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Gotham Gazette 2008 Grant Winner       << Back to all Grant Winners
Local Issues Project

Subject:Social Studies / Humanities

Grade Level: 7-8

Materials: Computer lab and/or mobile laptop cart with Internet access, PowerPoint software, portable Flash drive for saving work (recommended), blank CD-Rs for final PowerPoint presentations, LCD projector for sharing PowerPoint presentations (recommended), print newspapers

About: In the seventh-grade Government unit, students explore the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with a focus on branches of government and how they work at the local, state, and federal levels. The culminating project is the development of PowerPoint presentations on a variety of local issues, including the background, legislation at the local and state levels, and students’ recommendations for additional solutions. In order to complete the project, students research their selected issues using the Gotham Gazette, other local newspapers, and the websites of the New York City Council, the New York State Assembly, and the New York State Senate. In pairs, students select an issue of local significance to research. They spend three to five class periods researching their selected issues on the Internet and in print newspapers. They collect background information on the issue (e.g., when it first become a concern, what solutions have been attempted , what is being done to address the issue, different points of view, and legislation past and present. Students then create a PowerPoint slideshow to present their findings and recommendations (see description below).

The students work with a partner to research a local issue and create a PowerPoint presentation to explain that issue. The issue chosen must be affect the students’ neighborhood or city. They think about problems or issues in their community and talk to family members, friends, or neighbors about what issues concern them. They also check out the local pages of newspapers to see what issues are in the news and go to the City Council, NY State Assembly or NY State Senate websites to see what bills are being written or voted on. The students create a rough draft of their PowerPoint presentation on paper. Including the information that will be included on each slide. They then type the information into PowerPoint and add graphics and sound to augment the presentation. These presentations should explain the background and history of the issue clearly and in detail, why the students think the issue is important; and what the city or state legislative branch has done or is doing to address the issue. This may include recent laws that have been signed, recent bills that have failed, or bills that are being considered, and recommendations about what should be done to address the issue. The recommendations should be logical and practical. A bibliography slide should be included at the end and must be properly formatted and include all of the sites and print sources used for research and design. It should also be clear and creative; the design (layout, sound, clip art, etc.) should help explain the issue and not be distracting to the audience, and the text should reflect correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

The project allows students to learn about issues that are both significant to the community and are of particular interest to them. This serves as a motivation to dig deeper into the background and current developments of the issue, encouraging students to read broadly and develop media literacy skills. By researching across Internet and print sources, students are required to read critically for bias. The creation of the PowerPoint presentations requires students to analyze past solutions/proposed solutions to the issue, and make recommendations based on evidence, creativity, and past successes and failures.

Provide class time for student research. It is helpful to confer with them while they are researching, to make suggestions, clarify misunderstandings, etc. Also, bring in (or have students bring in) print newspapers. This allows groups to multi-task (one partner can do research online while the other looks through the print copies). This is useful if you do not have enough computers, and in case of technical difficulties. Begin collecting newspapers well in advance of the project. This allows students to trace the issue's development over time. If possible, pair students who have greater/lesser experience with PowerPoint. If students help each other, less time will need to be devoted to how to use PowerPoint. Have students create a draft or outline of the presentation on paper before they begin work on the computer. This ensure that they have completed the “thinking” work before they begin with PowerPoint, which but can be distracting. If possible, invest in a USB flash drive and have students save their work on it at the end of the period. That way, students do not always need to work on the same computer, and the teacher can monitor the progress of each group. Adjust group size as appropriate for your class. While students enjoy working together and pairs are usually a manageable size, working individually or in larger groups can be more productive, depending on the needs of individual classes and the time available for the project.


Students will understand an issue of significance to the community and the various points of view of community members.
Students will understand how the city and/or state legislature proposes, debates, and approves proposed legislation.
Students will understand how citizens can influence the legislative process.
Students will develop research skills.

The New York City Government official website iincludes descriptions of and links to every city agency.
The New York City Council official website offers information and updates on current local legislation and issues.
The New York State Government official website includes descriptions of and links to every state agency.
The New York State Assembly official website offers information and updates on current state legislation, as well as a directory of New York State Assembly members.
The New York State Senate official website offers information and updates on current state legislation, as well as a directory of New York State senators.
Ben’s Guide to the U.S. Government for Kids: This site explains the differences between federal and state governments. Two versions of the article are available, one for grades 3-5 and another for grades 6-8; both are appropriate for middle school students. The former presents a simpler explanation good for students who need a basic explanation; the latter offers a more detailed explanation.
http://bensguide.gpo.gov/3-5/government/index.html and http://bensguide.gpo.gov/6-8/government/index.html
The Gotham Gazette site offers coverage of New York City and New York State government and issues. The sections on “City Government” and “Eye on Albany” are particularly relevant.
Websites of various NYC-area local newspapers
New York Times: http://nytimes.com/pages/nyregion/index.html, New York Post: http://nypost.com/news/regionalnews/regionalnews.htm, Newsday: http://newsday.com/news/local/newyork/, AM New York: http://amny.com/news/politics/

