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Resources to Support Civic Engagement

Civic engagement resources for classroom use.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can always build our youth for the future.” At the California Department of Education (CDE), we work to help California educators build our youth to be successful and engaged citizens.

Educators, administrators, students, families, community members, and others are encouraged to use these resources to support civic engagement inside and outside the classroom, especially as students work to earn the California State Seal of Civic Engagement (SSCE). Please use the contact information at the bottom of the page if you have questions, or to learn more about the SSCE.

Distance Learning During COVID-19

Students can still be civically engaged, even in this new and rapidly changing educational landscape. Many of the resources listed on the tabs below can be adapted for distance learning, and some programs are already providing resources designed for a virtual environment. Additionally, the links below contain several resources specifically designed to teach civics through distance learning during the COVID-19 response.

California History-Social Science Project (CHSSP) Teacher and Parent Distance Learning Resources External link opens in new window or tab.

The CHSSP provides History-Social Science (HSS) resources to support teachers engaged in distance learning and parents helping children learn at home, including a parent’s guide to History-Social Science (HSS).

Californians For All External link opens in new window or tab.

The Office of the Governor California Volunteers Program has special opportunities to get involved with the COVID-19 volunteer response.

California’s COVID-19 Response External link opens in new window or tab.

This page contains comprehensive information about California’s COVID-19 response, including ways to become involved in the effort.

CDE Resources to Support Distance Learning

This page aggregates guidance documents, webinars, and content-specific links to support distance learning in a variety of subjects.

Civic Engagement in the Online Classroom External link opens in new window or tab.

This article, published in the Journal of Public Affairs in April 2019, details one professor’s development and implementation of a civics project in an online American government course.

iCivics Remote Learning Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab.

These free resources from iCivics include games and toolkits designed for educators and families to use for distance learning.

Street Law At-Home Learning Materials External link opens in new window or tab.

Street Law provides interactive curriculum and training for teaching young people about the law and government. This list has been updated to include at-home civics learning resources and strategies.

Teaching for Democracy Alliance Civic Engagement in the Digital Age External link opens in new window or tab.

This growing list highlights organizations that are producing and elevating resources to support civic engagement through distance learning.

Foundational Documents for Civic Engagement

In 2013, Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI), Tom Torlakson, introduced the Civics Education Initiative. This included a series of programs and resources geared toward revitalizing statewide civic education:

The following documents provide research, case studies, and policy recommendations for improving student civic engagement.

Research and Reports

The Civic Mission of Schools External link opens in new window or tab.

Published in 2003 as part of a partnership between the Carnegie Corporation, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, this document represented an effort to gather scholars and practitioners to determine the most effective, feasible civic education programs possible. The report serves as the foundation for several other documents in this collection, and marks the beginning of the current national push to improve civic education.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K–12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History External link opens in new window or tab.

The result of a three-year state-led collaborative effort, the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards was developed for states to upgrade their social studies standards, and for local school districts, schools, teachers, and curriculum writers to strengthen their social studies programs. Its objectives are to: (a) enhance the rigor of the social studies disciplines; (b) build critical thinking, problem solving, and participatory skills to become engaged citizens; and (c) align academic programs to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in HSS.

Critical Affective Civic Literacy: A Framework for Attending to Political Emotion in the Social Studies Classroom External link opens in new window or tab.

This 2020 report was published in the Journal of Social Studies Research to discuss the role of emotion in citizenship and presents an argument for critical affective literacy in civic education classrooms. The report also offers instructional strategies for handling the political emotions of students.

Equitable Civic Empowerment in Schools: Addressing the Civic Debt in Democratic Education External link opens in new window or tab.

This article outlines the importance of schools promoting equity, social justice, and civic engagement in schools. It also provides an explanation of how the State Seal of Civic Engagement (SSCE), the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) process, Multi-Tiered System of Supports and related efforts to incorporate civic engagement standards into the California School Dashboard can help equitable civic empowerment for all students.

Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States External link opens in new window or tab.

This report, published by Educational Testing Service in the leadup to the 2012 presidential election, analyzes how gaps in educational attainment and income indicate fault lines in our democracy by predicting voting and civic engagement rates. The report includes specific data on young adults’ civic engagement compared to their income and education, and makes recommendations for schools, colleges, and adult education.

Fulfilling the Democratic Aims of Education: A Systemic Approach for Generating Learning Opportunities for Students’ Informed Participation in Civic and Political Life External link opens in new window or tab.

This publication provides several key strategies for advancing civic education system wide based on experiences promoting civic learning and engagement in Chicago, Illinois and Riverside, California.

Guardians of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools External link opens in new window or tab.

This 2011 report builds and expands on the findings of the 2003 Civic Mission of Schools. The report updates research on the benefits of civic learning, outlines the Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning, and makes policy recommendations for improving civic outcomes.

