Lesson Plans

Community and Civic Participation

Student work sample from New York City as part of the Michael Freydin's unit, "Community and Civic Participation." United States, 2020.

This unit was created by Michael Freydin, a New York City public school teacher and social studies educator, as part of the fall 2020 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program on Media, Misinformation, and the Pandemic. It is designed for facilitation across five class periods.

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.


Students will be able to...

Lesson Objectives:

  • Task 1: Analyze the different aspects of individual and community impacts of COVID-19 through reflection and textual analysis
  • Task 2: Evaluate how they themselves, as well as their families, share aspects of the effects of COVID-19 with underreported communities and individuals throughout the U.S.
  • Task 3: Collaborate to interview each other to elicit information and the impacts of COVID-19 in their communities.
  • Task 4: Create a collaborative list of questions to ask the upcoming interview subject.
  • Task 5: Use textual collaborative work and visual art to capture key details from reporting.

Language Objectives:

  • Repeat precise vocabulary related to pandemic, epidemic, and COVID-19.
  • Verbally describe the main ideas from news stories about the effects of COVID-19 on individuals and communities, and relevant points of view.
  • Be encouraged to use causal words (because of, due to, leading to) and descriptive language.

Content Goals: 

  • Learn about the importance of hearing multiple voices when analyzing the effects of COVID-19 on local populations.
  • Be encouraged to delve into a different culture—and into their own—by eliciting information from textual sources, as well as from an informant about their home culture and their experiences during COVID-19.
  • Be guided to look at this global phenomenon from the viewpoint of someone from another culture and place—and to see some similarities and differences in their experiences to students’ own experiences.

Skills Goals:

  • Apply historical thinking (complexity, causality, change over time, contingency, context). 
  • Learn about elements of interviewing.

Unit Overview: 

In this unit, student journalists  use Pulitzer Center materials to bring to light underreported stories about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as give voice to experiences that may not be ordinarily covered in other news outlets. Moreover, the goal of this unit is to cultivate empathy and understanding by student journalists for those who surround them in their communities, and to make personal world-to-self connections through the lens of mutual or similar feelings others may have from shared experiences, such as COVID-19.

In order to do so, student journalists will engage with photographic artifacts, personal stories and reporting, as well as prepare interviews with members of their own communities.  Student journalists will seek out common themes, explore how those themes drive them to investigate further, and synthesize a deeper understanding of the communities around them. Finally, student journalists will create artistic or written work to synthesize their understanding of the themes they have encountered in visual, textual, and interpersonal resources.

The role of journalism/journalists is to share not just “breaking news,” but stories that we would consider “human interest.” The job of student journalists here will be to go beyond dates and figures, and to extend into spaces that we do not commonly see represented in the news. I think it is important for us as educators and students to pay attention to the stories that come from the margins and realize that, in the words of Maya Angelou, “we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.”  In order to do so, student journalists will cultivate a sense of empathy for their subjects and interviewees.  As an optional extension, teachers may task students with doing actual interviews, focusing on open-ended questioning techniques to elicit longer, more candid answers.

Lessons will begin with a warm-up activity of student journalists practicing visual thinking strategies as applied to images from the Pulitzer Center.  Teachers may wish to ask not only what the students see, but what it is they do not see, and how the scenes before them in the photographs are different than ones they would have expected to find in, say, 2018.  Those differences will lead students to common themes, which will then be explored in the readings that follow.

Running Order: Lesson 1 deals with the central question, “What makes up a community?”  Lesson 2 and Lesson 3 deal with the central question, “How do individual people experience things within the community?” Lesson 4 deals with the central question, “How can art be used to express the effects on the community, but also to affect the community?”  Lesson 5 is an optional extension that asks the students to conduct actual interviews.

Resources for Facilitating this Unit:

Click here for a PDF outlining lesson plans for this unit, including warm-ups, resources, discussion questions, activities, and performance tasks for the unit.

Performance Task:

This unit culminates in a collaborative Padlet where students demonstrate what they have learned about the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals and communities. Students will include images that compare and contrast the experiences of their families and experiences of families from other part of the world. Padlets will include pictures and captions from stories the students have read and/or interviews from family and community members.

Here are examples of padlets created by students from New York City who participated in the unit in fall 2020:

* Padlet 1 from students' analysis of news articles

* Padlet 2 from students' analysis of news articles

Here are examples of art pieces created by students from New York City who participated in the unit in fall 2020.

Assessment and Evaluation:

This unit includes several formative assessments and a note on a summative assessment. More information can be found in the Unit PDF.

Formative Assessments: Daily exit slips will include, but are not limited to, self-assessments that relate to the following questions explored in each daily lesson: 

  • Goal 1: What can I learn from this story?  What questions can I ask about these themes?
  • Goal 2: Now that I know what questions I can ask, whom can I ask these questions?  How would I go about finding a person or source to help me learn about this theme?

Summative Assessment: While no summative assessment is truly necessary for the first lessons, collaborative work may be exhibited through a collaborative Padlet or poster, which will reveal student feelings about the themes discussed in the unit (examples above). Alternatively, teachers may make use of the Lesson 5 Writing Scenario to have students produce a journalistic work where student journalists conduct actual interviews.

Educator Notes: 

Common Core Standards: 

  • RH.6-8.1: Cite evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources
  • RH.6-8.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • RH.6-8.6: Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose.
  • RH.6-8.7 – Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • RH.6-8.8 – Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

New York State Social Studies Practices and Standards: 

  • Define and frame questions about events and the world in which we live, form hypotheses as potential answers to these questions, use evidence to answer these questions, and consider and analyze counter-hypotheses. 
  • Identify, describe, and evaluate evidence about events from diverse sources (including written documents, works of art, photographs, charts and graphs, artifacts, oral traditions, and other primary and secondary sources).
  • NYS SS1: History of the United States and New York: use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in the history of the United States and NY.
  • NYS SS4: Economics: use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the U.S. and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and nonmarket mechanisms.
  • NYS SS5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government - use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the U.S. and other nations; the U.S. Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and International Reading Association (IRA) Standards:

  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information). 
  • Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

EngageNY Scope and Sequence:

  • TENSIONS BETWEEN TRADITIONAL CULTURES AND MODERNIZATION: Tensions exist between traditional cultures and agents of modernization. Reactions for and against modernization depend on perspective and context.
  • GLOBALIZATION AND A CHANGING GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT (1990–PRESENT): Technological changes have resulted in a more interconnected world, affecting economic and political relations and in some cases leading to conflict and in others to efforts to cooperate. Globalization and population pressures have led to strains on the environment.

National Core Arts Standards: The Arts as Community Engagement: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

NYS Learning Standards for the Arts: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art. 11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

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