Students demonstrate good citizenship by fulfilling their civic and social responsibilities and contributing to the well-being of the communities in which they are a member (including their home, school, neighborhood, country, and the greater world).

Key Beliefs:

I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs:

  • I must contribute to my community and fulfill my responsibilities.
  • Obeying the law is one way I contribute to society.
  • I am a member of many communities (class, school, neighborhood, and country), and doing my share requires my positive contributions.
  • I need to maintain an open mind, a willingness to re–examine my own positions, and the objectiveness to consider the arguments and beliefs of others.
  • Everyone must do his or her part to help the environment.


  • Explain and illustrate the roles students fulfill in the different communities to which they belong.
  • Write a speech describing the essential balance of rights and responsibilities in our democracy.
  • Study how the preservation of our rights depends on our exercise of responsibility in a democracy.
  • Design a project that improves the classroom and then moves on to improve the school and community.
  • Examine the effects of following or not following the law.
  • Analyze and determine what situations call for civil disobedience.
  • Identify some individuals or organizations that are making a positive difference in your community. Work in groups to interview these people and then give class reports on how they got started, why they do what they do, and how they have accomplished everything they have done.
  • Exercise responsible environmental behavior.
  • Examine the effects of protecting (or not protecting) the environment.
  • Study the interaction between people and their environment to determine how this may create conflict. Provide specific examples of what can happen for the good of all when people work together.
  • Evaluate needs in the school or community and plan a service project to meet those needs. Then, implement the plan and document its activities.
  • Brainstorm ways to improve your school, and develop a comprehensive plan for carrying out these changes.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about a problem in the community that needs to be addressed, and present a plan for rectifying the problem.
  • In ancient Greece, people felt that it was important that they try to leave Athens better than they found it. Apply this principle to your own community.


  • “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
  • “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mohandas Gandhi
  • “What do I owe to my times, to my country, to my neighbors, to my friends? Such are the questions that a virtuous man ought often to ask himself.” – Johann Kaspar Lavater
  • “Public virtue is a kind of ghost town into which anyone can move and declare himself sheriff.” – Saul Bellow
  • “Like the body that is made up of different limbs and organs, all moral creatures must depend on each other to exist.” – Hindu proverb
  • “This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  • “Provision for others is the fundamental responsibility of human life.” – Woodrow Wilson,
  • “We can really respect a man only if he doesn’t always look out for himself.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • “Cheat the earth and the earth will cheat you.” – Chinese proverb
  • “If my neighbor is happy, my own work will go easier, too.” – Macedonian proverb

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Ridiculous Rules

Learning Objective: To realize that part of good citizenship is obeying all rules and laws, even the ones that may be considered ridiculous

Materials: One sheet of colored paper per student (use multiple colors)


  • Distribute paper to students and instruct them to write down a rule or law they consider ridiculous (for example, “This pillow tag is not to be removed under penalty of law”). Laws or rules from school, home, or community may be used.
  • After each person has written a ridiculous rule, instruct students to make a paper airplane out of the paper they wrote on.
  • With the group in a circle, have each person sail their airplane, then pick up a landed airplane and sail it.
  • Repeat one more time; then have the students choose a plane of a color different than their original, and take it to their seats.
  • Ask students to open up the plane they have and read the rule written on the paper.
  • Develop the thought that we do not have the option of only following the rules we think make sense. If, by chance, everyone agrees that all the laws written down are ‘dumb,’ challenge students to imagine why such laws or rules were created.
Process and Reflection:
  • Why do you think the person or people made the rule?
  • The rule was written because it makes no sense. In reflecting upon the various rules that were shared, would you agree or disagree with this statement?
  • Do we have ridiculous rules in our class or school? If you think that is the case, how would you support your answer?
  • How can you contrast the necessity to obey just laws with the practice of civil disobedience, in which someone disagrees with the fundamental morality of a law and disobeys it as a form of protest, in order to bring attention to the law and hopefully change it?


Sneak a Peek and Build

Learning Objective: To help in understanding what it means to share and be a contributor to a solution

Materials: Building blocks or something similar (Lego’s, Popsicle Sticks, etc.)

Prior to the activity, build a small sculpture or design with some of the building material and hide it from the class.


