Participatory Citizen or Slacker—Which One Will You Be?

9, 10, 11, 12

In this lesson students will explore and analyze values associated with civic engagement as seen in local and national media.

Lesson Rating 
PrintEight to Ten Sixty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • critically analyze messages and values associated with civic engagement present in the media.
  • analyze the local community's promotion of values associated with civic engagement by conducting investigative research.
  • explore implications of the promoted values for interaction in and identity of the community through small-group discussions and presentation of conclusions.
  • compare and critique identified values associated with civic engagement with the core democratic values.
  • hypothesize implications of values associated with civic engagement on the practice of democracy on a local and national level.
  • develop a persuasive position statement on civic engagement.
  • Core Values of American Constitutional Democracy ( Attachment One ), student copies
  • Message and Value Analysis Sheet ( Attachment Two ), double student copies
  • Teacher created data sheet about community needs in the local community (contact the local United Way, Community Foundation or Chamber of Commerce to access local information)
  • Persuasive Rubric ( Attachment Three )
  • Copies of local newspaper/s
  • Audio copies of local radio programming
  • Photos of local billboards
  • Taped television episodes of local, state and world news coverage
  • Taped television episodes of family-oriented sitcoms and reality shows

**Note to Teacher: Try to resist collecting examples that target a specific message or promotion of only one perspective of civic engagement. However, do not ignore explicit messages promoting civic engagement. Careful preview according to the context of the school and knowledge of students you will be working with is needed when making decisions of what to use.

Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: On Day Three the learners discuss with their parents what values they see as important for community members to hold in order to sustain the community and democracy. On Day Four the learners ask their parents how they have personally been involved in civic engagement in the community and why they have been involved.


 First They Came for the Jews:


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask students to think of popular songs often heard on the radio. List these song titles together. Ask students to select one song they are familiar with and have them sing it silently to themselves. When they have finished, ask them to write down the main message of the song in two or three lines on a piece of paper large enough that others can read it from their seat when it is posted on the wall (e.g., “White America” by Eminem – Being racist, sexist and homophobic is okay if it sells records. Kids like what I say because that's what our “white” country is all about.)

    When students have finished, ask them to post these on the wall at eye-level height. After everyone has had a chance to do this, ask students to consider all of these messages and pick the one they had the strongest reaction to.

    Taking the perspective of an older brother or sister, ask students how they would feel if their younger sister or brother heard this song. Ask them to decide if and how the message is one that is a commonly held belief or value in our society. OR Taking the role of an ambassador of America for a group of visiting foreigners, discuss how you would feel sharing these messages and how you would defend them as commonly held beliefs or values.

    Ask students to share their responses. Discuss music and its messages. Do they find them to generally be expressions of positive values or negative ones?

  2. Review the role of media-produced messages and their impact on our understanding of ideas associated with civic engagement. Generate examples of advertising and discuss what their implied message is. Collectively decide on what the ad places value on as being important to an individual (e.g., Virginia Slims ad with the tagline “You've Come A Long Way Baby”: the perceived sense of independence and disregard for negative consequences to one's health is more important than practicing a healthy lifestyle or following guidelines meant to protect us).

    • Reconsider the posted messages of value and importance from the songs. Discuss how music can influence one's feelings or understanding of ideas associated with civic engagement. Brainstorm what other forms of media influence values we hold as individuals and as a community.

    • In order to prepare for the next day's class, ask students to watch for billboards on their way home that night, consider what messages and values they are promoting and how those messages may impact the community.

    • Day Two: Discuss the billboard examples, highlighting the value message it sends and how viewers could interpret the community's values and identity from these messages.

    • Distribute Core Values of American Constitutional Democracy ( Attachment One ) and discuss Fundamental Beliefs and Constitutional Principles so that the learners are clear on the difference. List these values where they can be seen easily and saved for future reference throughout this lesson and unit.

    • Divide the class into small groups. Have students analyze a variety of media examples, including examples produced for a local audience and a national audience. The group should complete the Message and Value Analysis Sheet ( Attachment Two ) for each example.

    • Day Three: Continue the work of small groups analyzing media examples (if needed).

    • Day Four: Ask students to share their results by listing

    • the values promoted in the media examples they worked with, and

    • the core values of civic engagement that were not supported in the messages.

    • In a large group discussion, focus on the following questions:

    • Are we, as a community, promoting the core values of civic engagement?

    • If we are, how does this impact our community?

    • If we are, how does this impact the practice of democracy?