Let’s Go There: Making a Case for Race, Ethnicity, and a Lived Civics Approach to Civic Education External link opens in new window or tab.

This article focuses on the idea of “lived civics” as a frame for more effective civic learning by explicitly addressing the interests and experiences of young people through the context of best practices in teaching civics. The article offers ideas on reframing civics content and instruction, and includes a review of contemporary civics literature, principles of lived civics, and reflections for educators to consider.

Reclaiming the Democratic Purpose of California’s Public Schools External link opens in new window or tab.

This study of civic learning in California school districts draws upon LCAPs and district mission statements to assess the degree to which districts are focused on and devoting resources to civic priorities. It provides several key findings based upon the data, and makes recommendations for supporting the SSCE and moving forward with a systemic commitment to, and investment in, civic learning.

The Republic is (Still) at Risk—and Civics is Part of the Solution External link opens in new window or tab.

This report, published in 2017, adds several complementary streams of research and practice to the Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning. Ideas for enhancing civic education with news media literacy education, action civics, social and emotional learning, and school climate reform are included, as well as two case studies of states improving their civic learning plans.

Revitalizing K–12 Civic Learning In California: A Blueprint For Action (PDF)

This report, by the California Task Force on K–12 Civic Learning, was published in August 2014 as a partnership between former SSPI Tom Torlakson and Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. The report offers system-wide recommendations to improve civic learning, including revising the HSS Content Standards and Framework and improving professional learning opportunities.

Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)

Published in 2014 by the Education Commission of States, this guidebook is a resource for teachers, administrators, policymakers, and others who want to put the Six Proven Practices in place but are not sure where to begin. The document highlights research and provides practical suggestions for implementing each practice.

Ways of Council External link opens in new window or tab.

Council is a sharing method, focused on empathy and active listening. It can be effective especially when working on topics such as personal development and strengthening of group dynamics.

Youth Civic Development & Education Consensus Report External link opens in new window or tab.

This 2013 conference, funded by the Bechtel Foundation, brought together several experts on youth civic development and citizenship education in order to promote civic development and participation for youth from all backgrounds. The report outlines recommendations regarding improving citizenship education nationwide.

General, Comprehensive Resources

These organizations offer a variety of programs to support civic learning at all levels and for a variety of audiences.

American Political Science Association Civic Engagement Resources External link opens in new window or tab.

Offers a variety of resources that support civic engagement in electoral politics, including the Resources to Amplify and Increase Student Engagement (RAISE) the Vote External link opens in new window or tab. campaign, which hosts the majority of their curriculum resources.

California Global Education Project External link opens in new window or tab.

Webinars, podcasts, and curriculum to support civic engagement from a global perspective.

Center for Civic Education External link opens in new window or tab.

Series of civics programs, community partnership opportunities, lesson resources, and other publications.

Constitutional Rights Foundation Curriculum Materials External link opens in new window or tab.

Extensive array of lesson resources including Bill of Rights in Action, Civics On Call, civic scenarios and simulations, and more.

Facing History and Ourselves External link opens in new window or tab.

Wide variety of resources for educators External link opens in new window or tab., school leaders, students and families that address racism, anti-semitism, and prejudice throughout history. Key resources include curriculum, strategies, webinars, Teaching with Current Events External link opens in new window or tab., the Choosing to Participate Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab., and Fostering Civil Discourse: How do We Talk about Issues that Matter External link opens in new window or tab..

Teaching For Democracy Alliance External link opens in new window or tab.

Classroom activities and lessons, voter registration information, teacher training and resources, school and district resources, and research on civic education.

Youth Leadership Initiative External link opens in new window or tab.

Program geared towards helping civics educators implement comprehensive civics education programs. Includes lesson plans, an E-Congress, mock elections, research, current events discussion support, and teacher training.

Searchable Resource Databases

These sites include searchable resource databases that provide information for educators, administrators, families, and students.

CTE Online External link opens in new window or tab.

Database of resources focused on career and technical education lessons. Includes primary sources, lesson plans, strategies, and resources to support Project Based Learning.

Digital Chalkboard External link opens in new window or tab.

Articles, reports, lesson plans and other resources that support civic engagement.

iCivics External link opens in new window or tab.

Searchable database of resources dedicated to civic engagement. Search by content or by standard, or play games, check out curriculum units, or plan a civics scope and sequence. They also offer resources to support distance learning.

EDSITEment External link opens in new window or tab.

The National Endowment for the Humanities provides this resource that contains lesson plans, curricula, and full teacher’s guides for grades K–12. Search by topic and grade level. Resources are HSS-focused, but also include literature, language arts, arts and culture.

Teaching Civics External link opens in new window or tab.

