Be Informed, Speak Up, Act (Grades 35)
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
During this lesson, students consider the influence that they can have on the communities within which they live. Based upon knowledge that they gain and decisions that they make during this lesson, students become participating citizens by taking grade appropriate action. This lesson helps students recognize that in the United States the public has the right, and responsibility, to participate in civic discussion. It is called participatory citizenship, and as a part of this public body, even children can participate in decision making and social improvement.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF LESSON: This lesson is divided into three different parts.
- BE INFORMED (lasting up to two hours) Students select a community issue that they would like to learn more about and conduct the research to learn more about the topics pertaining to this issue. During this part, students will also formulate a plan as to how they could influence this issue.
- SPEAK UP (lasting up to one hour) Students share their proposed resolutions with the class. The rest of the class develops questions during each presentation, in an effort to help the presenters positively refine their proposals.
- ACT Students explore how to generate public awareness around policy issues by creating editorial commentaries expressing their ideal resolution to this policy issue.
- Publicly state a perspective on an important community issue
- Support their perspective thoughtfully, using information culled from several resources
- Demonstrate listening skills and the ability to engage in civic discussion
- Show an understanding of community or social issues and the importance of listening to different perspectives when forming their own views
- Making a Difference in My Community (PDF)
- Three Steps for Changing Your Community (PDF)
- Informing the Class about the Problem
- Questions and Answers (PDF)
- Asking Challenging Questions (PDF)
- Moodle or ePals
- What I Learned (PDF)
- Survey Monkey
Set Up and Prepare
You should read through the entire resource packet before using it with students.
Day 1: BE INFORMED
Step 1: Write the words "Important Community Issues/Problems" on the board. Ask students to talk about what they think young people can do to help improve their school or community (town, neighborhood). They should recognize that they are important members of their community (the school community and the community at-large).
Step 2: In a "quick write," ask students to list as many important community problems as they can think of (examples include homelessness, many people out of work, too much litter/graffiti, overcrowded schools, water shortages). After a few minutes, ask students to share their lists in groups of two, collaboratively developing common lists. (Basically, they should rewrite the list making sure that every appropriate item has been included, only once.) Now, reconvene the class and invite students to share their answers. Challenge each group to only say an issue that has not been previously stated. Appoint a note taker to record each response on the board.
Step 3: Ask students if they can think of any children who have really made a difference in the community beyond their local school. Report that in 1960 Ruby Bridges was an African American 6 year old living in New Orleans. She was one of the first African American students to go to a school attended by white children. Until the beginning of the 1960 school year, African American children were not allowed to attend the same schools as white children. However, the courts ruled that African American children did not receive as good of an education as white students, and this was against the United States Constitution. African American students had to be allowed to attend the same schools as white students. Many white people complained that this was not a good idea. But with her mom and guards by her side, Ruby Bridges crossed picket lines of angry mobs to attend an all white school. Ruby was only six, but she (and her parents) changed schools in New Orleans with their courageous act. But if Ruby Bridges had not been such a brave little girl, this might never have happened.
Step 4: Now tell students that in 1983, a 6th grader named Trevor Ferrell was watching television on a cold night in Philadelphia. The news broadcaster warned that because of the cold temperature, homeless people should go to shelters. Ferrell wanted to help the homeless, so he convinced his father to let him bring a blanket downtown. He thought he'd give it to a homeless person. Soon, Ferrell was helping 100 homeless people a night get food for dinner and warmth in the cold. Because of his efforts, a shelter was built for homeless people. Trevor Ferrell, a 12-year-old boy, made such a huge difference that the president of the United States at the time, Ronald Reagan, invited him to sit next to Mrs. Reagan when he made a major address to the United States Congress. The president introduced Trevor. Challenge students to consider how they could make a difference to the community in which they live.
Step 5: Now, inform students that in this lesson, groups of three or four are going to consider one way in which they could most significantly contribute to either the school community or the town or city in which they live. Distribute the worksheet entitled "Making a Difference in My Community," (PDF) and ask students to complete the questions on this worksheet in groups of three or four. This worksheet asks students to identify something in their community that they would like to make better.
Step 6: After groups have completed this work, reconvene the class. Invite students to share their suggestions for improvement with the class. Obviously, these suggestions should be reasonable. For example, if a group suggests that school should always be cancelled, challenge them to consider the positive and negative consequences of such an action. Students will have the opportunity to consider their proposals in much greater depth in later steps. The sole purpose of this step is to ensure that all suggestions are reasonable. Now, post the transparency "Three Steps for Changing Your Community" (PDF) and read it aloud to students. Ask students what they think each of these three steps means. Do they think that each step is important? Why or why not?
Step 7: Now remind students that the first step in helping the community is becoming informed. Trevor could not help the homeless until he knew that there were people who did not have homes and did not have enough to eat. Ruby Bridges could not desegregate her local school until she and her parents learned that they had the legal right to do so.
Step 8: In order to help students think about the information that they'll need to gather for this project, ask them to complete the worksheet entitled "Questions and Answers." (PDF) This worksheet asks them to develop three questions that they would like to answer about their chosen topic. It provides space for students to answer these questions, once they locate the answer. As students complete this worksheet, provide help as necessary.
