Civics Education Resource Site

Curriculum Design Toolkit: Direct Instruction on Democratic Institutions

At the foundation of preparing students for civic life is grounding student knowledge of the workings of our constitutional republic. Teachers can provide instruction in civics and government, history, economics, geography, law, and democracy. Formal instruction in these subjects increases civic knowledge and increases young people’s tendency to engage in civic and political activities over the long term.

Avoid teaching only rote facts about dry procedures, which is unlikely to benefit students and may actually alienate them from civic engagement. Rich civic inquiry incorporates sound pedagogy, content, critical thinking, and civic skills.

Pedagogy/Teaching Strategy

  • Makes explicit civic learning connections between formal instruction and concrete actions
  • Compliments the standard curriculum and assessments with civic learning
  • Includes material not contained in the textbook, particularly primary sources, and civic practices, organically developed within the classroom
  • Includes political and civic texts from history and from the present that communicate political and civic ideas in writing, speech, and other media
  • Leverages interactions with people in the community to learn about important events and ideas
  • Utilizes a range of instruction and assessment tools including student-initiated activities


  • The Constitution and its fundamental principles as applied to the past and present
  • The structure of government at local, state, and federal levels, over time
  • The powers and limitations of each level of government (federal, state, and local)
  • The relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affairs
  • The major themes in the history of the United StatesIdeals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic
  • How people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance (including voting, lobbying, non-violent conflict, etc.)

Critical Thinking

  • Reflects key democratic knowledge, skills, and concepts
  • Engages in critical analysis of political information where questions about civics, government, and history are developed, posed, and impact further investigations and discussions
  • Assesses citizens' and institutions' effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, national, and/or international level
  • Evaluates public policies (local, state, national, or international) on basis of intended outcomes and related consequences in order to propose any necessary changes
  • Analyzes relationships among governments, civil societies, and markets

Civic Skills

  • Employs group projects or presentations connected to course content
  • Practices civic communication skills including democratic deliberation
  • Attends to skills, values, and practical applications

The Illinois Social Science Civic Content Standards outline the disciplinary content that should be the focus of instruction, including:

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


Resources supporting 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 their 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.
  • Constitution U.S.A, a PBS series hosted by Peter Sagal investigates, where the U.S. Constitution lives, how it works and how it doesn't, how it unites us as a nation, and how it has nearly torn us apart. The website has classroom resources around essential questions related to federalism, rights, equality, separation of powers, amendments, and other current and societal issues.
  • Constitutional Rights Foundation provides a wide variety of lessons and activities.
  • Crash Course Government and Politics from PBS Digital Studios has short video primers on concepts and institutions that shape our Constitutional Republic.
  • 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 with a collection of curriculum units and suggested scope & sequence.
  • has lesson plans aligned to the Illinois civics mandates for grades 6-12.
  • The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center has a number of online learning resources 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 of 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.