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Navigating NAFTA

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 
School District: 
School or Organization: 



  • Who had interests in the creation of NAFTA?
  • What were the different viewpoints or perspectives regarding the creation of NAFTA?
  • What effects does NAFTA have on people and countries now?

§113.18. Social Studies, Grade 6
(B) Knowledge and Skills: 

  • 1B: Analyze the historical background of various contemporary societies to evaluate relationships between past conflicts and current conditions.
  • 4F: Identify the location of major world countries
  • 8A: Describe the ways in which the factors of production (natural resources, labor, capital, and entrepreneurs) influence the economies of various contemporary societies
  • 8C: explain the impact of relative scarcity of resources on international trade and economic interdependence among and within societies.
  • 10C: Identify and describe the effects of government regulation and taxation on economic development and business planning.
  • 22B: Incorporate main and supporting ideas in verbal and written communication based on research
  • 22C: Express ideas orally based on research and experiences

Blazer and clipboard for facilitator to step into role



I understand from your teacher that you all have been studying NAFTA. Can anyone help me remember what NAFTA stands for? [Define acronym on the board.] What do you remember about NAFTA? What are some things you remember about the idea of “free trade?”
Possible Side-Coaching:

  • What countries are involved in NAFTA?
  • What is free trade?
  • How did NAFTA affect what goods are being produced where?
  • What are some consequences of free trade?

Based on [insert things students remember about NAFTA] I’d like you to think back to the early 1990s, before the NAFTA agreement was signed in 1992. Who are some people that might have been important in making that decision? [take student answers, write them on the board]
Great. Now, in addition to those people who were making the decision, who are some people that NAFTA affects? Whose lives do these new rules change?
[Take student ideas here and write them on the board. Looking for things like government leaders, business owners, truck drivers, consumers, drivers, law enforcement officers.]
We are going to get a chance to step into the shoes of some of these people and think about NAFTA from their point of view.



I’d like for you to close your eyes and think about the list of people we put on the board. I’m going to ask you to imagine that you are one of those people. You can choose any role from the list, or if you think of something different that wasn’t on the list, that’s okay, too. Think about what your character might think about the prospect of NAFTA being signed into law. How does that law affect your character’s daily life or their business? Think of a name for a character; this can be your name, if you want it to be, or you can choose another name.
Imagine that your character is going to attend a meeting in San Antonio to decide whether or not NAFTA is going to be signed by the countries involved. All citizens from all three countries, regardless of their jobs are invited to this meeting. Your character might carry themselves in a certain way - do they have a specific posture, a way that they move? Do they have a voice that they might use? You don’t have to to use a voice or a way to move your body that’s not your own, but you’re welcome to if you’d like to. I’m going to step into role, too, as the [insert role that would make sense at this meeting], and you’ll know that I’m in role whenever you see me put on a blazer. Go ahead and open your eyes.
Facilitator (in role): Hi. Oh look, everyone is assembled. I’m so glad to see so many people here tonight to talk about the signing of what will hopefully become the NAFTA agreement. Oh, goodness, I should introduce myself. I’m the assistant to President Bush’s Secretary of Commerce. He wasn’t able to be here tonight because of an emergency back at the office, so he sent me here in his place.
So, I know we’re all excited to get this NAFTA agreement moving forward, but we need to take a vote. Before we do that, though, the secretary asked me to make sure no one had any questions about NAFTA. Does anyone have any questions? Oh, before you ask, though, when I call on you, could you tell me your name, the country you’re from, and your job in your community?
Ideally, students will have questions about the pros/cons involved his/her country becoming part of NAFTA.
Possible Side-Coaching: During the conversation, the following information can be introduced if it is helpful.

  • The main highway for shipping goods to and from Mexico and Canada is I-35 which runs directly North/South, right through Austin, TX.
  • Trade between Canada/the US/Mexico is much higher now than before NAFTA.
  • The U.S. imports the most goods from Canada and Mexico.
  • The minimum wage is much lower in Mexico than in the U.S., so some companies have moved their businesses to Mexico to ship their products back to the U.S.
  • Mexico’s environmental regulations are less strict than the United States’.
  • A higher demand for lots of goods and agricultural products took away business from Mexico’s small farmers.

Transition: Well, it seems like we have quite a few opinions about NAFTA in this meeting. The vote, though, was supposed to take place tonight by midnight, and it’s getting pretty late already. I would like to take a vote and get that answer back to [insert official here]. I will ask that each person make a decision of yes or no to approve the NAFTA agreement. Each person makes their decision and votes.
Facilitator will stop the drama and step out of role, asking students to do the same.



Reflection/Introduction of Writing Prompt 10 MIN
Describe: What were the issues raised in our drama today? [Write this list on the board.]
Analyze: How would you categorize the types of issues we listed? (Guide towards transportation, drug trafficking, etc.) What are some positive things about the NAFTA agreement? What are some problems with NAFTA?
RELATE: What effects do you think NAFTA might have had on Austin when it started? What effects do you think still apply to Austin today? What are some ways we expressed our opinions? What are some other ways we could express our opinions about issues that are important to us?
Thank you for discussing these issues with me today. Our time together is almost up, so here’s what I’d like for you to do in the last couple of minutes that we have. Think one more time about the character who you played in the drama, and what that character’s perspective on NAFTA was. What I’d like for you to do now is take out a piece of paper and begin to write a letter to the editor [this could also be a letter to an elected official, if that works better] about your opinions regarding NAFTA. Make sure you use correct letter format.

Extensions/Applications : 

Pros of NAFTA:

  1. Eliminated border tariffs, making Canadian and Mexican goods cheaper for Americans to buy
  2. Increased the standard of life in Mexico, as well as increasing incomes in America and Canada
  3. Permitted American and Canadian companies to take advantage of lower costs of labor in Mexico
  4. Increases American food exports
  5. Lowers American oil prices because U.S. can now import oil from Canada and Mexico
  6. Increased North American trade by $1.2 trillion, making the NAFTA bloc competitive with the European Union trading bloc and with China's trading bloc

Cons of NAFTA:

  1. Less benefit to Mexican workers than initially expected (NAFTA failed to grow the Mexican middle class as intended)
  2. Over 1 million Mexican farmers lost their jobs due to the relative cheapness of products of American agriculture
  3. Other Mexican workers were mistreated in the maquiladora program
  4. Failed to stem flow of Mexican illegal immigrants into the U.S.
  5. Loss of 500,000-750,000 American jobs (moved to Mexico due to cheaper labor costs)
  6. American wages were suppressed as a consequence of competition with Mexican wages
  7. American companies degraded Mexican environment as part of their production processes