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July 29, 2020

Lesson plan: Civic engagement and how students can get involved

What rights and abilities do you have as a U.S. citizen when it comes to advocating for issues you believe in? Use the lesson plan below to discuss civic engagement and the role citizens play in making our voices heard.


U.S. government, civics, social studies

Estimated Time

60 minutes

Grade Level

Middle and High School


To understand the importance of civic participation and the tools which allow individuals to engage in the political process.

Essential Questions

What forms does civic participation come in? Why does civic engagement matter?


DAY 1:

  • Ask students how many historical political movements they can name that accomplished significant and transformative change in the United States or elsewhere. Make a list as a class.
  • Show the We the Voters video below on the rights to free speech, free assembly and petitioning the government and how the U.S. Constitution guarantees them. 

  • Why have individuals in U.S. history come together in order to protest an issue they care about? It is important to note that not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of participating in a political protest. What are some other ways to get involved in addition to protests? Make a list as a class. (Examples: Serve the community through charity, run for office in your town or city, attend town hall meetings, contact your state legislature to voice your opinion, organize a community event, etc.)
  • Show this We the Voters video, Run Rep Run, on one young person’s run for office on the state level.

  • Ask students: Would you ever consider running for office one day? Why or why not? What are some issues in their own community that students feel passionate about? Which issues affect their lives directly? Make a list as a class.


  • Ask students to interview and take notes on an adult they know, whether a family member, teacher, coach, etc. Interview questions should include:
    • Have you ever “gotten involved” in an issue you care about? (Examples: attended an inauguration, protest, town hall meeting, or other political event, contacted a politician, signed a petition, etc.)
    • What is one issue, local or national, that you care about? Why?
  • Then, ask students to write a short one-paragraph response on what they learned from the interview.
    • Who did you interview and why?
    • What did you learn about the person you interviewed that you did not know?
    • What surprised you?
    • Why is it important to talk with others about issues that matter? Why is it important to talk with others on issues that you may not agree on?

DAY 2:

  • Ask students if they know who the governor of their state is, as well as any names of senators or representatives that represent them at the state and national level.
  • Use this website to look up the information as a class.
  • Review as a class:
    • How many senators does each state have? How many representatives does each state have? How many governors does each state have?
    • What is the difference between federal and state government?
    • What are the three branches of the federal government? Which positions are under each branch? Use this diagram to demonstrate.
(Source: kids.usa.gov)

(Source: kids.usa.gov)


  • Students should pick one of the representatives or senators from their state that they looked up in class.
  • Then, look up that person’s vote on any given bill in the state legislature or Congress. Write down what the bill was about and how the lawmaker voted on it. Be prepared to share in class.
  • Students should research and record 5 facts about their current state governor. Avoid facts about personal life. Focus on things like what bills they have signed into law, what legislation have they been most vocal about, accomplishments, political affiliation, etc. Be prepared to share in class.

DAY 3:

  • Have students share what they completed for homework and discuss as a class. Ask students what they think next steps should be. How could they follow up on a particular issue?
    • Possible responses: research news articles online, look at the government ‘bill tracker’ website which states the status of bills-every state has one, write an email or call your representative’s office voicing your opinion on a issue–note: lawmakers have moved with the times when it comes to communicating with their constituents. Writing a letter through the U.S. postal service is no longer the way the majority of constituents communicate with their legislators.

Extension Activities

By Victoria Pasquantonio, education editor at PBS NewsHour and former social studies teacher, and Laura Rockefeller, a junior at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore, Maryland and NewsHour Extra intern. 

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered). CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10). CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

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