Be Informed, Speak Up, Act: A Lesson in Citizenship for Grades 3-5
Students consider the impact they can have on their communities, then learn about participatory citizenship and how to take civic action.
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
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. This lesson is divided into three different parts, each lasting up to two hours:
- In Be Informed, students consider the influence that they can have on their communities. Students select a community issue that they would like to explore and conduct research to learn more about it. They also formulate a plan as to how they could influence this issue.
- In Speak Up, students share their proposed resolutions with the class. The rest of the class asks questions during each presentation to help the presenters positively refine their proposals.
- In Act, students become participatory citizens by taking grade-appropriate action. Here, they decide as a class the ideal way to address a 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
- Interactive whiteboard
- Making a Difference in My Community (PDF)
- Three Steps for Changing Your Community (PDF)
- Questions and Answers (PDF)
- Informing the Class about the Problem
- What I Learned (PDF)
- A Class Reacts (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare
- Read through all of the worksheets provided above and make copies as needed.
Day 1: Be Informed
Step 1: Write "Important Community Issues/Problems" on the board. Ask students what they think young people can do to help improve their school or community (town, neighborhood). Explain that they are important members of their community, the school community and the community at-large.
Step 2: Now, ask students to write a quick list of as many important community problems they can think of (examples include homelessness, people out of work, litter/graffiti, overcrowded schools, water shortages). After a few minutes, ask students to share their ideas. Challenge the class to share issues that have 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 six-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. 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 in their community.
Step 5: Divide students into groups of three or four. Tell them that each group must come up with one way they could significantly contribute to either the school community or the town or city in which they live. Distribute the Making a Difference in My Community (PDF) worksheet and ask each group to complete the questions.
Step 6: Now, reconvene the class. Ask students to share their ideas from Step 5 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.
Step 7: Post the Three Steps for Changing Your Community (PDF) on your interactive whiteboard and read it aloud to students. Ask students what they think what each step means. Do they think that each step is important? Why or why not?
Step 8: 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 9: Distribute the Questions and Answers (PDF) worksheet to each group. Tell students that on the form, each group will write three questions that they would like to answer about their topic, then will answer their own questions after conducting some research. Offer time for the groups to write their questions and research their topics at the library or in a computer lab. As they work, offer help as needed.
Step 10: Once groups have gathered information about their chosen topic, have them consider how to most effectively share their information with their classmates. Please review the ideas from Informing the Class About the Problem and have groups choose one method for sharing their issue with others.
Day 2: Speak Up
Step 1: Have students rejoin their groups from Day 1 and tell them that today, they will develop the project they agreed to yesterday (a comic strip, a poster, blog, or other idea) and will present their projects to the class afterward. Offer time for groups to work, and help as needed.
Step 2: When students have finished, remind them that talking about important community issues or problems is a very important right belonging to American citizens. 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: Give the groups a few minutes to prepare their presentations. Now invite each group to make their presentations. Ask the rest of the class to develop one question for the presenters. After each group has presented, invite several students to ask questions, and challenge the presenting groups to respond as thoughtfully as possible.
Step 4: Finally, distribute the What I Learned (PDF) to each student. Ask them to write one thing on the form that they have learned from today's class presentations. After students have completed this writing and if time remains, invite several students to share their answers with the class.
Day 3: Act
Step 1: Ask students to consider what a person could do to change something that would impact their entire community. Have them write it down, and remind them to back up their opinions thoughtfully.
Step 2: Now, ask students share their opinions. Do they think they can do something to change their school or community for the 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: Tell 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.
Step 4: Once students have chosen a problem they would like to address, divide the class into groups of three or four. Have students list their ideas for action on the A Class Reacts (PDF) worksheet. Compile the worksheets and conduct another vote 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 implement the idea, students have still had the experience of acting as policymakers and of prioritizing what initiatives they would undertake.