5 Ways to Promote Civic Engagement for Middle and High School Students

SchooLinks Staff
October 18, 2022
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One of the most fundamental goals of public schools, since their inception, has been to prepare students to be active, responsible, contributing members of society in adulthood. People who are thoughtful about the role their community can play in improving the lives of citizens. Individuals who understand the value of educating themselves about key issues, candidates, and exercising their right to vote. Adults who contribute to the collective good of a community by adding their skills and talents to serve a broader goal. In many ways, the success of communities rests on the success of this mission.

In order to accomplish this, civic engagement should be a core tenet of a college and career readiness plan and culture. The diversity within a school community as well as a focus on developing life schools for adulthood make middle and high school a particularly advantageous time to help students learn about their communities, discover ways to access information, explore channels to use their voice, and build habits where they productively engage in the community by shaping solutions. Counselors can lead the way by embedding these kinds of opportunities for students into their college and career readiness work.

Host Voter Registration Drives & Share Voting Resources

Elections are one of the most visible exercises of civic engagement within communities. Use upcoming elections as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making informed decisions about candidates and issues. Help students make connections between elections and policies and practices within their communities. Guide them through resources, such as Vote 411, that curate unbiased research on candidates, political platforms, or other measures on a ballot. Consider holding voter registration drives at school to ensure that students who are of voting age are registered in time for the election. Help walk students through the process of voting and have them identify their voting locations, how they will get to the site to vote, and field any questions they might have beforehand.

For students who are not yet old enough to vote, election season is still a great time to prepare them for when they are eligible, as well as finding other ways to contribute to democratic processes. Depending on the local requirements, students as young as 16 may be eligible to work as poll workers on election day or at early voting sites where applicable. And, they can also help make phone calls for campaigns or issues that are important to them.

Create Simulations or Provide Models of Democratic Processes

Serving on a jury or voting in an election can seem overwhelming and scary for those who have never done so before. Help students develop a comfort and understanding for what these activities entail and what they can expect when they are ready to engage in them. Consider holding mock elections to mimic the voting process–including going into a voting booth, navigating a ballot, and accepting the will of the majority. Similarly, find ways to integrate learning about jury duty into life readiness programs and coursework. Explain the critical importance of juries to our democracy to ensure fair and speedy trials. Have students practice hearing a set of facts and working through a verdict as a group. Talk through the logistics of jury duty in your local community. You might even consider setting up a field trip to a local courthouse to observe a trial in action and hear from those directly involved. By demystifying the process, students will be ready to engage actively and thoughtfully when they are called.

Invite Local Elected Officials to Connect with Students

Hearing from and talking to elected officials can be one of the most engaging ways to connect students with political processes and community functions. In many communities, elected officials have almost a celebrity status and the excitement that comes from personal interactions can be very impactful to a student’s learning and thinking. Look for opportunities to invite elected officials to talk with students and share their experiences and what their role entails. From a mayor, to a city council-person, to a county commissioner, to a school board member, many local public servants are happy and eager to meet with students and future voters.  

Forge Connections Between Student Groups and Interests and Local Community Organizations

High school is a unique time for exploring passions, interests, and beliefs, and student clubs and organizations are common mechanisms for students to connect with peers around a shared interest or topic. Many of these student groups–such as environmental clubs, groups to promote equity and diversity, and service-oriented organizations–align with community-based non-profits or organizations that are working towards similar goals. Help students identify this broader set of individuals. Find ways to support student connections with these groups in order for students to learn from them and expand the overall impact on the community. Seeing tangible examples of others working towards goals that are important to students can spark long-term motivation and build lasting relationships for future collaboration.

Facilitate Structured Ways to Help Students Advocate for Change

When students feel like they can have an impact in their community on issues they care about, they are much more likely to put in the time and energy to share concerns, advocate for change, and help work toward a solution. But, finding productive channels for advocacy and action and knowing how to navigate them is difficult, even for seasoned adults. Counselors, educators, and other school leaders can stay aware of town hall or community meetings that might cover issues relevant to students. Consider sharing agendas and dates of such meetings and talk with students about how they can get involved. Oftentimes, public forums have time limits for community input. Help students passionate about a particular issue structure a 1-2 minute speech articulating their thoughts and opinions. Giving students models for letter writing campaigns or other social media activism can also provide tangible ways for students to take action.