Step 9: Once students gather information about their chosen topic, they should consider how to most effectively share their information with their classmates. The worksheet entitled "Informing the Class About the Problem" will help them do this. Please review this worksheet and select one way for students to share their issue with others.
Step 10: Encourage students to go out and interview people to get information about their chosen problem. (Make suggestions as to who they might interview.) Challenge students to come up with effective solutions. They should then develop a project to publicize their issue, as explained in the previous step. One suggestion provided on this worksheet asks students to post the information that they gathered on a blog. If this option is chosen, students could invite parents to read their blog posts and comment on them.
Day 2: SPEAK UP
Step 1: Provide students with a few minutes to reconvene in their groups from the previous day. They should finish preparing their presentations from the previous day. They will use these presentations to teach their classmates about the problem that they want to work to resolve.
Step 2: Remind students that talking about important community issues or problems is a very important right belonging to citizens of the U.S.A. Students should consider that rights come with responsibilities. The responsibility that accompanies this right includes respectfully listening to other points of view. The most sophisticated, best ideas are only developed after considering multiple perspectives and taking the best ideas from each.
Step 3: Now, invite each group to present the information that they found about the issue that they investigated. Ask students who are not presenting to develop one question that they could ask of each group presenting. Students could use the form entitled "Asking Challenging Questions" (PDF) to develop these questions. After each group has presented, invite several students to ask questions. Challenge the presenting groups to respond to these questions as thoughtfully as possible.
Step 4: After all groups have presented their ideas, invite students to share their questions with the appropriate groups. One way to facilitate this sharing would be to have students complete separate "Asking Challenging Questions" (PDF) worksheets for each group. Students could then distribute them.
Extension Activity: Rather than asking students to share their questions with the presenting groups during class time, students could take advantage of a class forum. (Forums enable threaded discussions in a more organized way than wikis.) Tell students that they should make a total of three posts, either questions or responses. They should focus these questions/comments on the presentations made in class. Help students think of several examples that would work as appropriate questions/responses. Remind them that in order for forums to be effective, they must respond respectfully to one another. Most classroom management systems, such as Moodle, enable classrooms to host their own online forums. Alternatively, ePals allows teachers to set up classroom forums. (Note: It takes several days to establish an ePals account.) Consider inviting parents to participate in these discussions, as well.
Step 5: Now ask all students to write one thing that they have learned through the sharing of presentations in today's class. Students could complete the worksheet entitled "What I Learned" (PDF). After students have completed this writing, invite several students to share their answers with the class, if time remains.
Day 3: ACT
Step 1: In a "quick write," ask students what they think a person must do to change something that impacts their entire community. Remind them to back up their opinions thoughtfully.
Step 2: After students have completed this "quick write", reconvene the class. Facilitate a discussion in which students share their opinions with one another. Encourage students to discuss whether or not they think that they can really do something to change their community for the better. Do students think that they can do things to make their schools better? Emphasize that it's one thing to know that something should be changed and how it should be changed. It takes hard work, though, to actually change something. Trevor Ferrell, for example, did not simply know that the homeless should be helped. He worked hard to help them and he made a huge contribution to his city. Ruby Bridges did not just know that she could attend a previously all white school. She went to this school, despite many threats. Do any students know of someone their age, a classmate or peer, who has made a difference? What did this person do?
Step 3: Inform students that the class could actually implement the ideas generated by the groups. Acknowledge that it would be difficult to do everything suggested by the entire class so they have to make priorities. Ask students if they've ever wanted to do more than one thing, but only had time to do one thing. Encourage students to share these experiences. How did they decide what they were going to do? Tell students that they are going to vote, as a class, for one specific project that they consider most worthy of implementing. Conduct a secret vote. Alternatively, the class could use Survey Monkey, an online survey instrument, to take this vote.
Step 4: Once students choose a problem that they would like to address, consider inviting additional student feedback as to how to best address this problem. In groups of three or four, students could use the worksheet entitled "A Class Reacts" (PDF) to list their ideas for action. Once different groups have presented suggestions, consider compiling them and using Survey Monkey again to decide which activity the class will implement.
Extension Activity: If time is available, the class could actually work together to implement this idea. If the class does not actually implement the idea, students have still had the experience of acting as policymakers and of prioritizing what initiatives they would undertake.
Supporting All Learners
- McREL Standard 8 Benchmark 5: Understands the central ideas of American constitutional government and how this form of government has shaped the character of American society: Understands the focus on the school, community, state, and nation in American society (e.g., people should try to improve the quality of life in their schools, communities, states, and nation; people should help others who are less fortunate than they and assist them in times of need, emergency, or natural disaster).
- McREL Standard 29 Benchmark 2: Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy: Knows opportunities for leadership and public service in the student's own classroom, school, community, state, and the nation; and understands why leadership and public service are important to the continuance and improvement of American democracy.
- Center for Civic Education (5–8.5): "What Are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy? What is citizenship? What are the rights of citizens? What are the responsibilities of citizens? What dispositions or traits of character are important to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy? How can citizens take part in civic life?"
- The National Council for Teachers of English/International Reading Association (NL-ENG.K–12.12): Participating in Society: "Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities."