Note: This activity can be taught in one class period or split into 20-minute sections and taught over two class periods.
Educator Matthew R. Kay writes in his book Not Light, But Fire that one way to counter feelings of disempowerment students might experience when learning about complex and difficult current issues is to locate their own “sphere of influence.” This activity helps students locate the ways in which they can make a difference related to a current event. You can read more about Kay’s perspectives in our article, Foster Student Agency While Teaching Current Events.
For this activity, students should have access to a device they can use to conduct research. You can ask students to work individually or in small groups of 2-3.
First, ask each student, or group of students, to choose one broad topic in the news that they care about. Students can look through a news source, such as NPR, the AP, or a regional newspaper for ideas. For example, students could choose a topic such as teen use of social media, gun violence, or upcoming elections.
Then, ask students to determine how this issue impacts your local community by responding to the following prompt:
How does this issue impact you, your family, or your community?
Let your students know that they can change their topic slightly if needed to find a local connection. For example, if they initially chose “natural disasters,” they could shift to “regional heatwaves.”
Note: Pause here if you are splitting the activity over two class periods.
Now that students have their issues, ask them to research the actions that people, organizations, or governments are taking in your local community related to this issue. Students should create a list of the programs they find.
Ask students to reflect on the following prompt:
What actions from your list do you find most inspiring, and why?
Finally, ask students to choose one action that they can take related to this issue. Remind your students that even seemingly small actions, such as periodically helping a neighbor, can make a difference. Have students write their action on a piece of paper or sticky note and display the actions in your classroom.