One of the most fundamental goals of public schools, since their inception, has been to prepare students to be active, responsible, contributing members of society in adulthood. People who are thoughtful about the role their community can play in improving the lives of citizens. Individuals who understand the value of educating themselves about key issues, candidates, and exercising their right to vote. Adults who contribute to the collective good of a community by adding their skills and talents to serve a broader goal. In many ways, the success of communities rests on the success of this mission.

In order to accomplish this, civic engagement should be a core tenet of a college and career readiness plan and culture. The diversity within a school community as well as a focus on developing life schools for adulthood make middle and high school a particularly advantageous time to help students learn about their communities, discover ways to access information, explore channels to use their voice, and build habits where they productively engage in the community by shaping solutions. Counselors can lead the way by embedding these kinds of opportunities for students into their college and career readiness work.

Host Voter Registration Drives & Share Voting Resources

Elections are one of the most visible exercises of civic engagement within communities. Use upcoming elections as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making informed decisions about candidates and issues. Help students make connections between elections and policies and practices within their communities. Guide them through resources, such as Vote 411, that curate unbiased research on candidates, political platforms, or other measures on a ballot. Consider holding voter registration drives at school to ensure that students who are of voting age are registered in time for the election. Help walk students through the process of voting and have them identify their voting locations, how they will get to the site to vote, and field any questions they might have beforehand.

For students who are not yet old enough to vote, election season is still a great time to prepare them for when they are eligible, as well as finding other ways to contribute to democratic processes. Depending on the local requirements, students as young as 16 may be eligible to work as poll workers on election day or at early voting sites where applicable. And, they can also help make phone calls for campaigns or issues that are important to them.

Create Simulations or Provide Models of Democratic Processes

Serving on a jury or voting in an election can seem overwhelming and scary for those who have never done so before. Help students develop a comfort and understanding for what these activities entail and what they can expect when they are ready to engage in them. Consider holding mock elections to mimic the voting process–including going into a voting booth, navigating a ballot, and accepting the will of the majority. Similarly, find ways to integrate learning about jury duty into life readiness programs and coursework. Explain the critical importance of juries to our democracy to ensure fair and speedy trials. Have students practice hearing a set of facts and working through a verdict as a group. Talk through the logistics of jury duty in your local community. You might even consider setting up a field trip to a local courthouse to observe a trial in action and hear from those directly involved. By demystifying the process, students will be ready to engage actively and thoughtfully when they are called.

Invite Local Elected Officials to Connect with Students

Hearing from and talking to elected officials can be one of the most engaging ways to connect students with political processes and community functions. In many communities, elected officials have almost a celebrity status and the excitement that comes from personal interactions can be very impactful to a student’s learning and thinking. Look for opportunities to invite elected officials to talk with students and share their experiences and what their role entails. From a mayor, to a city council-person, to a county commissioner, to a school board member, many local public servants are happy and eager to meet with students and future voters.  

Forge Connections Between Student Groups and Interests and Local Community Organizations

High school is a unique time for exploring passions, interests, and beliefs, and student clubs and organizations are common mechanisms for students to connect with peers around a shared interest or topic. Many of these student groups–such as environmental clubs, groups to promote equity and diversity, and service-oriented organizations–align with community-based non-profits or organizations that are working towards similar goals. Help students identify this broader set of individuals. Find ways to support student connections with these groups in order for students to learn from them and expand the overall impact on the community. Seeing tangible examples of others working towards goals that are important to students can spark long-term motivation and build lasting relationships for future collaboration.

Facilitate Structured Ways to Help Students Advocate for Change

When students feel like they can have an impact in their community on issues they care about, they are much more likely to put in the time and energy to share concerns, advocate for change, and help work toward a solution. But, finding productive channels for advocacy and action and knowing how to navigate them is difficult, even for seasoned adults. Counselors, educators, and other school leaders can stay aware of town hall or community meetings that might cover issues relevant to students. Consider sharing agendas and dates of such meetings and talk with students about how they can get involved. Oftentimes, public forums have time limits for community input. Help students passionate about a particular issue structure a 1-2 minute speech articulating their thoughts and opinions. Giving students models for letter writing campaigns or other social media activism can also provide tangible ways for students to take action.

