Civics Education Resource Site

Curriculum Design Toolkit

Public Act 101-0254 requires a semester of civics in grades 6, 7, or 8, employing direct instruction, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes. The class will become a requirement at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

IllinoisCivics.org has created this Curriculum Design Toolkit to support the implementation of the civics requirement designed to prepare ALL Illinois students for college, career, and civic life.

This summer, IllinoisCivics.org will host a series of FREE one-hour webinars to explore each element of this toolkit. Illinois educators may choose to earn two hours of Professional Development for completing an application activity through the DuPage Regional Office of Education.

Visit our Professional Development Calendar for more details and to register.

Getting Started

Review the Requirements of the Civics Mandate

Watch Understanding the Illinois Civics Mandates Webinar

View this one hour webinar for an overview of the civics mandates and tips for how to get started with implementation.

Common questions about the mandate

Q: Is there flexibility in how my district implements the mandate?

According to the Illinois Civics Mandate Guidance Document, the legislation led to questions about options for how the civics requirement can be addressed within the middle school structure while still maintaining compliance. Many districts and schools have questions about whether civics is now mandated to be a stand-alone course or if it can be incorporated within existing course structures.

It is NOT a requirement for the civics coursework to be a stand-alone course. The coursework is required to be at least a semester, but required coursework may be incorporated into existing course structures.

The content can be in a stand-alone civics course of at least one semester or (one-half year) in length or at least one semester’s worth of civics (one-half year) can be woven across grades 6,7 and 8.

The minimum of one semester of civics content in sixth, seventh, or eighth grades shall be in accordance with the Illinois Learning Standards for social science.

Q: What are the proven practices of civic education outlined in the mandate?

  • Government Institutions: This may include ideas of discussing foundations of our American government, branches of government, and other institutions per the Illinois civics content standards 6-8.
  • Discussion of Current and Societal Issues: Current and societal issue discussions may link issues to core curricular goals as well as address meaningful and timely essential questions about public policy issues that deserve the attention of students and the community.
  • Service Learning: Service learning addresses the idea of taking informed action upon learning; service learning MUST connect to the content within the classroom. This can take the form of a traditional service project in civil society and/or advocacy for public policy at the local, state, or federal levels of government. Service learning does NOT refer to having students gather community service hours or volunteering.
  • Simulations of the Democratic Process: The goal of simulations is to engage students in practices of citizenship and promote a deeper understanding of the workings of government institutions through role-playing, scenario consideration, or problem-based case solutions.

Source: Illinois Civics Mandate Guidance Document 6-8

Q: How does the civics mandate align with other school initiatives?

Each of the proven practices of civic education delineated in the bill has a direct alignment to other important school initiatives like the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, the Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching, the Illinois Social Science Standards, and 21st-Century Skills.

Q: What does assessment look like?

One of the biggest concerns educators have voiced is, “How will we have time to prepare students for the required Constitution test? I will never have time to cover all 200 questions on the test if I have to make time for student-centered inquiry, discussions, simulations, and service learning!”

The Illinois State Board of Education states:

American patriotism and the principles of representative government, as enunciated in the American Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and the proper use and display of the American flag, shall be taught in all public schools and other educational institutions supported or maintained in whole or in part by public funds. No student shall receive a certificate of graduation without passing a satisfactory examination upon such subjects. 105 ILCS 5/27 3 (from Ch. 122, par. 27 3)

This provision requires that students receive instruction and examination on the U.S. and Illinois State Constitutions - but does NOT mandate a 100-200 question multiple-choice examination of disparate facts. The choice of how to measure student growth is left to local control.

Conduct a Civics Audit of Your Current Curriculum

Schools that have been making instructional shifts consistent with the 2016 Illinois Social Science standards are well-positioned to meet the requirements of the new 6-8 civics mandate. Use our Civics Audit document to identify the assets of your current instructional program and discern where you might enhance your current practice.

Create a Climate for Civic Learning

Creating a civic and collaborative space is foundational to engaging in the proven practices of civic education delineated in the mandate. Students must feel safe and secure in the learning environment and respect the key principles of inclusive and productive conversations. Student voices should be included in establishing and maintaining expectations.

Indicators of a civic and reflective space

  • Students critically think about issues related to identity and community to help them assess possible biases that could impact their understanding of self and others.
  • Students are clear on ground rules that reflect key principles of inclusive and reflective civic spaces. Ideally, student voice should be included in building or clarifying norms.
  • Students reflect on how their lived experiences impact their attitudes towards the knowledge, skills, and dispositions examined in class.
  • Students engage in reflective practices throughout the learning to evaluate how thinking has evolved or clarified, assess the effectiveness of participation and opportunities for growth.