Database focused on lessons for civics, government, and law-related education for K–12 students. Includes simulations, discussions, mock trials, case studies, and other research-based materials. Filter lessons by grade level, lesson topic, strategy, or standard.

Teaching Tolerance External link opens in new window or tab.

Database of a variety of resources, including film kits, short texts, strategies, lessons, and customized learning plans. The site also contains Social Justice Standards External link opens in new window or tab., anchor standards, and learning outcomes divided into the domains of identity, diversity, justice, and action.

Resources Targeted by Grade Level or Function

Below are recommended resources organized by grade level (kindergarten through grade eight [K–8], and grades nine through twelve [9–12]). Please keep in mind that many resources can span multiple grade levels based on individual student needs, and educators should review and adapt all resources before implementing them.

Resources for Kindergarten through Grade Eight

Even the youngest students can become civically engaged! The following resources can help K–8 students get excited about civics.

Ben Franklin’s Guide to the U.S. Government External link opens in new window or tab.

Apprentice-level learning adventures geared at teaching kids ages four through eight about the U.S. government.

California Association of Student Councils—Elementary and Middle School Leadership Conferences External link opens in new window or tab.

One-day workshops for students and advisors to focus on teamwork and building ideas for effective student governance.

California Courts Civic Learning Awards and Judges in the Classroom External link opens in new window or tab.

Elementary schools are encouraged to apply for Civic Learning Awards and participate in the Judges in the Classroom Program. Lesson resources are also available for elementary students on the Digital Chalkboard.

Ducksters External link opens in new window or tab.

A wide range of short articles on various topics in world history, American history, and government. Also includes a series of biographies on dozens of influential individuals.

Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate Welcoming Words External link opens in new window or tab.

Field trips designed for kindergarten through grade two (K–2) students focusing on fundamental principles of democracy.

iCivics Games External link opens in new window or tab.

Students can choose from a variety of games ranging in length from 0–30+ minutes on topics such as voting, arguing Supreme Court cases, and international diplomacy.

Literacy and the Law External link opens in new window or tab.

Interdisciplinary lesson resources that use literacy and mock trials to teach key principles of civics. Some lessons are created for students in grades four and five.

National Constitution Center's We the Civics Kids External link opens in new window or tab.

Series of lessons that teach about the electoral process and encourage citizenship in the classroom, school, home and community.

Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement Literature-Based Mock Trials External link opens in new window or tab.

Lesson framework to implement literature-based mock trials in K–8. They also feature a series of read-alouds and other literature-based lessons External link opens in new window or tab. focused on exercising First Amendment rights.

Teaching Tolerance—Classroom Civil Discourse External link opens in new window or tab.

Lesson plans focused on teaching the skills of civil discourse when discussing social justice issues, designed for a K–2 audience.

Resources for Grades Nine through Twelve

These resources are appropriate for students primarily in high school, although many can be adapted for grades 6–8.

California Secretary of State (SOS) High School and Youth Initiatives External link opens in new window or tab.

Information about SOS initiatives to educate and engage young Californian’s in the democratic process, including programs to pre-register to vote at age 16, High School Voter Education Weeks, California Student Mock Elections, and guidance for school administrators and teachers.

Democracy Web External link opens in new window or tab.

An online resource for studying democracy, designed for use by teachers, professors, and college and secondary students. Includes information on essential principles of democracy, a study guide for democracy, and comparative information on the study of freedom internationally.

Digital Civics Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab.

This collection of resources includes five civics modules that draw on research conducted by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics External link opens in new window or tab.. Each module includes a conversation starter, activities, and closing reflection, as well as teacher background information.

Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age External link opens in new window or tab.

Curriculum for high school teachers, including an action project, research and blogging, democracy in action, and infographics.

Picture Yourself in Local Government (PYLG) External link opens in new window or tab.

The Institute for Local Government’s PYLG units focus on roles, responsibilities, and processes of local government.

Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) Action Civics External link opens in new window or tab.

Funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Action Civics initiative worked to civic awareness and engagement in 14 middle and high schools in the Sacramento region. This site includes resources to support professional development provided through the program and other tools to support civic learning. The initiative also developed resources for middle school students.

Street Law External link opens in new window or tab.

High school law course materials, Supreme Court of the United States in the Classroom program, and rule of law education curriculum.

Teaching American History Documents and Debates in American History and Government External link opens in new window or tab.

Collection of documents that focus on specific issues in American civic history. Each collection has an introduction that provides necessary context and three sets of study questions. Each of the documents is annotated with footnotes that provide biographical information on document authors and identify obscure words, events, or individuals.

Supporting the Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning

This page contains some of the strongest resources for incorporating each of the Six Proven Practices of Effective Civic Learning.

