We want our students to be independent, responsible, empathetic and helpful. Planning a project for your students to help others is a matter of service learning. One year I invited two homeless teenagers from a local program to my classroom to talk to my second graders about what it’s like to be homeless. Next, I enrolled two students to show the homeless teen an intelligent way of what might be needed to stay clean, avoid boredom, and feel good. Later, we collected many items from our list and delivered them to the program. Teaching empathy was one of my main learning goals that year, and this project helped me accomplish that goal with flying colors.
What is service learning, and what makes it important for students’ social and emotional life?
Service learning, as defined by the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC), is a teaching and learning approach that promotes civic responsibility and creates meaningful learning opportunities through community service. In short, it means that children learn how to be a good community member by serving the people, animals and environment around them because it is a more normal learning experience. Service Learning also improves academic and social outcomes for students as it helps children feel connected and gives them a sense of belonging. Helping others fills us with something that cannot be filled in any other way.
How can I make service learning successful in my classroom?
The most important thing to keep in mind when incorporating service learning into the classroom is to find projects that can be completed in a relatively short time, are student-driven and easily articulated. Projects should be short and student-driven because you want to keep students interested and excited. Projects should be easy to talk about because you want to share what you are doing with your administration and parents Making an argument with a tie to your curriculum may seem complicated or “more work”, but once you look at some examples, I think you will agree that it is not so difficult and totally worth it.
Here’s how to develop a service learning logic with a tie to the curriculum.
I strongly believe in having an argument (an educational reason) behind what I do in the classroom. Not just for yourself, anyone asks. Service education is no different, but that doesn’t mean you have to do more. Most services lend themselves well to the values of language learning arts and social studies, but be sure to review your values in science, math, foreign languages, music, art, and physical education. Identifying values early ensures that the service learning experience you create provides an authentic outlet to cover the values of your content. Students need to know the needs of their community and how they can contribute to the solution to empowering their community. Visit YSA’s Youth Services Knowledge Center for resources to help students determine how to better understand their community.
Consider starting with a community-need-assessment project for some real-world practice.
Want to build great skills in your students such as responsibility, decision making, self-awareness, social-awareness and self-confidence? You cannot believe how independent your students can be if the results are real. Talk to your students about what a community needs assessment and why it is valuable. Consider arranging a date and time for your students to present their results to your school community for a real-world time period.
Step 1: Identify the community (30-60 minutes).
Your community can be a block, a neighborhood or a school A community is defined as a group that shares a common bond. You need to identify the community you are targeting. Use the following questions to do this:
- How would you describe the boundaries of your community?
- Which group of people in your community live?
- Does your community have any special needs?
- Where are the resources available in your community? (Libraries, grocery stores, gas stations, playgrounds, or whatever your students think are important to their community.)
- Who are the community leaders and communicators?
Step 2: Consult with data source (60 minutes).
How can you collect this information quickly and accurately? List your students who may know the answers to the above five questions. Be sure to gather information about your community’s resources for your students. It’s important to remember that you have a great library, for example, so you as a team don’t get overwhelmed and frustrated. You will not be able to do everything. Identify what your students need to know and who is going to collect that information. Set up a meeting to share information and start putting it on a Google Slide deck or similar application.
Step 3: Community Survey (90 minutes).
It’s a fun way to identify what kids need most in their community. Help them create a simple survey (usually only five questions are enough) and identify who they want to take this survey with. Talk to them about how a sample of people will yield as good results as a large survey of everyone in the community. Then gather information and talk to your students.
Create your service learning project.
Now that you know what you want to work on — for example, more books for the library, planting trees, or helping homeless families with care kits — it’s time to write your plan and share it with your school community. There are four types of service learning projects:
Direct service learning project where students directly serve and influence individuals.
For example, students may teach dance classes to young children, volunteer at homeless shelters, or meet people at support-friendly facilities.
Indirect service learning project where students focus on a wide range of topics.
They can do history research in their city or work on restoring historic buildings. They can plant trees and remove invasive plants from the area around their town.
Research-based service learning project where students gather and present information in areas of interest.
For example, students may write a guide to community services, research the effects of air quality in their area, or gather information about nonprofits or government agencies in their community.
Advocacy service learning project where students can educate others to create awareness.
Students can encourage action on issues that affect the community. For example, they may present at public forums, such as city halls or district board meetings. Students can also create lectures to present to administrators about topics of interest to the school or local needs. Encourage students to work with elected officials in the community to make changes to the city ordinance to make their community better.
Here are some great examples of service learning projects that fall under the standard of different curricula:
Industry-centric service learning project
- Teach dance classes to young children.
- Draw pictures for seniors in a supportive-living facility.
- Make a replica of your city’s historic district and present it to district or city officials.
- Draw an inspirational mural at school.
Writing and research-oriented service learning project
- Write a community service guide.
- Create a brochure about your area’s history to explain how your community has changed over time.
- Translate pamphlets or booklets into other languages to help community members who can’t speak English.
- Take a tutoring class after school or during the lunch break to help young students read.
Technology-oriented service learning project
- Create a website to showcase special events happening at the school.
- Create a social media plan to promote a community or school event.
- Write a blog to support change in the community or in your school.
- Create a multimedia presentation that can be used to help young students master their math knowledge.
Sports-centric service learning project
- Organize walks or races to raise awareness of an issue that is important to the community.
- Lead and organize a sports tournament for the school to raise money for the extra resources the school needs.
- Create a solution to help make your playground safer or more fun.
- Develop ways to help students with special needs take better advantage of recess games and equipment.
Now help your students spread the word about their ministry.
Sharing service work and its impact on the community is an important lesson for your students. Eligible to share research and planned service work. And who knows, it might inspire other class or community members to take on the challenge of service work.
Consider these sharing ways:
- Invite family members to be audience members for a student presentation on community needs and solutions.
- Send a blog post to community members to share what your students have accomplished.
- Visit your school’s social media account to let followers know what’s going on.