Be Informed, Speak Up, Act: A Lesson in Citizenship for Grades 6-8
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
During this lesson, students deliberate on an important public issue. They strengthen their understanding of possible public policy directives through class discussion. Finally, they 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 dialogue. It is called participatory citizenship, and as a part of this public body, students can exert a certain amount of power.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF LESSON: This lesson is divided into three different parts.
- BE INFORMED —(lasting up to two hours) Students select a public policy issue that they would like to learn more about and conduct the research to learn more about this issue. During this part, students will also formulate a plan as to how the government could best respond to the problem the policy issue addresses. (A list of helpful research resources is available within the lesson itself.)
- 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 a pressing public issue
- Support their perspective thoughtfully, using information culled from a variety of different resources
- Demonstrate listening skills and the ability to engage in civic discussion
- Show an understanding of different policy perspectives and the importance of listening to different perspectives when forming their own views towards policy
- Environment Questions
- Education Questions
- Military Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan Questions
- Economy Questions
- Health Care Questions
- Three Steps for Civic Action (PDF)
- Notes for Civic Action (PDF)
- Site Analysis (PDF)
- Asking Challenging Questions (PDF)
- What I Learned (PDF)
- Ideas on How to Act
- Policy Proposals (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare
You should read through the entire resource packet before using it with students. Select one public policy issue that the class will consider from the following list: Environment, Education, Military Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Economy, and Health Care. There are a number of worksheets contained within this packet that you will want to reproduce for each student.
Day 1: BE INFORMED
Step 1: Write the words "Public Policy Issues" on the board. Ask students to explain what these words mean. They should recognize that a public policy issue is a subject that is important to the members of a specific community, typically a local, state, or national community. People tend to have different ideas about the types of policies that should regulate their communities.
Step 2: In a "quick write," ask students to list as many public policy issues as they can think of. (Examples include determining the hours that a school day begins and ends and determining the age at which people can drive.) 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: Now, inform students that in this lesson, the class is going to consider a specific public policy issue (the issue that you chose in the preparation phase for this lesson).
Step 4: Show students the specific questions related to the policy issue that they will consider. These questions are included in separate articles and can be printed:
- Environment Questions
- Education Questions
- Military Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan Questions
- Economy Questions
- Health Care Questions
Step 5: Post the transparency "Three Steps for Civic Action" (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 6: Explain that in the United States of America individual citizens can shape the ways in which government responds to policy issues. Community leaders, such as the mayor or town manager, expect the public to share their views on how to respond to these issues. Inform students that they are going to work in groups of three or four to develop policy proposals addressing how the government could best respond to a policy issue. Within their smaller groups, students can select a specific set of questions to which they want to respond. Links to these questions can be found in Step 4.
Step 7: Now remind students that the first step of political activism is becoming informed. A sheet entitled "Useful Web Sites for Researching Public Policy Issues" containing links to a variety of useful Web sites is attached. In groups of three or four, challenge students to use the Web sites listed to collect as much information as possible to answer their chosen questions. Students should take notes on the worksheet entitled "Notes for Civic Action" (PDF).
Step 8: Now, reconvene the class. Invite students to share their information with one another. Or if you are short on time, you could approve the information students noted from their research individually, as they finish, before permitting them to begin the next step.
Step 9: Provide students with some examples as to how they might respond to public policy issues. For example, consider the policy issue that asks, "Should government lift the ban on expanding offshore drilling?" Students should consider the fact that in some way either the amount of oil available to Americans must be increased or our use of oil must be decreased because otherwise the amount of available oil will deplete. What do students think should happen? To record their policy proposals, students should use the worksheet titled "Policy Proposals" (PDF).
Extension Activity: During this lesson, students researched information about the same public policy issue. However, since they worked in different groups, they likely found some different information. As an extension activity, consider asking students to collaboratively develop a wiki focused on this policy issue. Each student could be asked to contribute some kind of new information to the wiki platform. Wikispaces provides one useful wiki platform. The Education World Web site has several very useful resources, written for teachers, on how to most effectively use wikis in the classroom. Also, take a look at a Scholastic article about using technology in the classroom.
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 to present their policy solutions to the class. Inform students that they should use this class as an opportunity to brainstorm with the entire class about how to most effectively share ideas with policymakers. Ask if anybody in the class knows of somebody within the community who helps make ordinances (local laws) or rules that help regulate the life of the community. Suggest that in many ways individual citizens are the true policymakers within society, for citizens can support those candidates whose positions they like best. Oftentimes, citizens support policy positions themselves, as the class does in this lesson.
Step 2: Remind students that civic discourse, or the opportunity to publicly discuss specific public issues, is a very important right belonging to citizens of the U.S.A. Students should consider that rights come with responsibilities. The responsibilities that accompany the right to engage in civic discourse include 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 their findings and opinions to the class. 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 policy proposals, 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.
Step 5: Now ask all students to write one thing that they have learned through the sharing of policy proposals 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.
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. 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.
Day 3: ACT
Step 1: In a "quick write," ask students what they think a person must do to effectively influence public discourse on specific policy issues. (After this lesson, it should be a given that people can influence public discourse.) 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 their opinions really matter in the United States. Do their opinions matter in their local communities? Why or why not? Hopefully students will recognize that their opinions do matter within this country. Challenge students to think of any way that they themselves could help shape community policy decisions. Students will likely recognize that involvement in student council and in-school and out-of-school community service projects can provide students with opportunities to help shape community policy choices. Do any students help shape the opinion of students within the local school by writing in the school newspaper? Do students know of any students who have ever made presentations to the local school board? During this discussion, help students recognize that they can make a huge contribution to the community in which they live.
Step 3: Inform students that there is a worksheet included with this lesson entitled "Ideas on How to Act." This worksheet contains an array of different actions that members of a democratic society, including students, could implement in an effort to publicize their civic ideals. Students could be asked to select one activity from this list of possible activities to undertake in an effort to actively engage in their community. However, the following steps in this lesson recommend one way for students to publicize their opinions on important policy issues.
Step 4: Explain that people use many different kinds of media to communicate their perspectives about particular policy issues with others. For example, have students ever read a newspaper editorial? What is an editorial? Why would people communicate in this way? Ask if students have ever seen a community mural. What is a mural? Why would people communicate their thoughts with murals? Can students think of any other ways that people communicate their ideas?
Step 5: Provide students with an opportunity to act in support of a policy proposal. Students can go through the exercise of creating an Op-Ed article, a letter to an editor, or a political cartoon to express their views or promote their policy proposal. They can share their writings or artwork with the class.
Extension Activity: Challenge students to take advantage of one of the many tools on Web 2.0 to complete this final step. For example, they could develop a digital poster explaining their policy perspective using Glogster. Students could create their own digital comic strips on the Read, Write, Think Web site. (Note: This particular comic creator does not allow students to store their work online. However, we have pointed to this one because we know that it is child friendly.)
Supporting All Learners
- McREL Civics: Standard 28 Benchmark 1: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help bring about the attainment of individual and public goals (e.g., personal goals such as living in a safe and orderly neighborhood, obtaining a good education, living in a healthy environment; public goals such as increasing the safety of the community, improving local transportation facilities, providing opportunities for education and recreation).
- 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?"
- National Academies of Science (5–8.6): "As a result of activities in grades 5–6, all students should develop understanding of . . . population, resources, and environments . . . (and) science and technology in local, national and global challenges."
- 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."