  • Divide the class into small teams of four to six students each. Give each team enough building items to duplicate what you have already created.
  • Place the original sculpture in a place that is hidden but that is at an equal distance from all the groups. Ask one member from each team to come at the same time to look at the sculpture for five seconds in order to try to memorize it as much as possible before returning to his or her team.
  • After they run back to their teams, they have 30 seconds to instruct their teams on how to build the structure so that it looks like the one that has been hidden. After 30 seconds, ask each team to send up another member of their group who gets a chance to sneak a peek before returning to their team. Continue in this manner until one of the teams successfully duplicates the original sculpture.

Process and Reflection:

  • What did each person in your group do to help?
  • Why is it important to be a contributor to solving a problem than one who only sits back to complain?
  • What are some important parts of sharing with others?
  • Is sharing and doing your part important in your daily life? How?
  • Describe what makes a successful team experience for you as a student.


Making a Difference

Tito and his friends were always sitting in the park complaining about things: the park was littered with trash; their parents never gave them enough money; the planet was getting more and more polluted and the weather more extreme; also, the music the radio stations played was always bad. Life seemed pretty hopeless to Tito and his friends.

But one day Tito decided he’d heard enough. “What are we doing?” he said. “In all the time we’ve spent complaining, we could have been doing something productive. We could have worked jobs and made all the money we needed. We could have cleaned up this park or volunteered to help get the government to take action against climate change. We could’ve learned instruments and made our own music!”

Tito took a deep breath, spun on his heel, and started walking away. “Where are you going?” “To do… something!” Tito said.

Process and Reflection:

  • How is this a story about citizenship?
  • What do you think Tito did after he left the park?
  • Why do you think the park is always littered with trash? What effect would it have on the community if the friends decided to keep it clean?
  • How would you respond to someone who said there was no point in picking up the trash in the park because people would just litter again? Why is it important to be a good citizen even if you are not sure that it will make a difference?


Leadership on a Bus by Michael Josephson

Mr. Martin told his English class that leadership was “influencing meaningful change either through your own conduct or by motivating others to act,” and he assigned an essay requiring students to write about a personal experience with leadership.

The students groaned, insisting they couldn’t think of anything, so Mr. Martin read an essay submitted last semester:

This year I started taking a bus to work after school. People pretty much keep to themselves. A few months ago, an old guy got on the bus and said loudly to the driver, ‘Good morning!’ Most people looked up, annoyed, and the bus driver just grunted. The next day the man did it again. He got another grunt. On the third day, the driver responded with a semi–cheerful ‘Good morning!’ “Then the guy said: ‘My name is Benny,’ and asked the driver, ‘What’s yours?’ That was the first time any of us heard the driver’s name.

Good Morning

Soon, Benny offered his cheerful ‘Good morning!’ to the whole bus. Within a few days, his ‘Good morning!’ was returned by a whole bunch of ‘Good mornings’ and the entire bus got friendlier. People started introducing themselves and talking. A man next to me mentioned that the place where he worked was looking for people. He gave me the number and I got a better job.

Things really changed on the bus because of Benny, so I think he was a leader. But about a month ago, Benny stopped getting on the bus. Everyone noticed and lots of people said he may have died. No one knew what to do and soon the bus got awful quiet again.

So last week, I started to act like Benny and say, ‘Good morning!’ to everyone and they cheered up again. I suppose I’m the leader now. I learned you don’t have to have big titles or lots of power to be a leader. Benny didn’t just change the bus, he changed me and lots of others by showing us that just being cheerful can change attitudes and that changing attitudes can change lives. I hope Benny comes back to see what he started.

Someone in the class asked, “Mr. Martin, whatever, happened to Benny?” Mr. Martin laughed. “Well, he’s okay. Benny used to be a teacher here. After he retired, he just keeps riding different buses teaching leadership.”

One cynical student said: “Wait a minute, is this all true?” Mr. Martin smiled and said, “Do you mean the story or the lesson?”


Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen

The most important thing we can do for our children is to help them acquire values and skills that they can rely on throughout their lives. In doing so, they will have the best chance to lead good lives as individuals and as citizens of their communities and of America. The U.S. Department of Education has prepared a resource guide with teaching points and activities for elementary, middle, and high school students.