Civic and Community Engagement Ideas For Your Students

TTlogoFounded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving inter-group relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children. Teaching Tolerance promotes experiential learning and civic engagement projects that encourage critical thinking for young people. Teaching Tolerance’s Perspectives for a Diverse America is a literacy-based curriculum that marries anti-bias social justice content with the rigor of the Common Core State Standards. Other diversity and tolerance themed initiatives that can be of value include a blog and digital magazine; various professional development ideas; numerous classroom resources and film kitsMix It Up at Lunch Day – a creative, food-based activity that encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries; and publications and webinars.

Perspectives has a particularly fun set of activities for students, the Do Something series, that gives students creative outlets to demonstrate their awareness and learning of the world around them through performance tasks that build civic engagement and critical literacy skills.  Planning for next term during winter break?

Consider including a Do Something performance assessment. The Perspectives for a Diverse America curriculum contains over 25 Do Something tasks (leveled for every grade band) ranging from photo essay exhibits to oral history projects to public service announcements. Encourage your students to engage their community and take action on content they’ve learned in the classroom!


Sample Assessment Activity

From campaign against Islamophobia and Racism
From campaign against Islamophobia and Racism


One option that will appeal to visual learners is the Consuming and Creating Political Art project for grades 6-12:

Directions for Teachers:

Students examine the history of political art. They then create their own murals, political cartoons or posters, demonstrating an understanding of social justice issues. Looking at the role of graffiti during social and political movements can be particularly interesting for young people.

Estimated time?
One to two weeks

Analyzing art strengthens higher-order thinking skills and promotes visual literacy. Political art requires students to understand satire, idioms, puns, irony and dialogue.



Get Ready

  1. Search for examples of political cartoons, muralsposters, or graffiti that illustrate images and messages connected to social justice. The Perspectives central text anthology (registration required) includes some visual texts but you may also find some examples in your community.
  2. If time permits, draw on resources from Using Editorial Cartoons to Teach Social Justice. This unit contains 14 lessons that support this task.
  3. Determine whether students will work in groups or individually.
 Get Set
  1. Introduce students to political art. Show a wide variety of examples connected to themes in the central text you have been studying. Explicitly teach the vocabulary associated with political art such as “idiom,” “satire,” “context clues,” “ irony,” “caricature,” etc.
  2. Provide students with information about supplies, work schedule and due dates. Use the rubric to define expectations and project components and to clarify how you will assess student work.
  3. Introduce students to the Do Something Student Planning Guide. Students can use the guide to decide what kind of work they want to produce, their message and what medium they will use.
  1. Provide ample time for students to create and revise their artwork and for peer and instructor feedback.
  2. Facilitate conversations between students and school leaders regarding permission and parameters for displaying art work.
  3. Find an appropriate location to display student work. Discuss how the context and location of art can affect its impact. Options might include bulletin boards, hallway wall space, or common areas such as the cafeteria, gym or auditorium.
  4. Take photographs to memorialize and celebrate student’s work.
 Use journal writing or Talking Circles to facilitate student reflection. Some suggested reflection questions include:
  • What was your favorite piece of political art? What were its strengths? Why was it effective?
  • Discuss the effectiveness of using political art for social justice change.
  • What did you learn from this experience? What about the process stands out for you?
  • How did the art created by the class relate back to the central text?
English language learners

Political art can pose a challenge for English language learners because analysis requires background knowledge about the theme or topic. Selecting examples that are strongly tied to the central text will help English language learners confidently approach the political art.

Connection to anti-bias education
Political art can have a widespread impact on communities, call people to action and reflect the realities of students’ lives. It also provides an opportunity to creatively apply student learning in a compelling, real-world context.

For more ideas to get your students’ thinking about critical issues, visit the Do Something web page! There are 30 activities with different themes targeting different grade levels. These are opportunities for young people to apply their thoughts and ideas on contemporary issues in innovative and evocative ways.  

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