Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kids Who Care – Community Service in the Classroom

Developing responsible and productive members of society is one of the main goals of education. Teachers work very hard to engage their students and make them experts in each particular subject area, but it is important for us all to step back and look at the big picture of our students’ development from time to time. We are subject area teachers, but we are also in charge of working with other teachers and parents to instill values and motivation in our students that will carry them through the rest of their lives.

As a seventh grade student, I was assigned a semester-long community service project in my social studies class. Students were allowed to choose just about any type of community service, and many of us found projects that we really enjoyed. I volunteered in a nursing home helping out with activities and interviewing residents for a monthly newsletter that I wrote and published with a friend. I remember my hours of service that year, and I think back to the rewards often as I try to fit in volunteering in this hectic schedule I call life as an adult. Students of all ages can benefit from this type of community service, and the public will benefit, too!

The Gateway to 21st Century Skills has an extensive collection of lesson plans, activities, and units focusing on civics and character education. Searching for community service led me to some great units for students of all ages. One unit I liked was a three-lesson community service unit for 6th-8th grade students called ECHO, ECHO, ECHO: Each Can Help Others. The lessons include persuasive speeches and students’ commitments to philanthropy in one of three different areas outlined in the unit. Middle school students could also benefit from The Social Action Project, a hands-on service project to teach students more about civic responsibility. In this unit, students will be able to choose a social issue that interests them, find an organization that deals with that issue, volunteer for that organization, and create a presentation about their experience. Along with teaching about philanthropy and community service, units like these help students develop their presentation and public speaking skills.

Middle school (or junior high…depending on where you live) is a wonderful time to introduce a topic like civic responsibility. Students are going through a lot of changes in their lives and trying to figure out what kind of people they are and what kind people they want to become. The first two units focused on that age group, but it’s never too early to start teaching kids that they are part of a community and that they are big enough to make a difference. Living in a Community is a K-2nd unit of 5 lessons that teaches students about the community in their classroom and in the bigger world around them. It helps to show them why it is important to take responsibility and help out in this community. Protect Your Melon is a unit for the same age group that emphasizes one community issue: bicycle safety. The unit introduces the vocabulary and ideas of philanthropy and allows students to help create their own bicycle safety program for their community, including a fundraising drive to raise money and donate helmets to children. Students get work together for a common goal, which will hopefully be very motivating for them. They also get to see the effect of their project when they see how many helmets they are able to afford.

If you are looking for community service activities for 3rd-5th graders, start with Time, Talent, Treasure and Economics. This unit allows students to choose one of 3 quilt-making projects. The students participate in the project by giving their time and talents to create a quilt for others in need. This is a good example of combining community service with creativity and art education.

All of the activities I have highlighted above are from . This is just a sampling of the activities from Learning to Give and other sources that are catalogued on The Gateway to help you bring philanthropy and civic education into your classroom. Please check out both sites to find more activities to meet your needs.

~Peggy's Corner - 11/25/2010~


  1. This is such an important focus and yet it seems like it is being left out of the classroom more and more to make room for more test prep. Great ideas and reminder!

  2. Test prep is such a big part of education, but we can't forget that our main goal is preparing students to be successful in life. We need "life prep", not just test prep.

  3. Excellent article, and I totally agree that you have to put out great content that your audience will find valuable on a regular basis.


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