Civics Education Resource Site

Remote Learning Toolkit

COVID-19 has upended many of the routines and traditions that undergird our lives. Teachers have been called upon to create meaningful learning experiences to further develop student knowledge and skills in a homebound environment.

IllinoisCivics.org has curated a number of resources to help you and your students navigate the challenge of remote learning. This list will be updated regularly. We hope to go beyond sending you links, but, be the link for the support you need to prepare students for college, career and civic life in these unprecedented times.

Best Practices in Distance Learning for Teachers

Put Maslow before Bloom. Start your interactions with students with simple questions or bell ringers like, how are you doing? What are some challenges you are facing right now? How can I help you?

  • Your students might reach out to you with questions about COVID-19. The News Literacy Project created a web page to address misinformation about the virus that can be a valuable resource for you.
  • SEL offers a powerful means to explore and express our emotions, build relationships, and support each other – children and adults alike – during this challenging time. CASEL has curated resources designed to support educators, parents, and anyone who works with children. The page will be updated regularly in response to changing conditions.

Focus on what works best for YOUR students based on age, content, ability and technology access.

  • Create asynchronous learning experiences.
  • Less is more for the number of assignments and instruction.
  • There are several Chrome extensions to support struggling learners and special needs.
  • Grackle Docs is free for education through June 30th. This tool makes documents from Google Suite accessible to meet legal requirements for Sections 504 & 508, ADA, and Title II compliance.
  • You can differentiate readings for students. Newsela is free for the remainder of this school year. You can also use an app like Rewordify.

Offer a variety of options and experiences to allow for personalization of the learning with explicit instruction and time expectations.

  • Choice Boards are one tool you can use to allow students to self-differentiate and choose from a menu of activities to meet learning objectives.
  • Consider creating a Week at a Glance calendar to provide a “big picture” of the week that allows students and parents to design their day and week with this anchor document. Where applicable, you can embed links to videos, assignments, and other documents.

Communicate consistently and constantly with all stakeholders.

  • Specify expectations for students and parents, but be empathetic and flexible to the circumstances
  • Use your email automatic reply feature and school voice mail to communicate when parents and students can expect a response from you.
  • Use free apps like Talk Points to reach out to students and their families in their native language.
  • Set “office hours” where you are available to talk online or by phone.

When it comes to technology, stick with what you and your students know.

  • This is NOT the time to try out all of the new tech tools you have been curious about. This will only add extra stress on you AND your students as you try to navigate the nuances and glitches of new technologies.
  • If you decide to try something new, try one thing at a time and look for supplemental tutorials and resources that can support both you and your students. EdTech Classroom has several YouTube videos to help you navigate these tools. You might want to start with How to Teach Remotely Using a Google Slides HyperDoc or How to Teach Remotely Using Flipgrid.
  • Neverware turns old computers or laptops into a Chrome book. You need a 16 HB flash drive. The process takes about 45 minutes total.

Take care of yourself!

  • Connect with other educators and pool resources.
  • Review these blogs from We Are Teachers and iCivics for ideas to promote self-care.

Best Practices in Distance Learning for Students and Families

  • Check your email & communicate with teachers, but be patient. This is new for both you AND your teachers.
  • Create a schedule for students to complete schoolwork and include time for “recess” or breaks.
  • Create a distraction-free place for students to work/study.
  • Allow students to use learning styles that work best for the way they learn.
  • Become familiar with the technology and tools needed to participate in the work and ask questions of both teachers and your peers.
  • Collaborate with others to troubleshoot questions and engage in study sessions.
  • Take care of yourself! Get a good night’s sleep, exercise regularly and eat to stay healthy.
  • The Parent’s Guide to Talking to Kids about Coronavirus might help answer difficult questions.
  • For more tips on how to support homebound learning, read Tips for Students Participating in Remote Learning.

Creating a Safe and Reflective Online Community

School reopening plans are slowly coming into shape for this fall. Whether you are meeting with students on an online platform or in a blended format, creating a safe civic space for online learning takes intention and reimagining of typical back to school routines.

