The start of a new semester is an opportunity to create a new community and learning culture in the classroom. For many teachers this semester, this community building is taking place in new and challenging circumstances. This activity is designed to help build a classroom culture conducive to civic learning and dialogue, regardless of your situation. Whether you are teaching virtually, in-person, or in a hybrid classroom, this activity can help start your year.
Time Required: 45 minutes for activity, 15 minutes for homework
- Copies of Handout A Background Essay: What Does it Mean to Be a Citizen?
Tip: This lesson is ideal for the first day of school. Working with students to set the ground rules for discussion and class interaction, particularly if you are in a novel environment, can help facilitate buy in from students. Work with students to identify the challenges your class is collectively facing and how those challenges can be overcome.
Objectives: Students work in small groups to identify characteristics of a good citizen, and translate that work into building a classroom community during COVID-19. Students will debrief the activity to consider other communities in which they are good citizens. Prior to the lesson, arrange students in small groups if possible (4 or 5 students per group).
- Depending on student skill level and background, briefly clarify the dictionary definition of “citizen.”
- First, instruct students to individually list characteristics of a good citizen, especially given the challenges of your current circumstances. There should be no conversation during this part of the lesson. (2 minutes)
- Students share and compare responses within each group. Each group will decide on a consensus list of the five most important characteristics of a good citizen. It is not necessary to prioritize within the list of five. Note that consensus involves a process of reaching an agreement in which everyone’s opinion is heard and considered, not simply a vote by majority rule. (10 minutes)
- Each group shares its list in turn, with teacher posting on the board or appropriate classroom display technology the list of five attributes the group has selected.
- Have the class identify and circle similarities among lists.
- Teacher highlights the most frequently named characteristics.
- Teacher leads a whole-class discussion of how the highlighted characteristics apply to and are important for a civil and productive classroom, soliciting as much student participation as possible in identifying classroom application of the civic skills.
- Have students first individually reflect on debrief questions such as the following, and then conduct a whole-class discussion as appropriate.
- Did you need to start with a definition of citizenship, or did you develop it as you worked?
- Were the characteristics you listed based on reason or emotion?
- To what extent will the list we developed as a class be a good set of rules?
- Would this list look different during a normal school year without COVID-19? If so, why?
- What steps are important in reaching a reasoned decision as an individual? As a group?
- What skills were necessary in order for you to accomplish this activity?
- Why is the skill of rational decision-making a useful tool?
- What criteria did you use to prioritize/reach consensus?
- In what ways did you and your group demonstrate the ability to come to a reasoned judgment in reading, writing, and speech?
- Distribute and assign for homework Handout A: Background Essay: What Does It Mean to be a Citizen?
This activity is part of the curriculum from our My Impact Challenge citizenship program. You can find the entire unit on the MyImpact Challenge website.