Service-Learning Toolkit for Civic Participation
The best service-learning projects are related to classroom instruction, involve youth voice and choice, address a researched need, and work with local resources.
The ideals of the First Amendment were firmly planted in the colonies long before the adoption of the Bill of Rights. The rights of free speech and the right to petition the government without reprisal were advocacy bedrocks for the “Founding Fathers” as well as for the current advocacy-leaders of the March for Our Lives and other movements.
Four Types of Service Projects
Service action may be direct, indirect, advocacy, research, or a combination of these. Examples:
Create a guide about an issue you care about and share it with friends.
Using social media, create an information campaign about an issue of concern to you and your peers
Attend an issue forum and/or visit your local representative and make your views known
Research and create a Citizen’s Quick Guide to an issue
advocacy: (n) the act or process of writing or speaking in favor of, or supporting, a cause
Effective advocacy can start early, long before youth can register and cast their own ballot. For example, they can conduct research on issues they care about. These Media Literacy Tips will help youth as they sift through a mountain of info sources—many of which are shaky. Local nonprofits may be willing to send an expert to talk to your classroom. After they gather facts and take a stand, they can use language and images to persuade.
Resources to Teach Advocacy
- Philanthropy through Social Activism: A Film Activity Guide includes a brief video clip and questions as an overview of American social justice movements.
- Understanding Advocacy and Action: A whiteboard video that defines and shows the power of advocacy and action
- Characteristics of Advocates: A list of 8 traits of successful advocates
- What is Your Advocacy Style? A personal survey helps youth understand their advocacy style
- Map Your Heartbreak-Change the World A group activity to help participants identify and prioritize the issues they care about
- Writing for Action: Youth write letters to lawmakers and newspaper editors These tips from the National Education Association are also helpful.
Lesson Plans with Advocacy Focus
- We the Community introduces concepts of civic virtue and nonprofit contributions
- “Paying” the Animals practices civic participation in support of animals
- Assessing Needs Through a Survey demonstrates the value of health and safety research as a form of civic participation
- Hunger and Your Community explores what hunger feels like, local needs and how to help
- I am a Hero for Animals includes an individual action/advocacy plan for animal welfare
- Youth Advising in Action surveys community need, explores foundation funding process and explains how youth can play key roles
- Power to the People explores civic participation via nongovernmental structures, especially nonprofits
- Citizen Participation examines participation via political parties and interest groups with an optional community survey of need
- Justice-Related Service-Learning Toolkit More lesson plans, resources and service-learning ideas
Research and Help Educate Others
Communicate to Persuade Others
They may create buttons, posters, brochures, or PSAs to tell others about their point of view. The local cable or radio stations may allow youth to play their PSAs about issues. Here are some tips for making an effective PSA. Personal impact stories are very powerful. This Media Guide will help you publicize youth efforts
Be an Ally: Volunteer/Act with Others
Youth may work with existing groups that share their point of view on an issue. They can volunteer to do outreach, and other actions, run social media and create rallies, marches and other public events.
Write, Call, and Meet with Lawmakers
Youth can write and call lawmakers with their views. Even if they aren't old enough to vote, they can work with others and create a “lobby day.” They can also encourage their relatives to do the same. Photo Credit: Governor is interviewed by Gus Prager by Maryland GovPics
- Have youth research current events related to the refugee crises. Reach out to local organizations that aid refugees. Plan a supply drive.
- Volunteer at events that are sponsored by local or state government.
- Teach how the government is responsible for many community services. Tour a police station, fire station, national or state park. Young people can volunteer to help with current initiatives.
- Youth could research what it's like as a day in the life of a president or another governmental official. They could present to other classes or the school on their findings for President's Day.
- Involve youth in a petition or local community adovacy efforts. Contact local community activists or nonprofit organizations as resources.
Planning a Service-Learning Project
This resource provides guidance and questions for each step of the process.
This chart helps youth prepare for who does what in the service-learning process.
Many, many organizations include advocacy in their work. The groups below have strong reputations and good web-based research and resources. They can also provide links to local chapters and allies.
Civil and Human Rights: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition of 200+ organizations.
Contact Public Officials and Helpers
Find officials in your community who youth can contact with questions and to share opinions. Interaction with these public positions helps youth understand who makes decisions, who represents what places and issues, and how government works.
- Local politicians/officials
- County commissioner
- City council representatives
- State politicians or their offices
- Attorney General
- State commissioners
- State representatives
- State senators
- Local political party offices
- Police officers
- Nonprofit organizations
Photo Credit: Day 20 Occupy Wall Street October 5 2011 Shankbone 14 by David Shankbone is licensed under CC by 4.0
Other Resources for Investigation and Communication
This is a list of resources that may expand the learning around the issue area and involve youth in identifying needs and solutions.
This nonprofit provides background information on a variety of issues that interest youth, as well as ideas for taking action to promote resolution for issues. Join with other young people to make a difference.
This picture book is aimed at elementary-aged children. The book revolves around a presidential campaign for the Cat in the Hat. Youth are able to creatively learn about the democratic process and vote for causes for the Cat to support.
This is an excellent resource to teach about different functions of the government, how youth can be a part of elections, and a brief history of voting in the United States. The website is interactive and helpful for learning about civics and voting.
Create simple timelines to share investigations of the history of civic issues such as events in the Civil Rights Movements or the history of women's rights.
- White House Issue-Related Resources
The White House website provides information, inspiration, and resources on a variety of issue areas. The topics of health care, immigration, energy and the environment, and their various policies are explained on this resource. This area of the website provides ways to directly engage on various issues.
This resource supports programs and services focused on youth. The "Youth Topics" tab provides information and resources on issues that affect youth and ways to promote positive outcomes.