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Teaching Strategies | English Language Arts | Social Studies | February 29, 2024

4 Practices for Building Civic Engagement in the Classroom

A high-quality integrated civics education is not only critical to positive academic outcomes for students, it is also important to the long-term civic health of our democratic society. The combination of literacy and civic education can help students gain knowledge, practice skills, and develop civic dispositions. This article explores four best practices to help teachers implement essential civics education with available instructional time. Use these strategies to boost civic engagement in the classroom.

The Importance of Civic Education

If you were to ask a room of 3rd graders to explain civic duty, what answers do you think you might get? What if you asked a classroom full of 10th graders to name the three branches of government and their functions? As you may have guessed, we likely would be disheartened but not surprised by the lack of civic knowledge that students of today possess.

Since our nation's founding, civics education has been a primary purpose of American schooling. However, today's teachers know that civics education has taken a backseat for decades due to the increasing demands on instructional time, which has had enormous consequences. To cultivate a commitment to civic participation and become active members of their communities, students need regular opportunities to engage in civics learning activities from the earliest grade levels and through high school and beyond. Civics education matters, and thankfully the tides are turning.

The need for and value of civics education in K–12 education has been the subject of a great deal of discussion recently, with good reason. There has never been a time in our country's history where the need for high-quality and robust civics education has been more apparent. In January 2017, 35% of millennials said they were losing faith in American democracy, and just 25% were confident in the democratic system. In a recent survey, 43% of voters nationwide at least somewhat agree with the statement that, "the Constitution made sense in the 18th century, but it is irrelevant in the 21st century."

The Benefits of Civics Education

Sensing the urgency, how do teachers ensure students have access to quality civics education, starting with our youngest learners, and still meet the demands on their instructional time? Quality civics education, integrated across the curriculum, can help boost students' civics knowledge, skills, and dispositions and drive improvement in academic performance and other student outcomes while simultaneously promoting the long-term civic health of our democratic society. In fact, The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study shows that social studies is the only subject with a clear, positive, and statistically significant effect on reading improvement.

4 Practices for Building Civic Engagement in the Classroom

Understandably, the survey results caused concern among civics education advocates who understand the importance and benefits of civics engagement in the classroom. These factors underline the need to bring civics education back to the forefront in classrooms across the country. It is an exciting time for civics education, and we are ready to take on the challenge of bringing civic engagement into the classroom.

Below, you will find five practices for building civic engagement that you can use in your classroom right now.

Promote civic discourse and critical thinking

When we create spaces to bring in the experiences that make students experts in their communities, we recognize and value their authentic selves as a meaningful context to drive their learning. Students engaged in healthy civic discourse have opportunities to practice researching current issues in their local communities, our country, and the world to come up with feasible solutions. Asking meaningful questions based on civics concepts will allow students to practice civic discourse skills by working together to answer these questions while developing their speaking and listening skills.

Motivate students with engaging, hands-on activities to demonstrate learning

An effective way to engage students is to make learning active rather than passive. The practice of linking civics education in the classroom with real-world issues beyond school gives students opportunities to define problems in their communities, brainstorm and enact solutions, and reflect on their experiences. Creating opportunities to put their learning into action builds civic responsibility, giving students opportunities to define problems in their communities, brainstorm and enact solutions, and reflect on their experiences.

For example, ask students to identify a volunteer project where their community would benefit. Students can create a volunteer group, make a plan, and design a way to share the project. In doing this, they are practicing their civic duty in a hands-on, engaging way that benefits their community!

Reinforce literacy and civics concepts in fun, interactive ways with games

Gamification offers a wide range of civics learning opportunities and engages learners of all ages authentically, providing the opportunity to make learning fun and meaningful. Providing opportunities for students to play games centered on civics topics will motivate and engage learners, specifically those who may not already be intrinsically motivated by the content. Using games that incorporate trivia, matching, scavenger hunts, simulations, and more will support student learning in meaningful and engaging ways.

Create concrete connections to key topics through paired fiction and nonfiction texts

Pairing fiction and nonfiction texts allow students to develop and demonstrate comprehension of ideas across texts, presented by various authors. Paring texts also provide the means to integrate civics topics across contents, allowing teachers to maximize instructional time and devote crucial time to civic education in any content area. Selecting fiction and nonfiction texts with shared themes and pairing with activities that facilitate civic discourse will engage, inspire and challenge students while preparing them to meet state standards and develop their civic disposition.

Civics Resources

Teacher Created Materials’ collaborative partnership with iCivics, the largest provider of civics programming in the nation, brings you iCivics Readers. The civics-themed literacy kits for Grades K–5 combine the civic content expertise of iCivics with TCM’s literacy expertise. The four four practices for civic engagement in classrooms are found embedded within each iCivics Reader.

An informative and engaging civics education prepares students for their responsibilities as citizens and inspires them to get involved. Civics knowledge boosts students' confidence in democracy. When literacy and civics education merge to help students gain civic knowledge, practice civic skills, and develop civic dispositions, teachers can feel confident in maximizing their instructional time while providing the essential civics education students need and deserve. Focusing on these four key practices will jumpstart your civics instruction and ignite civic engagement!

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Carrie Eicher, Academic Officer for Teacher Created Materials

Carrie Eicher is currently serving as an Academic Officer for Teacher Created Materials. In her role, she provides professional development and training on TCM curriculum materials and Shell Education professional resources for school districts, teachers, and educational trainers. Prior to joining TCM, Carrie worked with Dr. Sharroky Hollie as a Consultant and Coach with the Center for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning. Carrie started her career in education as a...

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