Creating Active Citizens: Ideas for Civic Engagement Lessons

Creating Active Citizens: Ideas for Civic Engagement Lessons
The Editorial Team December 1, 2018

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Teachers look year-round for ways to help their students become active citizens and critical thinkers. In fact, teachers in Oregon even set aside the first Friday in December to focus on civic engagement lessons and professional development! We hope these ideas inspire you to enhance your curriculum and advance your practice.

Lesson plans and ideas for civic engagement

Citizenship Brainstorm: Engage your students in a meaningful dialogue, discussing key traits that active citizens possess. Whether you teach fourth grade or 12th, this lesson can be adapted to fit your learners’ ages. You can download the elementary, middle, or high school lessons, which are brought to you by the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

iCivics video games: Who says civics can’t be fun? iCivics offers a variety of civic education video games. Your students can play jurors in a tough case in “We the Jury” or they can manage community programs and services in “Counties Work.” Recommended by WeAreTeachers, iCivics makes learning about citizenship and government exciting and engaging.

Smithsonian For Educators: The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access offers a host of resources including Smithsonian’s History Explorer which provides a range of civics-related K-12 lesson plans, educational videos on their YouTube channel, and interesting articles and fun facts on their Twitter account.

TED-Ed civics videos: Most students love watching videos, and many teens enjoy watching TED Talks, so why not generate lesson plans around these captivating clips? From learning about executive orders to universal human rights, this collection of videos is bound to inform and inspire your students.

To Vote or Not Vote: Teach your students about the importance of voting. This is a more extensive project (it takes three or four 50-minute class periods to complete), but PBS did a great job outlining it and it’s sure to get your students thinking critically.

Youth Voting – Student Analysis: The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) provides data on youth voting patterns, and Edutopia suggests using it with your high school students. Have them analyze the data in groups, discussing how different factors like race and gender can influence the results. As a class, talk about why this matters and then ask them to plan a social media campaign to increase voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Civics professional development resources

C-SPAN Classroom: Up your teaching game by getting access to C-SPAN’s free resources. Teacher registration is required but once you’re in, you’ll have access to current and historical audio and video clips, forums, lesson plans, and helpful tutorials meant for educators.

How to Make a Civics Education Stick: This NPR article offers methods to promote active citizenship, since we all want our students to be more engaged and better informed. Also, check out this related article to see what your state is doing to improve civics education.

Making Civics Real: If you’re a high school civics teacher, you’ll want to check this out. It’s a video workshop made by Annenberg Learner and recommended by the National Education Association. It includes eight one-hour videos that provide teachers like you with new resources and ideas to enliven civic education.

Voting and Voices Professional Development: These resources offer some useful strategies for classroom culture, instruction, and community engagement. They are provided by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, founded in 1991 to prevent the growth of hate.

Recognizing leaders who advance civics education

Civics education is improving in different ways across the nation, and it’s important to recognize those who are leading the way. One such leader is Marilyn Cover, the founder and newly retired executive director of Classroom Law Project, a nonprofit organization. Cover developed partnerships within the legal community and with various civic organizations to support the teaching of civics in Oregon schools, and beyond.

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