How can I teach civic responsibility to my 5th graders?

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Margit McGuire

One of my favorite approaches for teaching civic responsibility is through an approach called Storypath. Teachers routinely teach about the founding of the nation in fifth grade so with this approach, students imagine themselves as colonists and the civic actions they took to create a new nation. The Storypath approach uses the story form--setting, characters, and plot—to structure the learning experience. Key questions throughout the unit problematize the events, encourage substantive conversations and guide students' thinking about important understandings.

Students create a colonial setting (a visual representation), one that makes sense to them such as a street in Boston, because that is the city where so many of the events took place. They imagine themselves as merchant families learning about colonial life as they develop their characters and business. Introducing the historical events through role-plays with artifacts and primary documents develops the plot. Students must decide, for example, how they will respond to the Stamp Act. What civic actions will they take: boycott the goods, write letters of protest to Britain, or pay for the stamps? Drawing from the actual events of the time creates the lived experience as students role-play their responses. The teacher's questions guide students' learning, helping them to consider new information, explore alternatives, and think more deeply about the events.

The historical events explored through this approach lead to connections to our lives today and our civic responsibilities. My experience with this approach is that students become more interested in today's events as they compare and contrast the colonists' civic actions. Such discussions, however, must be deliberate and planned to connect students' Storypath experience to the events of today.

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