Civically-Engaged Equity & Access

Taking Civic Action

Connecting with Our Community

Pictures of people protesting holding signs saying "We are the change."

Lesson Overview and Context

This lesson plan guides teachers as they begin a civic engagement project with their students (grades 4-12). The steps involved will be useful in setting up the project. Student choice is essential and this is project-based learning and this lesson plan outlines the initial stages of problem identification and problem exploration.

This unit was created for an after-school enrichment class in which the instructor has access to a mini-van to transport students to various community service providers. Educators who will be implementing this lesson plan during the regular school day will most likely want to arrange guest speakers into the classroom instead of trips off campus.

This unit plan addresses the three phases of civic literacy projects:

  1. Problem Identification: Name the Social Problem
  2. Problem Exploration: Study the Problem, revealing its complexity
  3. Action (Summative Project): Publicly address the problem, seeking to ameliorate it.

Related California Standards and Learning Objectives


  1. College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening, Grades 6-12
    1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  2. CCSS. ELA-LITERACY.W.8.7–Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  3. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.4–Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

Learning Objectives

  1. To foster student engagement in reading and writing.
  2. To foster civic engagement.
  3. To help students realize their civic power and responsibility
  4. Students will identify a problem or situation in their community. They will research the problem and potential solutions, identify who the decision-makers in the community are, and will develop an action plan to bring about awareness and/or positive change or solutions.


Students will create a viable plan for change including a graphic organizer and/or a detailed proposal. Where possible, students will follow through with actions identified in their plan.

Step-by-Step Instructional Plan

Note: If you will be working with a group of students you do not already know, you might want to first have students complete an interest survey. Here’s a sample survey that could be modified for your classroom.

Day 1: Problem Identification: Name the social problem.

  1. Quick Write: What problems do you see anywhere around you that you would like to see solved? What situations would you like to see improved or changed?
  2. Brainstorm: (Whole group) What problems would you like to improve or change?
  3. Teacher: Record ideas/concerns on board or projector divided into these categories:
    1. School
    2. Community/County
    3. State
    4. Country
    5. World
  4. Discuss and record: For each category, who makes decisions in these areas? (i.e. Principal, School Board, City Council, Board of Supervisors, State Assembly and Senate, Federal Government, United Nations, etc.)
  5. Discuss:
    1. Which of the problems listed are we most interested in pursuing?
    2. What do we want to learn more about?
    3. Who might we want to visit and interview?
    4. What questions would we like to ask?
    5. Shall we ask an elected official to come talk to us?
    6. What shall we do at our next meeting?
  6. Discuss/Read: Can young people really make a difference?
    1. Kids Making a Difference and Changing the World,
    2. Amazing Kids Who Make a Difference, Habitat for Humanity
    3. Young People Who Changed the World,
  7. Exit Slip: What have we discussed today that has inspired you? What do you want to learn more about? Specifically, is there something in our community that you’d like to learn more about?

Days 2-4: After-school field trips and community member guests.  

Days 2-4 are designed for an after-school class that can take field trips easily or if community members will be invited to the classroom BEFORE a topic is chosen. If this is not an option for your students, skip to Day 5.  At this point, you may want to create text sets with information that shows varied perspectives for students to discuss and analyze. This literacy work could greatly enhance your students’ ability to analyze local sources of information. Links to appropriate resources can be found at the end of this lesson plan.

  1. Review the following before interviewing representatives of the social service organizations:
    • Where are we going or who are we going to be talking to?
    • What are we going to ask?
  2. Gather materials needed for each student:
    • Pencil
    • Paper with questions written out – be sure students understand who will ask each question.
    • Clipboard
  3. Upon returning to the classroom, or at the end of the interview, have an Exit Slip prepared for each student in which they will indicate what they consider to be the key findings about the organization, their mission, and their future needs/challenges.

Day 5: Decision time!

  1. With students, discuss the Actions to Take list (Google doc)
  2. Discuss: What other actions might we envision? Are these actions feasible for our class to undertake? Add these student-generated ideas to the list on the document.
  3. Decision time:
    1. Have students determine what organization or situation they would like to impact.
    2. List student decisions on a chart or google doc.
    3. Discuss: Who can partner together to research and take action? Remember, there is power in numbers!
    4. Have students form groups and begin completing either of the two forms below:

Next Steps

At this point, students will begin planning their action.  Websites to consider for student analysis of multiple perspectives about contemporary issues:

      1. Schools | AllSides
      2. News Literacy Project
      3. CNN 10
      4. The Learning Network – The New York Times
      5. Above The Noise | PBS

Related Resources

  1. Reading, Writing and Raising Voices: The Centrality of Literacy to Civic Education, National Council of Teachers of English
  2. Ehrenworth, Mary, et al. The Civically Engaged Classroom: Reading, Writing, and Speaking for Change. Heinemann, 2021.
  3. Epstein, Shira Eve. Teaching Civic Literacy Projects: Student Engagement with Social Problems, Grades 4-12. Teachers College Press. 2014.
This post is part of the Civic Engagement and Civic Journalism collection.