One of the most fundamental goals of public schools, since their inception, has been to prepare students to be active, responsible, contributing members of society in adulthood. People who are thoughtful about the role their community can play in improving the lives of citizens. Individuals who understand the value of educating themselves about key issues, candidates, and exercising their right to vote. Adults who contribute to the collective good of a community by adding their skills and talents to serve a broader goal. In many ways, the success of communities rests on the success of this mission.

In order to accomplish this, civic engagement should be a core tenet of a college and career readiness plan and culture. The diversity within a school community as well as a focus on developing life schools for adulthood make middle and high school a particularly advantageous time to help students learn about their communities, discover ways to access information, explore channels to use their voice, and build habits where they productively engage in the community by shaping solutions. Counselors can lead the way by embedding these kinds of opportunities for students into their college and career readiness work.

Host Voter Registration Drives & Share Voting Resources

Elections are one of the most visible exercises of civic engagement within communities. Use upcoming elections as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making informed decisions about candidates and issues. Help students make connections between elections and policies and practices within their communities. Guide them through resources, such as Vote 411, that curate unbiased research on candidates, political platforms, or other measures on a ballot. Consider holding voter registration drives at school to ensure that students who are of voting age are registered in time for the election. Help walk students through the process of voting and have them identify their voting locations, how they will get to the site to vote, and field any questions they might have beforehand.

For students who are not yet old enough to vote, election season is still a great time to prepare them for when they are eligible, as well as finding other ways to contribute to democratic processes. Depending on the local requirements, students as young as 16 may be eligible to work as poll workers on election day or at early voting sites where applicable. And, they can also help make phone calls for campaigns or issues that are important to them.

Create Simulations or Provide Models of Democratic Processes

Serving on a jury or voting in an election can seem overwhelming and scary for those who have never done so before. Help students develop a comfort and understanding for what these activities entail and what they can expect when they are ready to engage in them. Consider holding mock elections to mimic the voting process–including going into a voting booth, navigating a ballot, and accepting the will of the majority. Similarly, find ways to integrate learning about jury duty into life readiness programs and coursework. Explain the critical importance of juries to our democracy to ensure fair and speedy trials. Have students practice hearing a set of facts and working through a verdict as a group. Talk through the logistics of jury duty in your local community. You might even consider setting up a field trip to a local courthouse to observe a trial in action and hear from those directly involved. By demystifying the process, students will be ready to engage actively and thoughtfully when they are called.

Invite Local Elected Officials to Connect with Students

Hearing from and talking to elected officials can be one of the most engaging ways to connect students with political processes and community functions. In many communities, elected officials have almost a celebrity status and the excitement that comes from personal interactions can be very impactful to a student’s learning and thinking. Look for opportunities to invite elected officials to talk with students and share their experiences and what their role entails. From a mayor, to a city council-person, to a county commissioner, to a school board member, many local public servants are happy and eager to meet with students and future voters.  

Forge Connections Between Student Groups and Interests and Local Community Organizations

High school is a unique time for exploring passions, interests, and beliefs, and student clubs and organizations are common mechanisms for students to connect with peers around a shared interest or topic. Many of these student groups–such as environmental clubs, groups to promote equity and diversity, and service-oriented organizations–align with community-based non-profits or organizations that are working towards similar goals. Help students identify this broader set of individuals. Find ways to support student connections with these groups in order for students to learn from them and expand the overall impact on the community. Seeing tangible examples of others working towards goals that are important to students can spark long-term motivation and build lasting relationships for future collaboration.

Facilitate Structured Ways to Help Students Advocate for Change

When students feel like they can have an impact in their community on issues they care about, they are much more likely to put in the time and energy to share concerns, advocate for change, and help work toward a solution. But, finding productive channels for advocacy and action and knowing how to navigate them is difficult, even for seasoned adults. Counselors, educators, and other school leaders can stay aware of town hall or community meetings that might cover issues relevant to students. Consider sharing agendas and dates of such meetings and talk with students about how they can get involved. Oftentimes, public forums have time limits for community input. Help students passionate about a particular issue structure a 1-2 minute speech articulating their thoughts and opinions. Giving students models for letter writing campaigns or other social media activism can also provide tangible ways for students to take action.

