It’s that time of year…my August energy has long since gone and my students are settling into the year (aka – is anyone even listening to me?). From now until winter break just seems to drag.
A few years ago, I completed my National Geographic Educator Certification. October was when we really dove headfirst into the student activities I intended them to complete for this certification. What happened over the next few months was transformative to both my teaching and my students and their achievement.
So, what was it?…
I gave them real-world tasks to accomplish. Something to actually connect to and see a purpose for outside of the four walls of our classroom.
These tasks required that they, as first graders, had the ability to both communicate clearly with adults and persuade them using informative and persuasive writing and speaking skills. They had to research a topic, make a plan of action for change, and implement that plan.
Did they do it alone? No, but they were six and seven years old and just starting this journey. Through this project, they were empowered to make change. And in the process, I have never had more engaged learners producing such quality work during the first half of first grade. I was sold. Give. Me. More.
Want to experience this with your students? I’ve gathered 7+ activities to empower students to make change in the real world and start this process in your classroom today!
Activity to Empower Students 1. Read About Change Makers
There are so many opportunities to teach students about diverse people who have made change. Not only does this show them that it can be done, but it can also spark ideas for making change in the community.
One of my favorite new books to show students how to make change is Batty for Change: Six Steps for Kids to Change the World (Halverson). It chronicles the steps one class takes to make change happen in their community. And bonus – It is based on a true story and is perfect for October because it is about bats. You also can download a *free* activity packet for students and a teacher guide for you to make life easier.
I also highly recommend any of the diverse biographies from the Education to the Core World Discoveries Social Studies Units. Students can read about a diverse selection of real people like Malala Yousafzai, Dr. Mabel Ping Hua Lee, or Chico Mendes who saw a problem in their community and worked for change. They’re available in paper or digital formats for ease of use and have comprehension activities at the end.
Activity 2. Get Curious
For students to be empowered to make change, they have to recognize when there are problems. While students are primed for the “that’s not fair” conversation – it is usually focused just on themselves (that’s just how childhood development goes).
Encourage students to look beyond themselves to the broader community and see what other problems surround them – where else does unfairness exist? Ask lots of questions about the actions people take every day.
- “What happens to the things you buy when you are done with them?”
- “What are the effects of the choices you make?”
- “Who could this system or process not work for and why?”
- “Who do you see a lot of in this space? Who do you not see in this space? Why do you think that is?”
Remember – your community includes everything around you – including plants and animals!
Activity 3. Go Outside!
Connect to a child’s natural sense of wonder and curiosity by going outside. Bring a notebook, clipboard and paper, or this Nature Journal printable and just connect with the world around you. This can help inspire your students to think about the natural community around them. Students fight for what they care about… they won’t be able to make change for the natural world if they have no connection to it or passion for it.
Activity to Empower Students 4. Good Citizen Action Plan
Once your students have read about others making change and have started to get curious, they may begin to feel empowered to make change, but not know where to start. Capitalize on this while teaching your students about being good citizens with the Project-Based Learning Activity: Good Citizen Action Plan. It walks students (and you!) through the process of making change – no planning is required on your part!
Do your students need less scaffolding? Check out this Making Change one-page template after reading about MLK, Jr. and completing the puzzle about his life and how he empowered others to make change.
Activity 5. Discuss Issues of Social Justice & How to Speak Up Daily
Every day, students are faced with issues of social justice, bullying, and unkindness. Help empower them to make change by, in age-appropriate ways, discussing suitable issues with your students. Teach students the language to use when they see something wrong. Have them practice using this language in constructed situations. You can do this during morning meetings, snacks, or just in passing as issues arise (although I recommend teaching it from day one so they are prepared when issues inevitably arise).
Want to learn more? Check out these folx on Instagram!
- Little Justice Leaders(@littlejusticeleaders)
- Britt Hawthorne (@britthawthorne)
- Vera Ahiyya (@thetututeacher)
You can also build books into your day such as Speak Up, Molly Lou Melon (Lovell). After reading, complete this reading response to reflect on the lesson. Another of my favorite books is Sofia Valdez, Future Prez (Beaty). We’ve included discussion questions for the text, which tells the story of Sofia, an active, community-minded kid, taking action to fix Mount Trashmore. After reading, complete this writing and art craftivity!
Empower Beyond the Books
Another way your students can feel empowered to make change is by making their own yard signs. You can connect this to the text, Sometimes People March (Allen) or We March (Evans), and use the reading reflection sheet. Then, use this template, or poster board to help students select a topic they feel passionate about and create a yard sign to educate or persuade. Then, have them put it up in their yard to make the real-world connection even stronger!
Give students a chance to speak out for something they believe in with the Get Involved in Local Government Home Connection activity. It includes reflection questions for after attending a local government meeting and encourages students to talk at the meeting if there is a problem or issues they think should be brought to the attention of the people with the power to make change.
Activity 6. Service Learning
Not ready for a full-blown immersion into student empowerment yet? Take baby steps! The following are all great options for both at-home and at-school opportunities for service learning.
The Home Connection: Service Learning Choice Board is a great way to reinforce at home the ideas and concepts being taught at school. Students are presented with a bingo-style board containing nine easy-to-complete options from doing yard work for an elderly neighbor to holding a lemonade stand to raise money for the non-profit of their choice!
After reading Maddi’s Fridge (Brandt), hold a food drive with this easy-to-implement activity. With discussion questions for the text and a physical activity for post-reading that helps students donate food to those in need around the world, this is a surefire hit! When the food drive is completed, walk it to the food pantry, take a field trip to drop it off, or have a representative from the food pantry come to collect it and talk to your students to solidify the real-world connection.
Activity to Empower Students 7. Volunteer
Empower students to make change as a class through volunteering that you do together. As a class, pick a non-profit organization that you can volunteer with or for over the course of the school year. While the options for this can be somewhat limited due to age, there are generally ways you can be involved with the non-profit of your choice.
For example, if students want to help out at the humane society or animal shelter, they aren’t likely to be able to actually go there and care for the pets, but they could make toys, treats, or blankets for the animals or raise money for the shelter to use to purchase needed supplies. Then, try to schedule either a virtual visit or time for a representative of the organization to come speak to your students to enhance the real-world connection so it is a less abstract experience.
If you’re looking to build or enhance a set of texts around the topic of empowering students to make change, in addition to those mentioned above, I also recommend:
- Enough! 20 Protesters Who Changed America (Easton)
- Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights (Sanders)
- You Have A Voice (Ahiyya)
- You Can Change the World (Ordinary People Change the World) (Meltzer)
- How to Make a Better World: For Every Kid Who Wants to Make a Difference (Take on the World) (Swift)
Activity 8. Put it All Into Action
So, what’s holding you back from empowering your students to make change and quite possibly fill your classroom with the excited buzzing chatter of students dreaming, planning, researching, discussing, writing, and drawing about real-world problems that they can help solve. Engaged students = quality work because they have a real reason to put their best into it. Engaged students also means fewer behavior problems, which I know we all love!
Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back. Don’t let topics intimidate you. Learn alongside your students and know that you will make mistakes. This is a perfect chance to model for your students what to do when they make mistakes. Now, go get started with any of these activities to empower students to make change today.
Written By: Kristin Halverson, NBCT
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