We hear from many teachers who are thinking about how to engage students in their communities and how to develop their students’ sense of citizenship. One way to do this is to ask students to identify issues they see in their communities and propose solutions. Another is to highlight professionals who work or have left a legacy of work for the advancement of social justice and community development as inspiration. Also, at a more personal level, teach students to consider how they may act positively and respectfully with other people both online and in face-to-face situations. Look to the following resources for ideas and activities to develop your students’ sense of community and agency, their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and to introduce them to career paths that contribute to the greater good:
Start with a discussion about our behavior and attitudes towards others. In preparation for reading “The Children of Willesden Lane,” a memoir about a young pianist’s journey on the Kindertransport, history teacher Sheila Huntley engages her students in a discussion about what it means to be an outsider or outcast, and how the students’ actions and words can affect people. Students posit reasons we don’t always act when we see a wrong and what it takes before we act. Watch and read about the lesson in the series Teaching “The Children of Willesden Lane,” “Introducing the Universe of Obligation.” If not reading the book, you could structure this discussion around your content instead.
In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7, “Social Justice Action,” students read immigration stories, and participate in a discussion about social justice and taking action for change with the author. Students then develop a sense of agency as they write and revise persuasive letters to raise public awareness about the issues they’ve examined.
In Making Meaning in Literature: A Video Library, Grades 6-8, program 6, “Dramatic Tableau,” watch 7th graders envision how they might respond in the situations that the characters find themselves in as they read The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963. “Helping them to look at characters as people and try to personalize and make connections is something that I have found really is helpful and I know is an important thing to do.” –Dr. Jan Currence
In this lesson from Social Studies in Action, “The Individual in Society,” students are asked the following question: What role can an individual play in creating a just society? The teacher sets up a dilemma – a fictional nation on the verge of racial and ethnic strife – and students must ponder solutions using the viewpoints of different philosophers they have studied.
Democracy in America, program 5, “Civil Rights: Demanding Equality,” looks at guarantees of political and social equality, and the roles that individuals and government have played in expanding these guarantees to less-protected segments of society, such as African Americans, women, and the disabled.
The video for Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “English in the Real World: A Sports Journalist,” demonstrates the interactive relationship between content knowledge, literacy practices, and social justice action in the workplace. Students often wonder how the work they do at school relates to their own lives and ask questions such as “How is this relevant to my life?” or “How can English be used to change the world?” Also see examples of math, social studies, and science applications. These videos can help students answer these questions and consider the types of careers that will inspire them and perhaps have a positive impact on the world and their community.
Explore the story of human resilience and perseverance. In the Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum video “Lives,” meet five people who illuminate the lives of others through photography.
Common Sense Media has K-12 curriculum for teaching digital citizenship skills. Students can build skills around critical thinking, ethical discussion, and decision making that they can apply to their online activities and relationships.
We welcome additional links to resources and ideas on this topic in the comments section.