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America’s Civic Values (ELL)

90 min

What civic values are essential in a free society?

Students will:

  • Understand the meaning of a variety of civic values.
  • Analyze the Founders’ understanding of the term “virtue.”
  • Evaluate scenarios where civic values can be exercised.
  • Integrate these values into their lives.

Handouts may have two versions. Version 1 is at a higher level than Version 2.

  • Handout A: Being an American
  • Handout B: Civic Value Quote Cards
  • Handout C: Civic Values and You
  • Handout D: Civic Values and the Constitution (Versions 1 and 2)
  • Handout E, F, G, H, and I: Significant Speeches (Versions 1 and 2)
  • Handout J: Civic Values Glossary

  1. Using homework as a starting point, have students brainstorm as a large group the kinds of traits they identified. Ask students to explain their suggestions and define terms as needed. Keep a list of responses on the board.
  2. Review the list and point out how certain traits are in fact examples of civic values in action. For example, the trait of “brave” is an example of the civic value of courage. The trait “honest” is an example of honor or responsibility. Have students put the traits in groups based on similar characteristics.
  3. Give students a list of the Civic Values from Handout B. Ask them to determine which of the traits they listed correspond with the groups they created.
    • Were there any values missing from their list? If yes, ask students why they believe they were overlooked? If not, ask the students how they knew what traits were important.
  4. Point out to students that none of the values are new. Since ancient times, individuals and societies have relied on certain attitudes and behaviors. These have been called virtues, morals, principles, or more commonly today, values. Virtues are eternal and unchanging – they are the same for all people because they are grounded in human nature. The Founders believed that a democratic republic would only succeed as long as the people were virtuous – as long as they were faithful to values like the ones discussed in this lesson, in their public and private lives.

Activity I – 30 min.

  1. Divide the class into ten small groups. Give each group one Quote Card from Handout B: Civic Value Quote Cards (Versions 1 and 2). Have students read and discuss the definition and quotations on their card, and answer the questions from the last page of Handout B about their specific value.
  2. As a large group, brainstorm concrete ways to exercise civic values as engaged citizens. To facilitate the discussion, you may suggest:
    • Writing a letter to suggest a new crossing signal near the school;
    • Protesting what they believe is an unjust school rule;
    • Respectful but assertive ways of questioning authority when rights are being abridged by government;
    • Starting a small business;
    • Donating to charity.

Activity II – 30 min.

  1. On the board, write the quotation, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point” – C.S. Lewis. Share the quote with students and discuss how the right thing to do is not always easy, but in fact may require courage – itself a civic virtue.
  2. Have students work in pairs or small groups to analyze the scenarios presented on cards on Handout C: Civic Values and You (Versions 1 and 2).
  3. Give students time to read and discuss the scenario and their responses. They should identify which value(s) are exemplified in their scenario. (If time permits, ask volunteers to act out their scenarios in front of the class.)
  4. As a large group, have students share their scenarios, responses, answers, and reasoning with the class.
  5. Discuss the consequences of the decisions. Students may suggest that civic values are merely about being a “good friend” or a “good person.” Ask students: Is there more to being virtuous than being a good friend? Why did the Founders think the republic they created was fit only for virtuous people?

  1. Wrap up by having students reflect on the civic values highlighted in the lesson. Using a small group think-pair-share format, or as a large group, discuss the following questions:
    • Did your responses to any of the scenarios surprise you?
    • Do you think these values are something you are born with or develop over time?
    • If you are not born with them, how do you learn them? Where do you learn them? When do you learn them? From whom do you learn them?
    • How should you respond when your values are challenged?
    • How can you increase your ability to act according to these values on a regular basis?

  1. If students have studied the Constitution, ask them to consider what civic values the Constitution requires of citizens. Using Civic Value Quote Cards as a reference, have them complete Handout D: Civic Values and the Constitution individually or in pairs.
  2. Have students write a three- to five-paragraph essay comparing a civic value demonstrated by an individual in history to the values of a modern individual.
  3. Have students work in groups to create videos based on Handout C scenarios. Students can use the scenarios to write scripts, storyboard their videos, and then film the role-plays. Put all videos on one webpage labeled by the civic value(s) they portray.

  1. Distribute Handout E: The Hypocrisy of American Slavery (1852); Handout F: The Gettysburg Address (1863); Handout G: Speech to the U.S. Congress on December 9, 1941; Handout H: Address to D-Day Forces (1944); and Handout I: Shuttle Challenger Address (1986) Version 1 or 2 so that approximately one-fifth of the class reads each speech. Have students list the civic values reflected in their speech, and invite them to deliver some or all of the speech class.
  2. Have students write personal mission statements that reflect their values and goals for living in accordance with them.