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:
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. This lesson is divided into three parts:
- In Be Informed (lasting up to two hours), students deliberate on an important issue. They select a public policy issue that they would like to explore and conduct research to learn more about it. Students formulate a plan as to how the government could best respond to the problem the policy issue addresses.
- In Speak Up (lasting up to one hour), they strengthen their understanding of possible public policy directives during a class discussion. Students share their proposed resolutions with the class. The rest of the class asks questions during each presentation to help the presenters refine their proposals.
- In Act (lasting up to two hours), students become participating citizens by taking action. Here, students learn 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
Day 1: Be Informed
Step 1: Write "Public Policy Issues" on the board. Ask students to explain what a public policy issue is, in their own words. Tell them 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 policies that should regulate our society.
Step 2: Now have each student write a list of as many public policy issues as they can think of. Offer examples, such as making sure that the food we eat is safe or that companies provide the goods or services they say they provide. After a few minutes, invite students to share their ideas. Challenge them to only offer issues that have not been previously stated. Appoint a note taker to record each response on the board.
Step 3: Inform students that they will consider one important public policy issue from the following list: Environment, Education, the Economy, and Health Care. Tell the class that they will vote to determine which issue the class will consider. Distribute the Making a Choice (PDF) worksheet and have each student write the issue they would like to consider and explain why.
Step 4: When students are finished, invite several to share their responses with the class. Then take a class vote to determine the issue that the class will study.
Step 5: Post the Three Steps to Civic Action (PDF) on your interactive whiteboard and read it aloud to students. Ask students what they think each of these three steps means. Is each one important? Why or why not?
Step 6: Ask students to imagine that the president of the United States has asked your class to explore a broad policy issue. The president wants the class' recommendation on how to best respond to the problem raised in the policy issue. Divide the class into groups of three or four and tell them that each group will develop policy proposals addressing how the government could best respond to the particular issue under study.
Step 7: Now show students the following sample questions related to the issue they chose in Step 4:
Environment: Should government expand offshore drilling? How should government balance allowing people to develop new properties with protecting wildlife and natural habitats? Should government, business, or both fund research and development of alternative energy solutions?
Education: How could government improve the overall quality of American education? What responsibilities does government have as opposed to parents for educating children? Should government have any responsibility for assisting with college costs?
Economy: Should the government regulate the country's financial industry (e.g., banks and investment firms) more, less, or the same amount ? Is it fair to have different tax rates for different levels of income? Should businesses be given tax cuts?
Health Care: What should government's role and responsibility be regarding health care for individuals? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of the current way health care is handled? What should government's role and responsibility be regarding health care for the elderly?
Step 8: Remind students that the first step of political action is becoming informed. Challenge each group to collect as much information about the policy issue. They can answer the set of questions from Step 7 and/or come up with questions of their own to answer. Offer time in the library or computer lab and distribute the Notes for Civic Action (PDF) worksheet for groups to document their work.
Step 9: After groups have completed their preliminary research, distribute the Our Response (PDF) worksheet. On the form, have each group write a strategy for responding effectively to the policy issue. Offer examples, such as the policy issue that asks, "Should government expand offshore drilling?" Students should consider that 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. Tell them that tomorrow, they will present their proposals to the class.
Day 2: Speak Up
Step 1: Have students reconvene in their groups from the previous day. Tell them that they should look at today's lesson as an opportunity to brainstorm with the class about how to most effectively address their policy issue with policymakers.
Step 2: Remind students that policymakers work at all levels of government. Ask if anybody in the class knows someone in 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, since citizens can support the candidates whose positions they like best. Oftentimes, citizens support policy positions themselves, as the class does in this lesson.
Step 3: Remind students that civic discourse, or the opportunity to publicly discuss specific public issues, is a very important right belonging to Americans. 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 4: Offer groups a few minutes to prepare to present to the class. Now invite each group to present their findings and opinions to the class. Ask those not presenting to come up with one question for the presenters. After each group has finished, have several students ask questions. Challenge the presenting groups to respond to these questions as thoughtfully as possible.
Step 5: Now distribute the What I Learned (PDF) worksheet and ask all students to write one thing that they have learned through the sharing of policy proposals in today's class. When students have finished and if time remains, invite several students to share their answers with the class.
Day 3: Act
Step 1: In a quick writing assignment, ask students to write what they think a person could do to effectively influence public discourse on specific policy issues. Remind them to back up their opinions thoughtfully.
Step 2: Now hold a class discussion. Ask students to share their opinions, and encourage them 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 in 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 offer them 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 at school by writing in the school newspaper? Do they know of any students who have made presentations to the local school board? Or 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 brainstorm ways that insightful civic activists can work to make their voices heard, such as writing a local politican, drafting a petition, or using social media to inspire change. Have students write down their ideas.
Step 4: Now share the Ideas on How to Act article, which lists different actions that members of a democratic society, including students, could implement in an effort to publicize their civic ideals. Have students choose one of these ideas or one of their own from Step 3 to undertake in an effort to actively engage in their community.
Step 5: Once students have chosen an idea, have them execute their action in support of their policy proposal. Students can write an Op-Ed article, a letter to an editor, or a political cartoon to express their views or promote their policy proposal. Once they have finished and if time allows, they can share their writings or artwork with the class.