This past spring, we had the advantage of already knowing our students when school buildings were closed and classes were shifted to distance learning. This semester, all stakeholders will have to create room to put “Maslow before Bloom” and create a foundation for relationships to be built in virtual and/or blended spaces.

All teachers are civics teachers. We send messages to students about power, equity, justice, and representation by our classroom routines, relationships, and curricular choices. While the following resources have explicit connections to the civic learning practices in both the middle and high school civics course requirements, they are also best practice for ALL teachers.

You can access a one hour webinar that provides and overview of the resources shared below.

Create Clear Lines of Communication

This new way of schooling can be stressful for all educators, students, and families. One way to alleviate some of the stress is to have clear and transparent lines of communication between all stakeholders. Families have to keep track of their child’s progress in multiple classes. Multiply that if there is more than one child in the household and you have a recipe for frustration if there are no clear lines of communication and venues to access information. Be proactive in addressing these challenges. Consider incorporating some of the following practices.

  • Communicate to families, students, and resource staff when you will be checking your email and voicemail and the reasonable response time in which people can expect an answer from you.
    • If you respond more quickly to email than voice mail, say so.
    • Put this information in multiple locations. Your syllabus is not enough. Students and families are juggling multiple syllabi. Consider putting this information on the automatic/vacation reply on your email, articulating this on your voice mail message, and on your course webpage if you have one.
    • You can put a hyperlink or QR code to this information on your first several assignments so students can readily access the information if needed.
  • Create "office hours" where you are available by phone or via a virtual meeting platform for people to reach out to you in realtime.
    • Consider varying your time slots for students and families who may have unconventional schedules due to work and childcare concerns.
    • Post this information in numerous locations.
  • Consider creating a Week at a Glance calendar to provide a "big picture" of the week that allows students and parents to design their day and week with this anchor document. Where applicable, you can embed links to videos, assignments, and other documents.
  • Use a platform like Talk Points to communicate with families in their home language.
  • Consider creating a survey for students and families to complete in which the can share how they can best be reached and any extenuating circumstances that might help you better serve the student.

Be reasonable in setting up these lines of communication. You should not be available 24/7. Specify expectations for students and families, but be empathetic and flexible to the circumstances.

Reflect on the Past to Inform the Present

Your students will come to you with lived experiences on remote learning from the spring that can inform and enhance your classroom practice in the fall. Take time to have them reflect on their experiences from the spring, have a voice in recalibrating classroom practices to create routines for success and engage in a collective renewal of goals for the 2020-21 school year.

  • The following activities can be used to help students reflect on their experiences with remote learning. Choose one to start with and use the others to check in throughout the year to recalibrate classroom practices.
    • Have students individually complete the following sentence, "When I think about online learning, I feel_____________ because________________."
    • Use some of the Visible Thinking Routines from Project Zero:

      Compass Point Reflection has students identify something that is worrisome, exciting, a need to know, and a suggestion for moving forward.

      Color, Symbol, Image students share and discuss color, a symbol and an image they think represents online learning.

      3-2-1 Bridge can be used to have students identify 3 ideas they have about online learning, 2 questions they have, and 1 idea they have for improvement.

      Claim, Support, Question can be used to have students make a claim about online learning, support it with evidence from their past
  • Collect the responses and display them in a chart or word cloud. Discuss the responses. Engage in a proactive conversation about what can be done to address past issues and create new routines.

Engage Students Voice in Creating Online Norms

One of the essential questions addressed in any classroom is "How Should We Live Together?" Address this prompt at the start of school in the context of the classroom, whether in person or online. Students must feel safe and secure in the learning environment. Student voices should be included in establishing and maintaining expectations. Here are some tools to help.

  • Ask students to imagine an online space that was educational, productive, and comfortable for learning. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? Capture these ideas in a collective online document and then discuss the norms that both teachers and students can operate under to make that vision a reality.
  • Class Contracting from Facing History and Ourselves can be used to help students discuss expectations and norms of how class members will treat each other.
  • Have students jot down their needs for a successful online learning experience with a common google doc or with a tool like Padlet. Have students in breakout groups organize the ideas into categories and share with the larger group to reach consensus.