Resources to help enhance your classroom environment for civic learning

Curate High-Quality Resources to Support the Proven Practices of Civic Education

Current and Societal Issue Discussions

Facilitating student to student discussion provides students an opportunity to deliberate essential questions facing their community. This is an authentic practice to build and practice content knowledge, civic skills, and dispositions. Watch this one hour webinar for an overview of this proven practice of civic education.

Some of the Indicators of High-Quality Classroom Discussions include:

Facilitation of Knowledge Grounding

  • Students analyze a variety of credible texts in order to synthesize information for discussion, taking note of any bias and the author’s purpose.
  • Students identify multiple perspectives related to current and societal issues.
  • Students synthesize information to address essential and supporting questions related to the discussion.

Facilitating Discussion

  • Students utilize a discussion strategy that is appropriate for the content and focus of the conversation and employ a variety of rhetorical tools (logos, ethos, pathos) in an effort to inform and persuade others.
  • Students actively listen and respond appropriately to their peers to corroborate, clarify, question, or provide an alternative perspective with appropriate transitions throughout the discussion, acknowledging and inviting in the thoughts of others.
  • Students take a role in enforcing the ground rules and hold one another accountable, in a civil and respectful way.

Resources to enhance your practice in Current and Societal Issue discussions

  • Our IllinoisCivics.org Election 2020 Toolkit has curated several deliberation resources around the November elections.
  • The Constitutional Rights Foundation provides a lesson to teach students the Basics of Persuasion.
  • The Department of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh provides Four-Step Refutation Strategies.
  • Facing History and Ourselves structures discussion through Learn to Listen, Listening to Learn.
  • Greater Good Science Center-UC Berkeley teaches students How to Listen with Compassion.
  • Discussion Transition Statements
  • The National Institute for Civil Discourse has the “Text, Talk, Vote” program to leverage texting to engage students in discussions about the importance of voting and civic engagement.
  • Mismatch, powered by AllSides connects students across the country in live video conversations to promote understanding across differences.
  • Generation Global connects students from across the world in dialogue through facilitated videoconferences and team blogging. Conversations are supported with engaging curriculum anchored in essential questions.
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture has developed excellent resources on how to discuss race with all ages.
  • Kialo helps students master critical thinking and reasoning skills. It allows kids to introduce questions, the chance to discuss those thoughts, and evaluate claims.

Text Sources to Ground Discussions

Facilitating Discussion Strategies

If you would like deeper learning and training in this proven practice, register for the free Guardians of Democracy Microcredential Course on Current and Controversial Issue Discussions.

Simulations of Democratic Processes

Simulations of democratic processes allow students to “do civics” in a safe environment to learn and practice knowledge skills and dispositions. Simulations should be used wisely. We recommend simulations that have students take on roles of civic actors in mock trials, legislative hearings, or town halls, not personas or perspectives that could cause trauma or harm to others.

Some of the indicators of a high-quality simulation of a democratic process include:

Preparation for the Simulation

  • Students can identify the essential and supporting questions related to the simulation.
  • Students can identify the learning objectives (disciplinary content and/or skill) to be employed in the simulation.
  • The student analyzes appropriate materials to acquire the background information necessary to fulfill role expectations.
  • Students can identify the pertinent civic dispositions and processes inherent in the simulation.

Participation in the Simulation

  • Students can discern the multiple roles, motivations, and perspectives of others in the simulation and identify appropriate allies to build coalitions necessary in simulation.
  • Students can identify and anticipate challenges and employ systemic supports within the simulation.
  • Students employ appropriate norms of participation throughout the simulation consistent with their tasks.
  • Students can identify and use appropriate means of communication consistent with the simulation (oral, digital, written, visual, other).

Resources to enhance your practice in Simulations of Democratic Processes

  • Our IllinoisCivics.org Election 2020 Toolkit has curated several simulation resources around the November elections.
  • Street Law has a robust resource library that features ready-to-go mock trials and moot courts.
  • The Constitutional Rights Foundation's Civic Action Project has several simulations where students emulate local governments.
  • The Foundation for Teaching Economics has several simulations that marry financial literacy with public policy. Linked is a simulation of a land-use hearing.
  • Under the leadership of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics.org leverages gaming to simulate democratic practices related to foundational concepts such as federalism, limited government, and checks and balances.
  • The Redistricting Game is an online platform created by the USC Annenberg Center for Communications. Students experience how redistricting and gerrymandering can manipulate election results and why many are calling for reform.

If you would like deeper learning and training in this proven practice, register for the free Guardians of Democracy Microcredential Course on Simulations of Democratic Processes.

