A lesson plan to go with: “There ought to be a law! Upset about the crowded classes at our school, my class wrote a proposition to limit class size” by Andrea Kim, published May-June 2000

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students discuss issues of concern to their communities and explore the variety of avenues available for concerned community members to address these issues and effect change.

Students will:
• Discuss issues of importance to their communities and actions that could be taken to address them.
• Discuss the various avenues available to them for the addressing of these issues, and how to decide which avenue is appropriate for a particular issue.
• Write a plan of action to address a particular issue and avenue for making change.

• copies of “There ought to be a law!” (one per student)
• newsprint and markers (for each small group)
• pens/pencils
• paper
• classroom chalkboard

1. Warm-up: In journals or on separate pieces of paper, students respond to the following prompt written on the board: What is a problem in your school, neighborhood, or city that you think needs to be fixed, and why? What do you think can be done about it? Why do you think the problem hasn’t been fixed yet?

2. As a class, read “There ought to be a law!” Then discuss the article, addressing these questions:
    a. Why did Andrea Kim and her classmates think that classroom overcrowding was a problem?

    b. Do you think that classroom overcrowding is a problem in your school? Why or why not?

    c. Would you have done what Andrea and her classmates did to try to change things in their school? Why or why not?

    d. Andrea and her classmates think that even they, as teenagers, can change things in society that they don’t like—but it takes a lot of work. Do you think that they are right? Can you make a difference? Is it worth it to try, even if it will be a long, difficult process requiring lots of hard work?

3. Using Andrea’s issue of overcrowded classrooms as a starting point, ask students to name issues of concern to them and their communities, or things that need to be changed in their school or neighborhoods, and write them on one half of the board; these items can be “big” or “small” things. If students are slow to respond, use examples like dirty school bathrooms, broken streetlights, problems with the police, school textbook shortages, etc. Try to get at least five different problems on the board (or as many as there will be small groups). Discuss each one, asking what the problem and possible solutions are. Now, noting that Andrea’s class used the state ballot initiative process to address their issue and that different problems can be addressed via different avenues, ask for examples of these avenues/methods/processes. Use examples like writing a letter to the media or circulating a petition if necessary, and write these items on the other side of the board. Discuss these avenues for action—how do you determine which avenue is appropriate for which type of problem, and why? Match problems on the board with potential avenues for action, drawing lines between them.

4. Divide the class into groups of 3 to 4 and give each group newsprint and markers. Each group should pick one of the problems/issues on the board to address, and write the problem on the newsprint. On the newsprint, brainstorm a plan of action: What change or action do you want to take place? What are the different ways to achieve that end? What is the most effective and most practical for you to pursue? To whom would your efforts be addressed, and why? How do you organize and carry out a plan of action, and how do you decide who does what?

5. Returning to the large group, each small group presents its issue and plan of action. Students in the rest of the class ask questions about the plan, its scope and feasibility, and make criticisms or suggestions.

6. Wrap-up/homework: Each student having copied their group’s newsprint brainstorm into their own notebooks and noted class suggestions, each student will write up a cogent plan of action with the following parts: Problem; Plan of Action; Rationale; Potential Obstacles; Evaluation. First, describe the issue and why it is a problem needing to be fixed. Next, provide a plan of action detailing tasks and organizational issues in the order they need to be done, and who will carry them out. Explain why you have chosen to address the problem in this manner. Describe potential obstacles to your goal and how you would get around them. Finally, explain how you will evaluate the outcome of your plan.

Further Questions for Discussion:
• Discuss voting and civic participation: if you could, would you vote? Why or why? Do you think political participation matters? Why or why not?

• Do you think that you (as a teenager, as an individual, as a member of a specific community) can “make a difference”? Why or why not? What does “making a difference” mean to you. How have you learned/come to these beliefs?

• What are other ways in which you and your communities can effect change on issues of concern to you? How do you get around obstacles that may get in your way?

Students will be evaluated on their completed individual writing assignments, participation in discussion, and participation in group activities.

Extension Activities:
• Practice different writing forms—letter to an official, letter to the editor, petition, press release—according to the needs of the plans of action developed by the small groups. (This could be an additional homework assignment.)

• As Andrea and her classmates did, you and your students can take this discussion and exercise to the next step: as a class, pick one small group’s issue and plan of action, deciding on changes or modifications by concensus, and work on the project for an extended period of time. This may involve the ballot initiative process, as in the article, or your class may choose to address an issue by organizing a school or community letter writing or petition campaign directed at a school/district administrator or city official.