Start a Classroom Service Project and Support Student Voice

This blog, originally published in December 2019, has been updated for 2020.

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday. One of these things is not like the others! While some days are focused on shopping and sales, #GivingTuesday instead reminds us of the more altruistic (and less commercial) elements of the holiday season. Social media messages using the hashtag inspire charitable giving and volunteering for people in their local communities and around the world.

Which led to me thinking about the power of social media to connect people to do good. This episode of Carmen Sandiego’s Fearless Kids Around the World introduced me to Bana Alabed, a Syrian refugee now living with her family in the neighboring country of Turkey. In the fall of 2016, Bana started using Twitter to broadcast the bombings in Aleppo. Access to information about the war in Syria was scarce throughout the rest of the world, but Bana's tweets shared a window into the devastated country. Soon, Bana's Twitter account and the messages she shared were being followed around the world to spread the news and also to inspire other people to help Syrian refugees.

Bana and her family were very lucky to be able to leave Syria and now live safely in Turkey, where Bana can finally attend school and receive an education. She continues to use social media to advocate for peace and talks about the importance of letting children’s voices be heard. Her experiences as a refugee helped her to realize that, "Everyone can make a difference. We must work together to end wars and bring peace."

Images and tweets from Bana Alabed's Twitter account of the devastation in Aleppo, Syria

Drawing inspiration from Bana and #GivingTuesday, why not use the December holidays as a starting point for a class service project? You have plenty of options, even if you're teaching your students remotely.

Some students will naturally be excited to start a volunteer project, but others might be harder to engage with. Get them invested by watching (or having them watch on their own) the short video with Bana and then asking your students to consider some challenges that people might face if they are living in war-torn countries or in poverty. After exploring some challenges experienced around the world and in your local community, ask the class what you could do to help people living through conflict or poverty.

Once your students have discussed and brainstormed ways to help, ask them all to think about the question, "What message would you share with the world?" The class can engage in discussion, write short responses, or even write tweets with their messages like Bana.

After students have had time to consider ways that they can make an impact, it's time to start collaborating on a class service project! Common themes and ideas will likely emerge during discussions, and the group can collectively decide on a project (or two!). But if you're having trouble coming up with a project, read on for ideas that will bring feel-good vibes while empowering student voice and incorporating SEL (and, as a bonus, these ideas don't ask students to donate anything but their time).

Environmental protection. Working together to protect our planet is crucial, and young activists like Greta Thunberg and Pablo Cavanzo highlight the power of the student voice. Working on an environmental protection project can be as simple as encouraging your students to pick up litter in the neighborhood. Or, take advice from these teachers and consider starting a community garden, working with the local government to preserve parks and land, or starting a recycling program in the school.

Cards for community members. Think of those people who might need a little extra love around the holidays, like a nursing home or children's hospital, or those people in your school community who might often go overlooked, such as custodians, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria servers, or administrative staff. This is a great activity if your students are learning away from school this fall. They will need artistic materials to get creative in card-making.

Book buddies. Pair up with another grade in your school for a reading program, where older students can help younger ones better understand what they're reading together. This can be done through videoconferencing if your students are currently learning from home.

Teach tech. Your students are likely pretty tech savvy—skills that are needed now more than ever! Show them the power of teaching by using their digital skills to help others. Consider having them connect virtually with a nursing home or retirement community to teach older citizens how to use new technology, like smartphones.

Paint a mural. Art can be instantly uplifting. On a recent trip to Baltimore, I was reminded of the power of community-driven public art when I saw the many murals in the city. Is there a wall in your school or neighborhood that could look a little brighter? Ask for permission to create a community mural, then let your students' creativity speak for itself! Make sure this is done safely, with social distancing and mask-wearing required. Your students can also take turns painting different parts of the mural individually.

Whatever you end up doing, let your students drive the boat and see how empowered they become by actively giving back and engaging with their community and the world at large. And let us know what your class ends up doing by tweeting us @TheTeacherRoom!

***

Use the free lesson plan for Grades 4–8, “Pay It Forward,” to build social-awareness and relationship skills by having your students plan and participate in a service project.

Each webisode of Carmen Sandiego’s Fearless Kids Around the World comes paired with free social-emotional learning activities following the CASEL framework to build relevant competencies. Download these SEL activities and lesson plans to inspire your students at carmensandiego.com/fearlesskids.

Be the first to read the latest from Shaped.