Service Learning

Informed action through service learning allows students to apply academic learning to real-world problems that are important to them. Service learning differs from community service or volunteerism in that the action is informed by the curriculum.

Some of the indicators of high-quality service learning that facilitates students to take the L.E.A.D. include:

Learning

  • Students can identify the essential and supporting questions related to service learning.
  • Students can identify the learning objectives (disciplinary content and/or skill) to be employed in the informed action through service learning.
  • The student analyzes appropriate materials to acquire the background information necessary to take informed action through service learning.
  • Students identify and practice the pertinent civic dispositions and processes inherent in the informed action.

Engage and Explore

  • Students engage with others to build coalitions and collect information to explore the multiple needs, motivations, and perspectives of the community.
  • Students explore possible informed actions and employ democratic processes to evaluate appropriate actions.
  • Engage appropriate allies to build coalitions necessary in the informed action.
  • Students explore and anticipate challenges to the informed action and prepare possible responses.

Authentic Action

  • Students identify and employ systemic supports to take informed action.
  • Students employ appropriate norms of participation throughout the informed action.
  • Students identify and employ appropriate means of communication to engage others in the informed action (oral, digital, written, visual, other).

Digest and Demonstrate

  • Students can articulate how the informed action experience relates to the learning objectives, both skill, and content.
  • Students identify areas of personal improvement for future actions.
  • Students use the informed action experience to identify areas of future systemic change with democratic institutions and processes explored.
  • Students extend learning by creating additional essential and supporting questions to extend the inquiry and inform future action.

Resources to Enhance Your Practice of Service Learning

  • Our IllinoisCivics.org Election 2020 Toolkit has curated several service learning resources around the November elections.
  • Join the Generator School Network hosted by the National Youth Leadership Council to access free professional development, curriculum and a network of teachers ready to support your work. Topics such as assessment, management and inspiration for service learning projects are addressed.
  • The Our American Voice program connects middle-school students to the democratic process through active community problem-solving in a program that is engaging, interactive, and grounded in real life.
  • Register for the Civic Action Project facilitated by the Constitutional Rights Foundation. This resource is unique in that it not only connects teachers but also students engaging in service learning projects.
  • The Mikva Challenge has a number of online resources to help scaffold successful action civics projects. You can sign up for their educator network to access information for training and opportunities for students in your region.
  • We.org is an international organization that that has toolkits for K-12 classrooms to engage in service learning around topics such as clean water, literacy, cyberbullying and other issues.
  • Center for Civic Education's Project Citizen has both a middle school and high school program for service learning.
  • Generator School Network is the “soup to nuts” service learning clearinghouse K-20
  • The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center has a Take a Stand exhibit and online toolkit for classroom use.
  • National Geographic Geo-Inquiry uses using a geographic perspective to have students begin to connect complex components, see patterns, and make connections that change their communities.
  • Become part of a network of practitioners committed to student-centered, project-based, high-quality civic education. Join the National Action Civics Collaborative. There is a toolbox of resources to help guide best practices.
  • Through funding provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) has published resources related to Civic Online Reasoning to help students become both wise consumers and producers of digital media.
  • Empowering Youth for Positive Change program from the Center for Prevention Research and Development has both rubrics and checklists for informed actions related to local public policy projects.
  • generationOn provides an overview of service learning and resources for each stage of implementation.
  • Educating for Democracy Deep Dive, the Teaching Channel and CERG have curated a collection of videos, blogs, educational resources, and relevant research to support educators in and out of schools in preparing youth to participate fully and thoughtfully in civic and political life in the digital age.
  • StoryCorps gives people of all backgrounds, typically two at a time, the opportunity to record meaningful conversations and archives the recordings at the Library of Congress.

If you would like deeper learning and training in this proven practice, register for the free Guardians of Democracy Microcredential Course on Service Learning.

Direct Instruction on Democratic Institutions

The Illinois Social Science Civic Content Standards outlines the disciplinary content that should be the focus of instruction. This includes:

  • Civic and Political Institutions
  • Participation and Deliberation: Applying Civic Virtues Democratic Principles
  • Processes, Rules, and Laws

Here are resources around each of the core principles that gird our constitutional republic.

