5 Easy Ways to Add Service Learning to Your Classroom

Want to add service learning to your classroom? We’ll help you get started.

Here are five basic steps to a successful service learning project — along with plenty of resources to help you from beginning to end.

Service Learning / Teamwork

1. Define service learning

What skills will students gain through service learning?

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Research skills
  • Traditional literacy
  • Digital and financial literacy

The National Youth Leadership Council — a non-profit focused on supporting educators interested in service learning — offers this definition: “An approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs.”

Here’s an example. Last year Michele Ritt, a special education teacher with Leopold Elementary School did a year-long service learning project with her fifth-graders. Using the state-mandated social studies curriculum, students explored gratitude, connecting it to the real-world issue of homelessness.

How? In art class students used their artistic representations of gratitude to make greeting cards. They used math curriculum to determine the size of the cards for printing and eventually developed a sales plan to sell the cards.

Through the card sales, students raised $800 for OM Village, an organization that builds tiny homes to help community members move from homelessness into home ownership. For their culminating activity, students toured OM Village and did a service project with residents.

However, as Ritt explains, service learning projects can be as big or small as you want. “Taking one isolated field trip and connecting it to the curriculum in a more powerful way can still have a large impact and deeper meaning for the students. It doesn’t have to be a several month-long project.”

2. Tie curriculum goals to projects

One of the first steps in a service learning project is deciding which academic content standards you want to teach. Then, you build a service-learning project based on those academic goals, explains Sarah Bassett, a Curriculum and Training specialist with NYLC.

"Along with learning curriculum, Bassett says teachers should also know that students gain 21st-century skills through service learning."

Along with learning curriculum, Bassett says teachers should also know that students gain 21st-century skills through service learning; they'll learn about collaboration, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and research skills along with digital and financial literacy ones.

3. Involve students, give them voice and choice

Pauline Roberts, an instructional specialist with Birmingham Covington School (BCS), has been doing service learning projects for ten years, and she says these projects generate phenomenal student engagement. That’s because students are heavily involved in every aspect of a service learning project. To have an effective service learning project, Roberts says teachers should let students do everything from lead project brainstorming sessions and conduct research to raise funds and assess themselves and their classmates.

4. Decide how to evaluate learning

Assessment is another important step in service learning. Ritt says teachers can use Common Core state standards to assess student learning, but they should also engage in follow-up conversations with students and have students to assess themselves and each other during a project.

5. Share the learning

"Whether students share what they’ve learned with the rest of the school or the wider community, part of every service learning project is raising awareness and educating people about an issue."

Whether students share what they’ve learned with the rest of the school or the wider community, part of every service learning project is raising awareness and educating people about an issue. Roberts says this step is important because students need to demonstrate they can articulate their thinking. Sharing also makes the learning real and authentic for students. Ideas for sharing include a presentation at a local library, creating and sharing a documentary film, or speaking with the local business community.

Want to get started with service learning right now? Use our handpicked resources to help you with your project from start to finish.

1. Case studies

Read how teachers at Chico Unified School District, Malcolm Shabazz City High School and Rosa Parks Middle School have successfully implemented service learning in their classrooms.

2. Brainstorming sheets

Use our customizable brainstorming web yourself or with students to generate service learning project ideas, learning goals and assessment ideas.

3. Journals

Use our printable blank journal pages or reflective journals to encourage students to reflect on the project weekly as well as when you complete the project.

4. Evaluation sheets

Use our group evaluation sheets and student self-assessment sheets to help you and your students assess the outcomes of your project.

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Author Bio:

Wendy McMahon is an education technology writer who has been working and writing in the edtech field for more than 15 years. She currently writes for EdSurge, EdTech Magazine and Pearson. She holds a Journalism Degree from the University of King’s College. Follow her on Twitter at @wendymcmahon.

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