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One of the most fundamental goals of public schools, since their inception, has been to prepare students to be active, responsible, contributing members of society in adulthood. People who are thoughtful about the role their community can play in improving the lives of citizens. Individuals who understand the value of educating themselves about key issues, candidates, and exercising their right to vote. Adults who contribute to the collective good of a community by adding their skills and talents to serve a broader goal. In many ways, the success of communities rests on the success of this mission.

In order to accomplish this, civic engagement should be a core tenet of a college and career readiness plan and culture. The diversity within a school community as well as a focus on developing life schools for adulthood make middle and high school a particularly advantageous time to help students learn about their communities, discover ways to access information, explore channels to use their voice, and build habits where they productively engage in the community by shaping solutions. Counselors can lead the way by embedding these kinds of opportunities for students into their college and career readiness work.

Host Voter Registration Drives & Share Voting Resources

Elections are one of the most visible exercises of civic engagement within communities. Use upcoming elections as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making informed decisions about candidates and issues. Help students make connections between elections and policies and practices within their communities. Guide them through resources, such as Vote 411, that curate unbiased research on candidates, political platforms, or other measures on a ballot. Consider holding voter registration drives at school to ensure that students who are of voting age are registered in time for the election. Help walk students through the process of voting and have them identify their voting locations, how they will get to the site to vote, and field any questions they might have beforehand.

For students who are not yet old enough to vote, election season is still a great time to prepare them for when they are eligible, as well as finding other ways to contribute to democratic processes. Depending on the local requirements, students as young as 16 may be eligible to work as poll workers on election day or at early voting sites where applicable. And, they can also help make phone calls for campaigns or issues that are important to them.

Create Simulations or Provide Models of Democratic Processes

Serving on a jury or voting in an election can seem overwhelming and scary for those who have never done so before. Help students develop a comfort and understanding for what these activities entail and what they can expect when they are ready to engage in them. Consider holding mock elections to mimic the voting process–including going into a voting booth, navigating a ballot, and accepting the will of the majority. Similarly, find ways to integrate learning about jury duty into life readiness programs and coursework. Explain the critical importance of juries to our democracy to ensure fair and speedy trials. Have students practice hearing a set of facts and working through a verdict as a group. Talk through the logistics of jury duty in your local community. You might even consider setting up a field trip to a local courthouse to observe a trial in action and hear from those directly involved. By demystifying the process, students will be ready to engage actively and thoughtfully when they are called.

Invite Local Elected Officials to Connect with Students

Hearing from and talking to elected officials can be one of the most engaging ways to connect students with political processes and community functions. In many communities, elected officials have almost a celebrity status and the excitement that comes from personal interactions can be very impactful to a student’s learning and thinking. Look for opportunities to invite elected officials to talk with students and share their experiences and what their role entails. From a mayor, to a city council-person, to a county commissioner, to a school board member, many local public servants are happy and eager to meet with students and future voters.  

Forge Connections Between Student Groups and Interests and Local Community Organizations

High school is a unique time for exploring passions, interests, and beliefs, and student clubs and organizations are common mechanisms for students to connect with peers around a shared interest or topic. Many of these student groups–such as environmental clubs, groups to promote equity and diversity, and service-oriented organizations–align with community-based non-profits or organizations that are working towards similar goals. Help students identify this broader set of individuals. Find ways to support student connections with these groups in order for students to learn from them and expand the overall impact on the community. Seeing tangible examples of others working towards goals that are important to students can spark long-term motivation and build lasting relationships for future collaboration.

Facilitate Structured Ways to Help Students Advocate for Change

When students feel like they can have an impact in their community on issues they care about, they are much more likely to put in the time and energy to share concerns, advocate for change, and help work toward a solution. But, finding productive channels for advocacy and action and knowing how to navigate them is difficult, even for seasoned adults. Counselors, educators, and other school leaders can stay aware of town hall or community meetings that might cover issues relevant to students. Consider sharing agendas and dates of such meetings and talk with students about how they can get involved. Oftentimes, public forums have time limits for community input. Help students passionate about a particular issue structure a 1-2 minute speech articulating their thoughts and opinions. Giving students models for letter writing campaigns or other social media activism can also provide tangible ways for students to take action.

