprudential Inquiry Teaching Model could be used to direct their exploration of positive and negative ideas for the selected topics. Possible topics would include: types of government and the benefits and limitations of each, or how government is a product or victim of our common sense morality.

John Green has said his ideas for his New Parable of the Commons was influenced by Garret Hardin's 1968 article: The Tragedy of the Commons: The population problem has no technical solution; It requires a fundamental extension of morality. The ideas of which can still be used to create important discussion still relevant to today's social and political world.

A short summary to use to create discussion and search for commonality to bring people together.




Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes &