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National Standards for Civics and Government
According to the Center for Civic Education, Standard 4, children in Grades K-4 should be able to answer, “What are the roles of the citizen in the American democracy?" Considerations include being able to explain the important responsibilities of the citizen and the importance of public service.
With this lesson, students will examine issues that affect their schools and communities, and then plan and implement programs to help meet the needs of those communities, including such things as awareness campaigns for recycling, voter registration, or disease prevention, establishing litter patrols, or lobbying for crosswalks, sidewalks, or traffic signals. With civics lessons for third grade, you can help your students understand why it is important to stay involved and provide them with opportunities to take an active role in their community, even before they are old enough to vote or hold public office.
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- Students will understand the Framers’ idea of civic virtue and why it is important.
- Students will explore the needs of their communities and ways in which they can help to meet those needs.
- Students will participate actively in community service activities as involved citizens.
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Group Discussion and Teaching:
Promote discussion among students by asking, "who is responsible for keeping the country strong and growing?" Bring the discussion closer to home by questioning specific community needs, such as who is responsible for making sure people have safe, secure and sanitary housing, adequate food and water, or for keeping the streets and public areas clean. Solicit that although the government may have the ultimate responsibility, it must depend on citizens to assist with these and other community needs.
Introduce the notion of “common welfare" from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Discuss with students that this refers to what is best for the whole country, rather than just for the individuals who live there. Generate a list of ideas that students think are important to the common welfare.
Explain that the Framers called putting the common welfare above your own personal interests “civic virtue." Solicit examples of the idea of civic virtue from your students. If necessary, prompt the brainstorming with your own example, such as you stop to help someone who has dropped his or her books when you might be late to class; by helping the individual with the dropped items, you also make the walkway safer for everyone coming behind you.
Individual Practice and Action:
Assign individual practice and action from the civics lessons for third graders. Assign students the responsibility to observe their school and home communities to identify needs of citizens in either area. Encourage them to interview other students, parents and neighbors to get additional input. Give students several days to survey and collect their data on needs in their community. Needs for volunteerism may range from an awareness of the importance of recycling or voting, to a need for crosswalks or traffic signals for the safety of residents. While students may migrate to choosing need-based types of activities, such as good or clothing drives, they do not necessarily need to choose those typically associated with charity-based volunteerism.
Ask students to write a descriptive report in which they name the needs they discovered and provide a detailed description of those needs.
Divide the students into groups of four to six members. Have them share their reports with the other members of their group. As they share, encourage them to note common concerns. Groups should select one of the needs described in the reports.
Groups should now brainstorm ways in which they can help with meeting those needs, either as individuals, in their small group, or in larger groups. Activities can include making posters and flyers as an awareness campaign, writing letters to individuals or organizations who could assist, or more active and direct involvement like starting tutoring programs, collecting food or clothing, or other relevant activities.
Groups now select the best way to address the selected need and write an action plan. The plan should include a definition of the problem, a list of materials needed, a list of people or other resources for help and specific steps for their actions.
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Enrichment and Extension
Allow students to select one or two of the group plans to implement in the community. Assist them with locating resources for meeting their goals, including funding sources, places for donations and media assistance to direct attention to the efforts and need for more citizen involvement.
Ask students to write "press releases" about their plans and their activities.
Encourage students to document their efforts with journaling and videotaping. (You may need to enlist help from parents for the taping.) Ask them to use their information to write a script and record a short documentary about their civic action.
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The Center for Civic Education provides a fabulous framework for student project planning in civic involvement.