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The Northern California Writing Project is a professional development organization devoted to improving the teaching of writing in our service region.

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT FOR YOUTH: Getting Started

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT FOR YOUTH: Getting Started

Greta Thunberg, 17 year old climate activist, was recently announced as Time magazine’s “2019 Person of the Year.” In 2014, another 17 year old, Malala Yousafzai, received the Nobel Peace Prize due to her activism surrounding the right to an education. These two young women are extraordinary examples of the power of youth voices. Many teachers ponder how we can use these examples to inspire our own students. How can schools and educators foster a learning environment that encourages and empowers students to change the world in a positive way? Many educators believe the answer to this question could help to solve problems like chronic absenteeism, bullying, lack of student engagement, and social and political apathy. Multiple efforts are underway to address these issues in the American education system, including trauma-informed practices, restorative practices, shifting curriculum frameworks and standards and data collection and analysis. The Civic Engagement for Youth (7th-12 grade) Instructional Resource marries all of these efforts and can be adapted to meet the unique needs of classrooms, schools and districts.

Civic Engagement for Youth creates opportunities for student agency and voice through the identification of real world issues and support for students’ efforts to research ideas they care about. Ultimately, students develop a call to action to facilitate a lasting, positive impact in their communities. This instructional resource has adapted lessons, resources, and instructional strategies from the National Writing Project’s College, Career and Community Writers Program to develop a stand-alone resource which can be used in the following ways:

  • A course to provide recovery credit in English-language arts, history/social studies, and/or science, which can be adapted for multiple delivery systems.
  • An elective course to promote social-emotional learning in trauma sensitive and trauma informed schools.
  • A course to provide transitional support for students moving from 8th grade to high school to foster student success.
  • Individual sessions which can be adapted by educators to integrate into existing courses.

The possibilities for implementing Civic Engagement for Youth include complete immersion in an eight-day summer program, after school programs, Saturday school programs and classes within the normal school day and can be adapted to meet the specific and individual needs of each school and/or district.



This testimonial by
John Patterson, 6th-8th grade teacher at Maxwell Elementary School in Northern California, speaks to the impact of NWP’s College, Career and Community Writers Program on students and the school culture.

We must support youth efforts to put voice to the issues they care about and foster opportunities for them to share their solutions to creating a better world.


This resource is organized into a series of 35 lessons lasting 45-50 minutes each. The sessions can be adapted for different school class schedules or different delivery systems by combining sessions to meet specific needs.

Civic Engagement for Youth: Arc of Learning

  • Skill Emphasis
  • Identify and respond to arguments in the world.
  • Develop routine argument strategies and skills.
  • Craft a claim with supporting evidence.
  • Select and annotate evidence from complex texts, including audio, video and written sources.
  • Self-select relevant texts and information to support an argument.
  • Explore an issue to make a claim.
  • Understand the moves writers make in effective arguments.
  • Order evidence and construct arguments for logical reasoning.
  • Curate arguments to engage with multiple perspectives, identify supporting evidence, examine disagreements and counter opposing viewpoints.
  • Gather evidence through personal experience, primary research and secondary research.
  • Understand multiple perspectives surrounding a complex civic issue.
  • Publically advocate for meaningful civic change.

Text Sets and Resources

The texts, instructional resources, and instructional supplies list includes everything needed to implement the Civic Engagement for Youth program. However, teachers can substitute texts to meet the specific needs and interests of the student population being served by the program.

“What adults can learn from kids.” Adora Svitak, TED Talk (video)

Helping Students Find and Cite Photos (instructional blog)

Marvel’s Hero Project (video)

Incredible Elijah – Fights for Abused Children (video)

Mighty Rebekah – LGBTQ (video)

Sensational Jordan – Accessibility for Disabled Youth (video)

Here Comes Hailey – Connecting with Senior Citizens (video)

Poetry and Song

Imagine, John Lennon (audio)

Same Love, Macklemore (audio/visual)

What About Us, Pink (audio/visual)

Remember, Joy Harjo (written poem)

Non-Fiction Literature

Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. (written letter)

Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel (documentaries)

Dolores Huerta (written statement)

Fiction – Short Stories

The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg, Mark Twain

One Friday Morning, Langston Hughes

Harrison Bergeron, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Digital Lives:  I can’t leave home without my phone (video)

“A Way to Explore and Build Relationships We Wouldn’t Otherwise Form”

“Online Sharing and Selfies Erode our Private Lives”

New York Times Room for Debate

“Online Activism is Having a Positive Effect in the Real World”

“The Constant Sharing is Making us Competitive and Depressed”

Student Models

Student Model of the Assets/Needs Slideshow

Student Model of Author Bios and Pics

Maryssa’s Story

Students from Columbus High School in Montana

Organizers, Notecatchers, etc.

Ted Talk Worksheet

Community Assets/Needs Slideshow Notecatcher

Photos for Class Search Engine

Scavenger Hunt Notecatcher

Multi-Draft Reading and Annotating

Other Materials Needed

  • Writer’s Notebook
  • Student Portfolios (Manila Folders)
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Highlighters (at least three different colors)
  • Colored Markers
  • Giant Post-it Notes