The following ideas are shorter adaptable classroom activities that encourage students to be active citizens.
Create a Voter's Guide
Voting relies on an informed citizenry to make educated choices. Ask students to brainstorm the myriad ways voters can gain knowledge about candidates and their respective platforms, as well as the issues that drive the voting process. Remind students that learning about political leaders and issues involves examining multiple resources representing different perspectives in order to get "all sides of the story." Project Vote
Smart tracks public officials and their issue positions. The League of Women Voters outlines what information an informed voter needs, with links to sites on candidates and issues. Using such resources, have students create a voter's guide that provides community members with strategies and resources for effective voting. In addition to general information for voters, NOW's Voter Resource Map links to student-created voter guides from Washington state that could be used as a model.
Get an Issue on a Candidate's Agenda
When citizens have an issue that is of particular concern, there are mechanisms for letting public officials know, such as lobbying, gathering signatures for petitions, letter-writing campaigns, holding public hearings, etc. Have students consider and select about four or five community and/or national concerns they feel public officials should address. Next, instruct students to conduct a community survey to determine which concern is of greatest importance locally. Students should then choose a method to inform their elected officials about the concern and suggest what should be done about it, based on survey results. To find out how to contact your elected officials, see NOW's resource page and use the state election map. e-thePeople offers suggestions for interacting with the government. For in-depth lobbying information, see Hearts and Minds' Lobbying Resources.
Develop Civics Workshops for Younger Students
In the United States, less than 55% vote in presidential elections, and only about 36% vote in mid-term elections. (For more election-related data, see NOW's America Votes Overview.) While reasons for such lack of participation vary, students can start promoting the importance of civic engagement earlier in citizens' lives by adopting a class of elementary or middle school students and providing them with civic education. First, working with teachers, students should develop a pre-assessment tool for the younger students to determine what civic knowledge they already have. Then, based on what they learn, students can develop and implement a series of workshops that promotes civic understanding and involvement. The Center for Civic Education and Civnet provide sample teaching resources for younger students that may inspire ideas for workshop activities. Perhaps the class can publish their completed workshop series and distribute it to local schools.
Analyze and Report Community Voting Trends
What is voting like in your community? Have students use NOW's Voter Resource Map and U.S. Census Bureau statistics to research local voting statistics and trends, noting who tends to vote and who doesn't, voting percentages in community districts, etc. Instruct them to analyze the data to identify voting patterns, in particular, among groups of people who typically do not vote. Ask students to contact community organizations, advocates, and others who represent these populations to speak as panelists at a school- and/or community-based forum on the issue of under-representation in voting among these groups. Students could then work with these groups to increase participation, or alternatively, students could write press releases highlighting participation trends, speaking to their implications. For ideas on increasing the vote, see NOW's America Votes Overview and NOW's Getting Out the Vote transcript from its 10/18/02 broadcast.
About the Author
Michele Israel has been an educator in varied capacities for over 20 years. As founder and director of Educational Consulting Group, Israel currently serves non-profit and educational institutions, providing services including strategic planning, curriculum development, and project management, produces learning materials and writes articles for companies such as the Public Broadcasting Service, Education World, and CNN/Turner Learning.