By Julie Snider
Pre-K-2nd grade: At this level the most important civic themes should be about community, cooperation, freedoms/rights, citizenship, and purpose of government. Introduce the following: Individual responsibility, self-discipline/self-governance, civility, respect for the rights and dignity of all individuals, honesty, respect for the law, courage, compassion, patriotism, fairness, and commitment to the common good, being respectful, trustworthy, practicing tolerance, and working with others to solve problems.
– From Day 1 you can start introducing these concepts. (Examples: Have students name their classroom by voting on choices, vote on classroom colors or mascot, cooperation games in small groups, draw photos of their neighborhood and point out ways the government contributes to it.)
– As the year progresses you could introduce more difficult concepts like laws and who creates them, the president’s powers, and even the courts. (Example: a lesson over laws that they know about and then they could come up with their own set of laws or rules, a lesson over what they think the president does, could even invite someone in to talk about local government….the Mayor or City Council members usually like doing this.)
American Symbols: This link will take you to a lesson about symbols of the United States. Not only can you discuss these symbols and make sure the students know their meaning, but they can color the pictures and maybe in the upper grades write down their ideas of what these symbols mean to them.
The USA National Bird: This link will take you to a lesson about the Great Seal of the United States. You can have a more detailed and in depth conversation about this symbol of the US with the upper grades. They can write down what they think the symbols within the seal mean.
One morning after saying the Pledge of Allegiance, ask the students what they think the flag represents. Talk about the stars and the stripes and what they mean. Then have students come up with ideas for a classroom flag. What are some symbols or words they would like to see on the classroom flag? You could even have each student make their own flag.
Community Helpers: This is a really great lesson to start talking to the students about citizenship and what it means to live in a community. You could have them identify the workers in the pictures and ask how they help our community and why that is important. You could have the students come up with other ways people help their community.
– Invite grandparents in to tell the students stories about our community or state. Allow the students to ask questions about how our community has changed. Maybe even talk about ways to improve where we live.
3rd – 6th grade: The concepts can be more complex for these grade levels. You can build on the functions of the three branches and even discuss the actual people who fill those roles currently at the national and state levels. Be sure they understand all of the following: Individual responsibility, self-discipline/self-governance, civility, respect for the rights and dignity of all individuals, honesty, respect for the law, courage, compassion, patriotism, fairness, and commitment to the common good, being respectful, trustworthy, practicing tolerance, and working with others to solve problems
– From Day 1 you can run the classroom like a Democracy by letting the students vote on rules, seating arrangements, class mascot, colors, and even topics to be covered.
– As young as 3rd grade you can introduce principles like separation of powers, checks and balances, limited government, and popular sovereignty. (Examples: lesson over Indiana laws v. US laws, Monarchy v. Democracy, Bill of Rights, Veto power of President/Governor, Voting Rights, First Amendment Freedoms, Purpose of Government, Scope of our Government, etc.)
-Call students together around the American flag, and lead them in saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Ask your class some questions to gauge what they know about the American flag. Great examples include: How many stripes are on the flag? Why? How many stars are on the flag? Why? Why do we pledge our allegiance to the flag?
-Have the students write letters to their local leaders (i.e. Mayor, City Council, School Board Members) about something that might concern them.
-Classroom Constitution: Have students help create the rules for the classroom, have them sign it and you could hang the poster on the wall so the students know they played a part in creating their classroom rules.
-Allowing students to vote on different things during the class day helps show students how the voting process works and reinforces student voice. Teachers often do this informally. A teacher might ask, “How many students want to play this reading game? How many want to play this one instead? Okay, the first one wins. ”. When a teacher makes the conscious decision to use formal voting terminology it makes this simple act exponentially more educational. Instead of simply stating which had the most votes a teacher may say, “Wow, ____________ won by a landslide vote!” or “Someone didn’t vote, it looks like we have an absentee voter”.
Classroom Community: Part of being a citizen is being a productive member of society. Come up with a set of jobs or responsibilities for the students. For example one student would be responsible for making sure all pencils are sharpened each day. Line leaders, group leaders, board washers, etc. are other examples of jobs students could do.
-Find your neighborhood, city, state, and country on Google Maps and discuss geographic topography.