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One of the most fundamental goals of public schools, since their inception, has been to prepare students to be active, responsible, contributing members of society in adulthood. People who are thoughtful about the role their community can play in improving the lives of citizens. Individuals who understand the value of educating themselves about key issues, candidates, and exercising their right to vote. Adults who contribute to the collective good of a community by adding their skills and talents to serve a broader goal. In many ways, the success of communities rests on the success of this mission.

In order to accomplish this, civic engagement should be a core tenet of a college and career readiness plan and culture. The diversity within a school community as well as a focus on developing life schools for adulthood make middle and high school a particularly advantageous time to help students learn about their communities, discover ways to access information, explore channels to use their voice, and build habits where they productively engage in the community by shaping solutions. Counselors can lead the way by embedding these kinds of opportunities for students into their college and career readiness work.

Host Voter Registration Drives & Share Voting Resources

Elections are one of the most visible exercises of civic engagement within communities. Use upcoming elections as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making informed decisions about candidates and issues. Help students make connections between elections and policies and practices within their communities. Guide them through resources, such as Vote 411, that curate unbiased research on candidates, political platforms, or other measures on a ballot. Consider holding voter registration drives at school to ensure that students who are of voting age are registered in time for the election. Help walk students through the process of voting and have them identify their voting locations, how they will get to the site to vote, and field any questions they might have beforehand.

For students who are not yet old enough to vote, election season is still a great time to prepare them for when they are eligible, as well as finding other ways to contribute to democratic processes. Depending on the local requirements, students as young as 16 may be eligible to work as poll workers on election day or at early voting sites where applicable. And, they can also help make phone calls for campaigns or issues that are important to them.

Create Simulations or Provide Models of Democratic Processes

Serving on a jury or voting in an election can seem overwhelming and scary for those who have never done so before. Help students develop a comfort and understanding for what these activities entail and what they can expect when they are ready to engage in them. Consider holding mock elections to mimic the voting process–including going into a voting booth, navigating a ballot, and accepting the will of the majority. Similarly, find ways to integrate learning about jury duty into life readiness programs and coursework. Explain the critical importance of juries to our democracy to ensure fair and speedy trials. Have students practice hearing a set of facts and working through a verdict as a group. Talk through the logistics of jury duty in your local community. You might even consider setting up a field trip to a local courthouse to observe a trial in action and hear from those directly involved. By demystifying the process, students will be ready to engage actively and thoughtfully when they are called.

Invite Local Elected Officials to Connect with Students

Hearing from and talking to elected officials can be one of the most engaging ways to connect students with political processes and community functions. In many communities, elected officials have almost a celebrity status and the excitement that comes from personal interactions can be very impactful to a student’s learning and thinking. Look for opportunities to invite elected officials to talk with students and share their experiences and what their role entails. From a mayor, to a city council-person, to a county commissioner, to a school board member, many local public servants are happy and eager to meet with students and future voters.  

Forge Connections Between Student Groups and Interests and Local Community Organizations

High school is a unique time for exploring passions, interests, and beliefs, and student clubs and organizations are common mechanisms for students to connect with peers around a shared interest or topic. Many of these student groups–such as environmental clubs, groups to promote equity and diversity, and service-oriented organizations–align with community-based non-profits or organizations that are working towards similar goals. Help students identify this broader set of individuals. Find ways to support student connections with these groups in order for students to learn from them and expand the overall impact on the community. Seeing tangible examples of others working towards goals that are important to students can spark long-term motivation and build lasting relationships for future collaboration.

Facilitate Structured Ways to Help Students Advocate for Change

When students feel like they can have an impact in their community on issues they care about, they are much more likely to put in the time and energy to share concerns, advocate for change, and help work toward a solution. But, finding productive channels for advocacy and action and knowing how to navigate them is difficult, even for seasoned adults. Counselors, educators, and other school leaders can stay aware of town hall or community meetings that might cover issues relevant to students. Consider sharing agendas and dates of such meetings and talk with students about how they can get involved. Oftentimes, public forums have time limits for community input. Help students passionate about a particular issue structure a 1-2 minute speech articulating their thoughts and opinions. Giving students models for letter writing campaigns or other social media activism can also provide tangible ways for students to take action.