The California Courts External link opens in new window or tab. recognize and celebrate public schools’ efforts to engage students in civic learning through their annual Civic Learning Awards External link opens in new window or tab.. Co-sponsored by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye. Seventy-five schools earned awards in 2020. Schools seeking to earn an award may also refer to this list of resources as they set up or enhance their civic learning programs.

Instruction in Government, History, Law, Democracy

Schools can offer courses on civics, government, history, and law, in an effort to encourage better-informed citizens. The below resources include vetted, easy-to-implement curricula to support these courses.

Current Events and Controversial Issues

Effective classroom discussions of current events and controversial issues can increase student interest in government. The below resources provide a variety of options for facilitating these types of engaging discussions.

Service-Learning

Service-learning opportunities provide ways for students and the community to come together to develop habits of community engagement. These resources can help educators facilitate projects, while also tying them back to the classroom.

Extracurricular Activities

Student-led volunteer projects that occur outside of the classroom can also teach skills in collaboration and civic participation. The below organizations provide resources and ongoing support for students, teachers, administrators, and families.

Student Participation in School Governance

Giving students a voice can also help increase understanding and appreciation of the intricacies of the democratic process as it also teaches key behaviors of citizenship. These organizations provide guidance and support for schools implementing a structure for student voice in school governance.

Simulations

Simulations allow students to simulate adult civic roles and offer a unique, deep civic learning experience. Some of these programs use role-playing games to simulate government, helping students participate in processes such as national elections.

Resources for Students

The below resources are especially helpful for students looking to become more civically engaged.

Student Institutes and Conferences

While not officially part of the Six Proven Practices, participation in institutes and conferences offer additional chances for students to engage first-hand in a way that supports overall civic engagement.

Programs to Support Student Engagement

The below organizations can help support students who seek to enhance civic learning and engagement on school campuses. In light of COVID-19, many of these organizations are providing resources to support civic engagement virtually.

Miscellaneous Tips, Skills, and Ideas

These resources can help students as they carry out their civic engagement projects. Resources include advice on writing professional emails, ideas for community service projects, and helpful checklists to guide projects from start to finish.

This list will grow over time. Have you come across any other helpful guides or tools directed specifically towards helping students carry out the day-to-day work of civic engagement projects? Please share them with the CDE at ssce@cde.ca.gov.

Project Citizen Student Forms External link opens in new window or tab.

Access to the Center for Civic Education’s Project Citizen External link opens in new window or tab. student forms, which guide students through identifying and analyzing problems, gathering information, putting together a project, conducting interviews, documenting and organizing information, and more.

70 Community Service Project Ideas External link opens in new window or tab.

List of ideas for service-learning projects from Do Something External link opens in new window or tab.. Many projects can be adapted to be done from home and/or within the community.

Writing Professional Emails External link opens in new window or tab.

Reminders, guidelines, and samples to help students write a variety of professional emails.

Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators

The 2016 HSS Framework incorporates critical shifts for educators. These shifts include a focus on inquiry-based instruction through innovative teaching and learning practices. The HSS Framework guides educators as they design, implement, and maintain a coherent course of study to teach content; develop inquiry-based critical thinking skills; improve reading comprehension and expository writing ability; and promote an engaged and knowledgeable citizenry in history and the related social sciences.

The Budget Act of 2017 included an allocation of funds for high-quality professional learning and resources for HSS educators and administrators to implement the new framework. Through funding from the CDE, the Sacramento County Office of Education has developed a system of statewide and regional communities of practice to provide meaningful and targeted support in HSS for classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, and site administrators. Representing the four instructional shifts described in the HSS Framework, the Content, Literacy, Inquiry, and Citizenship (CLIC) Project External link opens in new window or tab. develops and facilitates the many elements integral for successful implementation of the HSS Framework. As part of their work, the CLIC Project hosts a YouTube channel External link opens in new window or tab. that contains videos to support educators and administrators as they implement the HSS Framework, including videos on fostering student advocacy External link opens in new window or tab. and classroom approaches to civic learning External link opens in new window or tab..

Find your CLIC Lead External link opens in new window or tab., or contact your regional County Office of Education for opportunities on how to get involved.

Below is a list of additional professional learning institutes, courses, and other opportunities to support educators as they implement civic learning programs.

External Websites Dedicated to the State Seal of Civic Engagement

The websites listed below have been developed by California organizations that are supporting LEAs to implement the SSCE. These sites are being updated as new resources become available.

California History-Social Science Project Sites

Each of the below CHSSP sites has a variety of resources to support professional learning in civics.

Institutes

Coaching, Seminars, Training Videos, Toolkits

Questions:   Professional Learning Innovations Office | PLIO@cde.ca.gov | 916-323-6269
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, February 24, 2021
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