–Explore Our City: Muncie contains so many amazing people, places, and things that will help your students understand civics. For example, you could research neighborhoods near your school and then take a walk to talk about the history. The Cardinal Greenway is a wonderful resource here in town. (The old Washington Street Neighborhood, Beech Grove Cemetery, Delaware Co. Historical Society, etc.)
Place the States: https://bensguide.gpo.gov/. This website has some really cool resources and games. There is a game called Place the States and the students move the shapes of the states into place like a puzzle. It is really fun and allows them to play it multiple times until they get it right.
9th – 12th grade: The following concepts should be covered at these grade levels: democratic values, pros of having a republic v. cons of dictatorship, their elected officials and the role they fill, citizen’s duties v. responsibilities, majority rules with minority rights, individual rights, federalism, US Constitution v. Indiana Constitution. (Examples of lessons: vote on types of projects in class, research different governments and their leaders, invite state and local officials to speak to class, podcast about the first amendment freedoms, interview a school leader or city leader, go to a school board meeting or a city council meeting, debate current issues, etc.)
Federalism Walk: While studying federalism, we walk down to the levee on the White River. I invite a local official to come and speak to us about projects completed by the city and how they impact its citizens. Then we walk over to the Greenway and discuss grants and how they differ from mandates. You could do this with so many different subjects. Science teachers could take students to the river and talk about the impact local factories have had on its health. English teachers could take students to Beech Grove Cemetery and write about local veterans or other city leaders they have researched. Art teachers could ask the city to paint murals on underpasses or other ways to beautify the city with art. There are countless other ways to work with local leaders and business owners to learn about our history or to participate in community activities.
Writing Emails: Have students discuss political issues in class and then write emails to local or state officials concerning those issues.
Mock Constitutional Convention: US History/Government teachers could have students act out the Constitutional Convention using actual transcripts from the Internet. (would be good for 8th grade too)
Attending Local Meetings: My students are required to attend at least one City Council meeting or one School Board meeting during the semester. After they attend the meeting they have to email me a summary of what took place at the meeting.
Immersing students in their community is actually pretty easy. You can take students to local libraries or museums to check out the exhibitions about local people and places. Ball State has an amazing Art Museum that usually always features local or state artists. Inviting local leaders or influential people to come to speak to your class is a great way to introduce your students to local culture. Our Mayor is always willing to come speak to my classes about his job and responsibilities. The City Council Members will do this as well.
GET INVOLVED: We need young people to get involved in their community and the political process at a young age so they understand how it works. So help students by finding ways for them to give back to the community. For example: working on campaigns or working on election day at the polls, helping with neighborhood clean-ups, cleaning up local parks, helping at Soup Kitchens or Homeless Shelters.
Apply for a Grant to Plant Trees around our Campus: Civics can also mean providing services to your school or community. We have lost several trees on our campus and it would be great to plant new trees. Have students research native trees that would prosper here. Invite someone to come in and speak with the students about native trees. Apply for a grant to get the trees. Then plant the trees and take pictures to share. You can even invite local leaders to come once you finish planting the trees.
Apply for a Grant to start a Composting Program in the Cafeteria: Have students study composting programs. Maybe your city already has one that they can participate in or partner with. You can apply for a grant to get compost buckets to use in the cafeteria and work with the community partner to have the buckets picked up daily. Students can report on how composting helps the school and community.
Create a Resolution to take before the City Council: My AP gov class attends city council meetings first semester and then they create a resolution to present to the council during the second semester. Last year my class created a resolution that established a Muncie Youth Council made up of high school students from all of the high schools in and around Muncie that acts as a liaison between the youth of Muncie and the city council. It was passed and the Muncie Youth Council is up and running this year.
Share My Lesson: This is a website that has free lessons if you just sign up for an account. No cost or obligation. There are a lot of great lessons for K-12 Civics.
Civic Lesson Plans: This website has several lessons by grade level. All are free downloads.
Indiana PBS Civics and Government: I love this website. It has videos with attached discussion questions as well as Interactive videos covering a broad range of topics and grade levels.
Bill of Rights Institute: I use this website all of the time in my Government class. There are a lot of great ideas for grades 6-12. I think these lessons could be used in English classes and Art classes as well.
Social Studies Education Resources: Civics and Government: This website is full of resources and websites where you can find civics related lessons and ideas.
Civics for All of Us: You can find a few lessons on this National Archives website. There are also some webinars that might be informative.
Local Government: This site has some elementary, middle, and high school lessons over local government.