  • American Bar Association — Division of Public Education has a teacher’s portal is designed to help teachers educate their students about the law.
  • American Presidency Project is a hub for presidential documents on the internet.
  • Annenberg Classroom has a wide range of resources for teaching about the American Constitution.
  • Annenberg Learner/Social Studies & History — A collection of lesson plans related to teaching a variety of social studies topics.
  • Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government is designed to inform students, parents, and educators about the Federal Government.
  • The Bill of Rights Institute provides lesson plans based on primary sources as well as a “comprehensive digital course on History, Government & Economics” called Documents of Freedom.
  • C3 Teachers/Student Inquiries — C3 Teachers publish inquiries collected at different grade levels in vary to content topics from around the country.
  • Casemaker features twenty pre-made civics challenges that teachers can share with their students, or customize and annotate specifically for your needs.
  • Center for Civic Education is dedicated to promoting an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy in the United States and other countries.
  • Center on Representative Government has interactive learning modules that are a nice introduction to how Congress works, what members of Congress do, and the importance of citizen participation.
  • Choices — Teaching with the News has free lessons that connect your classroom to headlines in the news.
  • Civics 101 has great audio, activities, resources, and lessons to help students stay engaged (or reengage) with civics.
  • Civics360 has modules to help students enhance their civic knowledge and skills to know about the government and how “we the people” interact with the government and each other.
  • Civics Renewal Network is a consortium of nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations. On the Civics Renewal Network site, teachers can find the best resources of these organizations, searchable by subject, grade, resource type, standards, and teaching strategy.
  • Constitute is an online tool that allows students to compare and contrast the structure of the US Constitution with those of other constitutions from around the world.
  • Constitutional Rights Foundation provides a wide variety of lessons and activities.
  • C-SPAN Classroom is a free membership service for social studies teachers. Their mission is to enhance the teaching of social studies through C-SPAN's primary source programming and websites.
  • Docs Teach from the National Archives is an online tool for teaching with documents that have a collection of activities and lesson plans crafted by educators using documents from the National Archives.
  • EDSITEment! from the National Endowment for the Humanities has a collection of classroom-ready lessons and materials for K-12 social studies education.
  • Facing History and Ourselves has resources and lesson plans to address racism, antisemitism, and prejudice at pivotal moments in history to help students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives.
  • Florida Joint Center for Citizenship works in partnership with Florida teachers, social studies district coordinators and national partners to develop and distribute K-12 curriculum resources to support effective civics instruction and improved civic learning.
  • Generation Global uses online portals and videoconferences to allow students to interact directly with their peers around the world, engaging in dialogue around issues of culture, identity, beliefs, values, and attitudes.
  • Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History now offers free access to remote learning resources.
  • iCivics provides free resources that engage students in meaningful civic learning.
  • iCivics collection of curriculum units.
  • iCivics Scope & Sequence.
  • IllinoisCivics.org has numerous lesson plans aligned to the Illinois civics mandates for grades 6-12.
  • The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center has a number online learning to support students to take a stand as an upstander in their community.
  • In the Interactive Constitution, scholars from across the legal and philosophical spectrum interact with each other to explore the meaning of each provision of the Constitution.
  • KQED Teach is a free platform for middle and high school students to tackle big issues and build their media literacy and critical thinking skills in a supportive environment.
  • Library of Congress — Citizen U Integrates inquiry-based civics lessons across disciplines — English language arts, math, science, and social studies.
  • The National Constitution Center offers many additional resources focused on the Constitution and where scholars agree and disagree on how to interpret it.
  • New York Times Current Events provides resources for teaching about current events using New York Times content.
  • News Literacy Project — Checkology empowers students to become smart consumers of information in all its forms and engaged participants in civic life.
  • Newsela Social Studies gives teachers thousands of texts, with an emphasis on diverse and unheard perspectives. Newsela provides primary sources, U.S. founding documents and Supreme Court cases, biographies, op-eds, and more.
  • Newseum provides online Classes & Training on First Amendment and Media Literacy. You can also search for lesson plans and discussion topics among other resources.
  • PBS Learning Media has resources about the teaching of Civics and Government.
  • Read, Write, Inquire provides a downloadable curriculum that creates a process to support middle school students' argument writing through the reading of sources and analysis of complex social and historical problems.
  • The Social Studies Collaborative Drive provides lessons, resources, hyperdocs, templates, activities, tools, and ideas submitted by teachers and posted in a shared online folder.
  • Stanford History Education Group Civic Online Reasoning — Students are confused about how to evaluate online information. SHEG provides free lessons and assessments that help you teach students to evaluate online information that affects them, their communities, and the world.
  • Street Law helps equip classroom teachers with the strategies, techniques, and materials needed to be effective educators of civics, government, and law. They have a lot of free resources throughout their website and their store.
  • Teaching American History provides a range of lesson plans. Their series on the founding would be particular civic interest.
  • Teaching Tolerance provides film kits, lesson plans, texts, student tasks, and teaching strategies that promote SEL and academic rigor.
  • TedEd has numerous videos on “Government: Declassified.”
  • Unsilence fills a critical gap in civics education. Through storytelling, the arts, and serious games, they unsilence hidden injustices and marginalized voices.