Intentionally Build an Online Community

Many of your students belong to one or more online communities. Why? They feel a connection, they are curious, the community adds value to their life. Successful online communities are built with intention. You will have to build your online community with intention too. Here are some resources to start with.

Consider engaging in these activities in smaller groups of students in blocks of 10-15 minutes. These brief but intimate interactions can help you really "see" your students and help them build rapport with one another in a way that is not possible in a larger group. Those not engaged can be working on independent work before all are brought back together for debriefing.

Leverage Technology to Build Rapport and Collaboration

Twenty-first-century workplaces require skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. This is NOT the time to try out all of the new tech tools you have been curious about. This will only add extra stress on you AND your students as you try to navigate the nuances and glitches of new technologies. Start with what you know and then slowly add new tools to your toolbox.

Don’t forget families and students! Here is a Comprehensive Student/Parent Tutorial Guide to help these educational partners navigate online spaces.

Facilitating Student Discussions Online

Facilitating student to student discussions in remote or hybrid learning environments takes a reimagination of traditional strategies used in the classroom. We have created remote learning guides for some of the more popular structures to facilitate student to student civil conversations.

  • Philosophical Chairs: a strategy to help students practice methods of persuasion, active listening, and open-mindedness.
  • Socratic Seminar: a protocol designed to help students dive deep into a common text to promote understanding, of multiple perspectives. questioning and an understanding of the lived experiences of others.
  • Structured Academic Controversy: a technique to help students analyze multiple perspectives and reach consensus on complex issues, past or present.

Tools for Formative Assessment and Reflection

How do we know students are learning? How can we use assessment not merely as an "autopsy" of learning, but as a tool for reflection that enhances the learning process? Here are some tools and prompts that you can incorporate into your practice.

Lesson Plans & Resources for Civics Grades 6-12

  • American Bar Association - Division of Public Education's 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 Learner/Social Studies & History - A collection of lesson plans related to teaching a variety of social studies topics.
  • The Ashbrook Center has curated its Teaching American History resources to identify the ones best suited to online teaching.
  • Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government is designed to inform students, parents, and educators about the Federal Government, which issues the publications and information products disseminated by the GPO’s Federal Depository Library Program.
  • 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 are pleased to publish these 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.
  • Certell offers entire online courses with free social studies content.
  • 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 during this challenging time.
  • 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 allows students to interact with the world’s constitutions in a few different ways.
  • Constitutional Rights Foundation is providing lessons and activities for distance learning.
  • 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.
  • The Digital Resource Center at Stony Brook provides lesson plans for teachers and access to video tutorials and other materials to help students work independently or prepare for a "flipped classroom."
  • Docs Teach from the National Archives is an online tool for teaching with documents that has 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, including a collection of curriculum units and their 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 Living Room Candidate contains more than 300 commercials, from every presidential election since 1952. Admaker is an online editing tool that allows students to remix a historic campaign ad or to make a new ad.
  • Mikva Challenge is providing educators daily remote learning issues to informed lesson plans in their Facebook Educator group or via Twitter @mikvachallenge.
  • The National Constitution Center has just started daily classes on the Constitution: “daily live constitutional conversations for middle school, high school, and college students, available through Zoom, and accessible on home computer, laptop, or phone.” The 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.
  • Our American Voice is an innovative, ethics-driven, leadership program that helps students develop a deeper understanding of the American democratic process and prepares them for civic life and community engagement.
  • PBS Learning Media has resources about the teaching of Civics and Government.
  • ProCon.org's mission statement is "Promoting critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship by presenting controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan, and primarily pro-con format."
  • 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 ReDistricting Game is designed to educate, engage, and empower citizens around the issue of political redistricting.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.”
  • Time for Kids digital library provides turnkey teaching tools, with worksheets and quizzes for families or teachers
  • Unsilence fills a critical gap in civics education. Through storytelling, the arts, and serious games, they unsilence hidden injustices and marginalized voices.
  • WE Teachers is an online platform that helps you address critical social issues with your class, from trauma and bullying to mental well-being.

Many thanks to Joe Schmidt from the Maine Department of Education, Stefanie Wager from the Iowa Department of Education and the Ohio Council for the Social Studies for their generosity in contributing resources and ideas to this list.