    • If we are not, how does this impact our community?

    • If we are not, how does this impact the practice of democracy?

    • Ask students to write an informal response to the following prompt: “Taking on the perspective of a recent immigrant who has sought political asylum in America, if you found yourself confronted with these promoted values associated with civic engagement, would you feel that you were entering a caring, democratic community?”

  3. In order to prepare for the next day's class, ask students to reflect on how they are or are not individually supporting the core values of civic engagement.

    • Day Five: Ask the learners how becoming civically engaged impacts other individuals and the community. Have them respond to one of the following scenarios by completing two journal entries for each - from the perspective of a person experiencing the scenario when no one else practices civic engagement, and from the perspective of a person experiencing the scenario when the majority of individuals practice civic engagement.

    • Scenario 1: a person who is left alone when everyone else has been taken away.

  4. Read the following poem, "First They Came for the Jews" by the German anti-Nazi activist, Pastor Martin Niemöller, to the learners.


    First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out - because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

  5. Scenario 2: a person who is suddenly evicted, having been laid off a week earlier, with no relatives, where the Housing Authority is full with a three-month waiting list.

    • Scenario 3: a city which decides to use excess tax funds to build the mayor a new house even when the schools have lost federal funding for the school lunch program.

  6. As a large group, discuss possible implications of individual participation in civic engagement on the community, as well as lack of individual participation in civic engagement in the community. Remind students to include examples they gathered from their parents or a community member.

    • In order to prepare for the next day's class, ask students to reflect on how their community not only promotes the values of civic engagement but also supports them. Students should choose at least one source of information to review: The Yellow Pages, local city government's website, or one of their own selection, to do this.

    • Day Six: Assign small groups to analyze the data from the teacher created local needs information sheet. Remind students that this will help the group respond to the question: “How does our community not only promote civic engagement but support it as well?”

  7. Day Seven: Small groups should share and compare with the whole group their data analysis. As a group, draw conclusions from the information that was compiled.

    • Discuss the possible implications these conclusions hold for the work of the entire community and for individuals who want to commit to participating in civic engagement. Generate “To-Do,” “Stop Doing,” and “Keep Doing” lists for involved parties to sustain and support the continued growth of the community and strength of democratic values.

    • Day Eight: Spend a few minutes reflecting on the lists created by the group yesterday.

  8. Discuss how the collection of ideas and act of critiquing ourselves and the community is an important part of becoming responsible community members. Point out that if individuals would only talk about problems and how to fix them – without acting on these ideas or working for change – the value of this act would be lost.

  9. Ask students to think of an event or individual which had a major impact on the development of the country (e.g., Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere and the Minutemen, Dr. Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth). Invite students to hypothesize the consequences of inaction in those events (e.g., What if Dr. Martin Luther King knew that social injustice was wrong, developed ways to promote his belief in equality, but then decided that he should not get involved because he didn't have the time? What if Paul Revere knew that British rule was hampering the possibility for a free country, collaborated with other members of the resistance movement on a plan to create some change, but then decided that he was too tired and old to be involved?).

    • Ask students to consider the power they hold to create change and work for ideas that are important to them. Respond to their own “What if…” effects of not acting on their ideas.

    • Distribute Persuasive Rubric ( Attachment Three ). Go over the criteria with the learners. Have the learners create their own persuasive position statements concerning the value of civic engagement. This informal, draft position statement should include a definition of civic engagement, support for the practice of civic engagement and illustrations of civic engagement. Remind students to consider their informal written responses, group discussions, discussions with parents or other community members, community scan results and other pieces of information that could be referred to in order to create a stronger position statement.

    • Day Nine: Capitalizing upon the ideal of advocating for one's own ideas when change is needed, students will publicly share their position statement on civic engagement. Students could choose to write an editorial to the local newspaper, create a radio spot for a local radio station or an infomercial for a local television station. Explain that sharing this information with the community is an “Experiential Component” where they are doing something for the common good by encouraging active participation in the community.


Student learning will be assessed through participation in discussions and small group work, completion of a community scan and informal presentations of responses. Individual production of a position statement and the effective, persuasive transmission of this position statement will also provide evidence of learning.

Cross Curriculum 

Students will prepare a position statement concerning civic engagement in the form of an editorial, radio spot or video piece. Public dissemination of this piece will engage students in advocating their position.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Provide an example of an organization (or a service that it contributes) from a list of categories of civil society organizations.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss civic virtue and its role in democracy.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.