Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Heroes of Ground Zero


Introduction and About the Author

James McGrath Morris has created a lesson plan for a government or civics class in grades seven through twelve. Consisting of a Power Point presentation on community needs and a group activity on community needs assessment, the lesson will encourage students to reflect on the meaning of community, examine the ways a community's needs may be determined, and evaluate the connection between the democratic health of a community and voluntary association.

About the Author
James McGrath Morris is a member of the social studies department of West Springfield High School, Springfield, Virginia and serves on the PBS TeacherSource Advisory Group. He joined Fairfax County Public Schools in 1996 after a career in journalism and publishing. During his first year of teaching Morris was nominated for the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher Award. As an author or editor, Morris has published four books. He is currently at work on a biography of a turn-of-the-century New York journalist to be published by Fordham University Press.

Lesson Plan


This lesson is appropriate for civics and government classes, as well as any class that involves peer helping or a community service component. Students will learn one of the ways that citizens who are involved in a community may determine its needs. Incorporating a Power Point presentation on community and community needs assessment, the lesson will help students evaluate the connection between the democratic health of a community and voluntary association. It will consist of four to five 90-minute blocks in addition to some extensive outside-of-class work, although a shorter single 90-minute block derivation of the lesson is also possible. Reading excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville's DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA and Robert Putnam's BOWLING ALONE can also be employed to extend the lesson by serving as a basis for discussion or a writing exercise.

Lesson Plan

Making the Connection between Community Needs and Action

Grade Level:

Civics, government, suitable also for classes such peer helping or those that have a community service component

Estimated time of completion:
Four to five blocks (90 minutes each) plus considerable time working outside the classroom. A shorter one-block (90 minutes) lesson is also possible by having students only design, but not conduct the needs assessment.

In this lesson students will learn one of the ways that citizens who are involved in a community may determine its needs. The students may further learn of the important connection in American political culture between voluntary associations and the health of democracy,

Lesson Objectives:
Students will:
  • Reflect on the meaning of community
  • Examine one of the ways a community's needs may be determined
  • Evaluate the connection between the democratic health of a community and voluntary association.
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Instructions for conducting a community needs assessment
  • Extract from De Toqueville's Democracy in America.
  • Extract from Robert Putnam Bowling Alone
  1. Present PowerPoint lecture on community and community needs assessment. (Some discussion prompt questions are listed in notes section of PowerPoint slides.)

  2. Lead discussion on meaning of community and have the students identify the communities to which they belong. For example, their neighborhood, their peer group, their athletic grouping, cultural, ethnic, etc.

  3. Explain that as a group, they are now going to conduct a community needs assessment to determine how the larger, geographic and political community in which they live (neighborhood, ward, or town) meets the needs of their community of adolescents.

  4. Distribute instructions on conducting a community needs assessment.

  5. Students complete first activity.
2nd class
    1. Students assemble final questions for survey and assign work among them.
    2. Students conduct survey as homework.
3rd class
    3. Students assemble first results.
    4. Students begin processing first data.
    5. Students conduct survey as homework
4th class
    6. Students assemble all the data
    7. Student write up results
5th class
    8. Students determine how to whom will they release the results
Extension Activities:
This lesson may be extended by having the students read an excerpt from De Tocqueville Democracy in America and Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, a provocative book that suggest the decline in voluntary associations in the United States may have dire consequences. The provocative readings may serve as the basis for a discussion or writing exercise.


View the reading

National Standards

This lesson addresses the following national content standards found at


Standard 10
Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life

Standard 28
Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals

Standard 29
Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy


Standard 2
Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health

[Behavioral Studies]

Standard 4
Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions

[Thinking and Reasoning Skills]

Standard 6
Applies decision-making techniques

Classroom Resources

The following web sites may be of use to a teacher preparing a lesson on this topic:

Community Needs Assessment: Taking the Pulse of Your Community
An excellent overview on community needs assessment.

Assessing Community Needs
Another source of information on community needs assessment, complete with a checklist!

Community Needs Assessment Survey Guide
A useful guide to conducting a community needs assessment with many examples of past ones.

WETA's Community Projects
Voices of the Community is a project for learning how and why editorial decisions are made in news and documentaries. The project had two stages: first, the students videotaped people talking about what "community" means to them. Then they used some of the videos to create five-minute documentaries exploring the idea of community. Participants in the videos were asked what "community" means to them, what their own communities are like, and what roles they play in their communities.

UPS Community Crossroads
United Parcel Service is one of many corporations that encourage community service among its employees. This web site offers examples of UPS employees engaged in a variety of service projects.

Leadership Development Through Community Action
A curriculum kit, complete with a teacher's guide, for developing youth leadership through community action is available at this web site

© 2002 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.