Creating Socially Responsible Citizens (Part 2): In the Classroom

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”


It is well-known that students spend more time at school than they do with their own families. The role a teacher and classmates have in shaping each other is considerable. For that reason, one of the strongest tools we have to meet the challenge of raising socially responsible citizens is a school atmosphere that supports service-based learning and encourages social responsibility.

However, time is scarce in every classroom. With an already packed schedule, trying to sandwich in a community service activity is often not possible let alone practical. It would mean less in-depth study of subjects like such as math, science and language arts possibly leading to a lower quality education, right?

Enter service learning.

Incorporating community service and introducing issues of social concern into a curriculum doesn’t necessarily mean more precious time is taken away from other subjects. In fact, these aspects can easily be woven into other areas of study in a way that fosters social responsibility and enriches lessons by showing real-life applications for the academic material. This is thanks to an educational strategy called “service learning.”

Service Learning

According to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, “service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.”

By becoming involved in the solutions for issues, students learn that they can improve their world. Children, who are constantly being reminded of the limitations of their age, usually do not believe they can make a positive impact. Service learning gives a problem a new dimension—a positive one that motivates kids to take action often starting with their own community.

“Through service-learning, young people—from kindergartners to college students—use what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems. They not only learn the practical applications of their studies, they become actively contributing citizens and community members through the service they perform.”


In addition to the benefits a service learning experience can have for a child’s academic and personal growth, service learning also helps the community. The work students are involved with often contribute to a local organization or group’s mission to improve the community.

Getting Started

It’s easy to find resources for introducing service learning into your classroom or after-school club. Many nonprofit organizations create and make publicly available lesson plans and other materials for a curriculum that aims to educate kids about an issue.

While those can be helpful, all that is really necessary (after consulting state education standards), is an awareness of a need, some creativity and a bit of collaboration.

This story from Edutopia tells of how students in one ninth-grade class were able to research and develop a comprehensive reforestation plan for a Haitian village located near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake. The partnership with the farmers in Cormier, Haiti flourished into a project with school-wide involvement.

As a result, some students were traveled from New York to Haiti  to participate in the planting of 999 trees. But that was not the only outcome:

“I expect they will think more about the impact of their actions,” their teacher predicts in the article here. “How will the choices they make in the future affect not just themselves or their immediate community, but the rest of the world? I have reason to be hopeful about that.”

Here are a couple of places you can start your search for service learning lesson plans:

Learning to Give (

Part of one GenerationOn (one of my personal favorite organizations), Learning to Give is an absolute treasure trove of service learning resources. The site has over 1,600 K–12 service learning lessons each coded by state standards. In addition to academic standard, other search criteria include grade, subject, keyword and philanthropy standard. If you’re searching for more than a lesson, Learning to Give has got you covered with themed units and “Moments of Service” projects ideas that highlight key service opportunities each month. (April’s opportunities include the What Will You Bring To the Table? campaign, National Volunteer Week, Global Youth Service Day and Earth Day)

Service Learning Ideas and Curricular Examples (SLICE) (

This database is filled with service learning lesson plans, syllabi and project ideas submitted by educators. SLICE is part of the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse website and allows searching by keyword and grade range.

Whether it your students are planting trees in a foreign country or planting trees outside their own classrooms, service learning is a valuable approach to education that you can begin today. A child in this video from GenerationOn sums up the reason that service learning is so important.

“You can’t just think of yourself. You have to think of others too” (1:40)

This is the second in a The Silver Lining Chronicles blog series on creating socially responsible citizens. In the first post “Creating Socially Responsible Citizens (Pt. 1),” I discussed the importance of encouraging community service in children at a young age.


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