Be Informed, Speak Up, Act: A Lesson in Citizenship for Grades 9-12
In this lesson plan, students strengthen their understanding of public policy by deliberating about an important public issue.
- Grades: 9–12
- 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 action — from communicating with their peers about the issue to volunteering in their local neighborhoods. 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.
- In the first part, Be Informed, lasting up to two hours, students will 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.)
- In the second part, 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.
- Finally, in the third part, 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 during class discussion
- Understand 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
- Ideas on How to Act
- Sites of Action
- Useful Web Sites for Researching Public Policy Issues
- Public Issue Options (PDF)
- Making a Choice (PDF)
- Three Steps to Civic Action (PDF)
- Notes for Civic Action (PDF)
- Our Response (PDF)
- Site Analysis (PDF)
- Asking Challenging Questions (PDF)
- What I Learned (PDF)
- Learning to Act (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare
You should read through the entire resource packet before using it with students. 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: To begin this lesson, write the words "Public Policy Issues" on the board. Facilitate a discussion. Ask students to explain what a public policy issue is, in their own words. Students 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. Because we live in a society that has many different kinds of people from a myriad of backgrounds, people tend to have different ideas about the types of policies that should regulate the society in which we live.
Step 2: In a quick write, ask students to list as many public policy issues as they can think of. Provide students with an example of a public policy issue (examples might include making sure that the food we eat is safe or making sure that companies provide the goods or services they say they provide). Students should do this individually. After a few minutes, ask students to share their lists in groups of two. Within these groups, students should develop one common list. (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. See how many items the class can add to its list. 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 an important public policy issue from the following list: Environment, Education, Military Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Economy, and Health Care. A transparency, entitled "Public Issue Options," (PDF) with this information is included. Tell the class that students will vote to determine which issue the class will consider. Ask students to write down one issue that they would like to consider and explain why they would like to consider this issue. A worksheet that you could use for this activity, entitled "Making a Choice," (PDF) is included. After students have finished this quick write, invite several students to share their responses with the class. Then take a class vote to determine the issue that the class will study. After students have completed this vote, show them the specific questions related to the policy issue that they have chosen. 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 4: Post the transparency entitled "Three Steps to 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 5: Ask students to imagine that the president of the United States of America has asked your class to explore a broad policy issue. The president wants the class's recommendation as to how to best respond to the problem raised in the policy issue. Inform students that they are going to work in groups of three or four students to develop policy proposals addressing how the United States government could best respond to the particular policy issue under study. 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 3.
Step 6: Now remind students that the first step of political action is becoming informed. Ask them what they think that people need to do to be informed. A sheet entitled "Useful Web Sites for Researching Public Policy Issues" containing links to a variety of useful Web sites is included below. In groups of three or four, challenge students to use the Web sites listed to collect as much information as possible to answer the questions about the policy issue. Students could take notes on the worksheet entitled "Notes for Civic Action" (PDF).
Step 7: After students have completed their preliminary research, invite them to develop strategies for responding effectively to the policy issue. Provide students with some examples as to what they should do. 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. What do students think should happen? Their answer to this question is the policy proposal. Use the worksheet entitled "Our Response" (PDF). Additionally, or alternatively, students could use the worksheet titled "Site Analysis" (PDF).
Day 2: Speak Up
Step 1: Provide students with a few minutes to reconvene in their groups from the previous day. In their groups, students should finish preparing to present their research results to the class. Inform students that they should look at this lesson as an opportunity to brainstorm with the entire class about how to most effectively share their perspective on specific policy issues with policymakers. Remind students that policymakers work at all levels of government. 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 people living in the United States of America. Explain that in some countries in the world, people could get arrested for voicing opinions that differ with the leaders of the country. Urge students to 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 groups to whom their question applies. 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 the appropriate worksheets to each group.
Step 5: After students have shared their questions with the correct groups, 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.
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? Challenge students to support their opinions. 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. Are any students involved in civic or religious youth groups? 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? What about to a committee of the state legislature? During this discussion, help students recognize that they can make a huge contribution to the community in which they live.
Step 3: Ask students to peruse several of the Web sites listed on the article entitled "Sites of Action," in order to find specific ways that insightful civic activists can work to make their voices heard. Students could use the worksheet entitled, "Learning to Act" (PDF) to list behaviors that they learn during this activity.
Step 4: Inform students that in addition to the ideas contained on these Web sites, or perhaps repeating some of the ideas on these Web sites, 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. Of course, instead of referencing the list of Web sites on the "Learning to Act" (PDF) worksheet, students might be asked to select one activity from this list of possible activities to undertake in an effort to actively engage in their community.
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.
Supporting All Learners
- National Council for the Social Studies: Civic Ideals and Practices " . . . High school students increasingly recognize the rights and responsibilities of citizens in identifying societal needs, setting directions for public policies, and working to support both individual dignity and the common good. They learn by experience how to participate in community service and political activities and how to use the democratic process to influence public policy."
- National Science Standards (NS.9–12.6): "As a result of activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop understanding of . . . 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."