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One of the most fundamental goals of public schools, since their inception, has been to prepare students to be active, responsible, contributing members of society in adulthood. People who are thoughtful about the role their community can play in improving the lives of citizens. Individuals who understand the value of educating themselves about key issues, candidates, and exercising their right to vote. Adults who contribute to the collective good of a community by adding their skills and talents to serve a broader goal. In many ways, the success of communities rests on the success of this mission.

In order to accomplish this, civic engagement should be a core tenet of a college and career readiness plan and culture. The diversity within a school community as well as a focus on developing life schools for adulthood make middle and high school a particularly advantageous time to help students learn about their communities, discover ways to access information, explore channels to use their voice, and build habits where they productively engage in the community by shaping solutions. Counselors can lead the way by embedding these kinds of opportunities for students into their college and career readiness work.

Host Voter Registration Drives & Share Voting Resources

Elections are one of the most visible exercises of civic engagement within communities. Use upcoming elections as an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making informed decisions about candidates and issues. Help students make connections between elections and policies and practices within their communities. Guide them through resources, such as Vote 411, that curate unbiased research on candidates, political platforms, or other measures on a ballot. Consider holding voter registration drives at school to ensure that students who are of voting age are registered in time for the election. Help walk students through the process of voting and have them identify their voting locations, how they will get to the site to vote, and field any questions they might have beforehand.

For students who are not yet old enough to vote, election season is still a great time to prepare them for when they are eligible, as well as finding other ways to contribute to democratic processes. Depending on the local requirements, students as young as 16 may be eligible to work as poll workers on election day or at early voting sites where applicable. And, they can also help make phone calls for campaigns or issues that are important to them.

Create Simulations or Provide Models of Democratic Processes

Serving on a jury or voting in an election can seem overwhelming and scary for those who have never done so before. Help students develop a comfort and understanding for what these activities entail and what they can expect when they are ready to engage in them. Consider holding mock elections to mimic the voting process–including going into a voting booth, navigating a ballot, and accepting the will of the majority. Similarly, find ways to integrate learning about jury duty into life readiness programs and coursework. Explain the critical importance of juries to our democracy to ensure fair and speedy trials. Have students practice hearing a set of facts and working through a verdict as a group. Talk through the logistics of jury duty in your local community. You might even consider setting up a field trip to a local courthouse to observe a trial in action and hear from those directly involved. By demystifying the process, students will be ready to engage actively and thoughtfully when they are called.

Invite Local Elected Officials to Connect with Students

Hearing from and talking to elected officials can be one of the most engaging ways to connect students with political processes and community functions. In many communities, elected officials have almost a celebrity status and the excitement that comes from personal interactions can be very impactful to a student’s learning and thinking. Look for opportunities to invite elected officials to talk with students and share their experiences and what their role entails. From a mayor, to a city council-person, to a county commissioner, to a school board member, many local public servants are happy and eager to meet with students and future voters.  

Forge Connections Between Student Groups and Interests and Local Community Organizations

High school is a unique time for exploring passions, interests, and beliefs, and student clubs and organizations are common mechanisms for students to connect with peers around a shared interest or topic. Many of these student groups–such as environmental clubs, groups to promote equity and diversity, and service-oriented organizations–align with community-based non-profits or organizations that are working towards similar goals. Help students identify this broader set of individuals. Find ways to support student connections with these groups in order for students to learn from them and expand the overall impact on the community. Seeing tangible examples of others working towards goals that are important to students can spark long-term motivation and build lasting relationships for future collaboration.

Facilitate Structured Ways to Help Students Advocate for Change

When students feel like they can have an impact in their community on issues they care about, they are much more likely to put in the time and energy to share concerns, advocate for change, and help work toward a solution. But, finding productive channels for advocacy and action and knowing how to navigate them is difficult, even for seasoned adults. Counselors, educators, and other school leaders can stay aware of town hall or community meetings that might cover issues relevant to students. Consider sharing agendas and dates of such meetings and talk with students about how they can get involved. Oftentimes, public forums have time limits for community input. Help students passionate about a particular issue structure a 1-2 minute speech articulating their thoughts and opinions. Giving students models for letter writing campaigns or other social media activism can also provide tangible ways for students to take action.