“The study of civics, citizenship, and government involves learning about political systems; the purposes of government and civic life; and the differing assumptions held by people across time and place.” (Standard 5.1)
Social Studies
“Central to civics and citizenship is an understanding of the roles of the citizen within American constitutional democracy and the scope of a citizen’s rights and responsibilities.” (Standard 5.3)
Social Stuides
“The study of civics and citizenship requires the ability to probe ideas and assumptions, ask and answer analytical questions, take a skeptical attitude toward questionable arguments, evaluate evidence, formulate rational conclusions, and develop and refine participatory skills.” (Standard 5.4)
Social Studies
“Listening and reading to acquire information and understanding involves collecting data, facts, and ideas; discovering relationships, concepts, and generalizations, and using knowledge from oral, written, and electronic sources.” (Standard 1.1)
“Speaking and writing to acquire and transmit information requires asking probing and clarifying questions, interpreting information in one’s own words, applying information from one context to another, and presenting the information and interpretation clearly, concisely, and comprehensibly.” (Standard 1.2)
“Listening and reading to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues, requires using evaluative criteria from a variety of perspectives and recognizing the difference in evaluations based on different sets of criteria.” (Standard 3.1)
“Speaking and writing for critical analysis and evaluation requires presenting opinions and judgments on experiences, ideas, information, and issues clearly, logically, and persuasively with reference to specific criteria on which the opinion or judgment is based.” (Standard 3.2)
“Use a range of equipment and software to integrate several forms of information; use spreadsheets and data-base software, electronic data bases and on-line services; obtain accurate and relevant information from a range of sources.” (Standard 2).
Information Systems (MST)

Day 1: Exploring Local Issues
Students will understand the difference between local, state, and federal governance over issues.
Students will consider a range of local issues.
Students will become familiar with print and online editions of local newspapers.
Chart paper and markers
A variety of print newspapers (local/state sections)
Computers with Internet access
Begin class by asking students to write in their notebooks a definition of “issue” and to list 3-5 things that they consider to be issues.
In pairs or small groups, students create a working definition of “issue” and compile/revise their list of issues on chart paper. Groups present their definitions and issue lists to the class.
As a class, compare the definitions and lists. Discuss and revise the definitions and/or lists if there is disagreement.
Review the powers of local, state, and federal government (this will have been taught previously). Discuss as a class which of the issues that appears on students’ lists would be governed by local, state, or federal government. Discuss whether some issues on the lists would not be governed by government at all and why.
In pairs or small groups, students browse through print and online editions of newspaper and identify issues that they think fall under the jurisdiction of local government. Students should be prepared to explain their choices.
Each group presents their list of local issues to the class. Discuss any areas of disagreement or misunderstanding.
Read the “Local Government Issues” project description. Come to class with a list of three issues that you would like to research.
Informal assessment: Students’ understanding of concepts will be assessed through “listening in” on group discussion, groups’ lists, and contributions to class discussion.

Day 2: Researching a Local Issue
Students will collect background information on their chosen issue.
Students will learn about past and present legislation relating to their issue.
Students will begin to develop recommendations about how their issue should be addressed by legislators and citizens
Print copies of newspapers
Computers with Internet access
Copies of “Local Government Issues Research Handout” (one per student)
Hand out “Local Government Issues Research Handout” to each student. Read through the handout together and answer any questions.
Model searching for information using websites, if necessary. Review policies for computer and internet use.
Student pairs search for information on their chosen issue using online newspapers and government websties. Students will record their findings on the handout.
Each pair of students will share with the class one discovery they made about this issue.
Note: Research of the local issues should be conducted over a number of class periods. This lesson is the first day of research.
Informal assessment: Students’ developing understanding of their issues will be assessed through observation and conferences during class period, completion of handout, and class share at the end of the period.

Day 3: Drafting PowerPoint Presentations
Students will understand the features of a successful PowerPoint presentation.
Students will compile their research and recommendations into a draft of their PowerPoint slide show.
“Local Government Issues” project description sheet
Computer and LCD projector with PowerPoint software
Sample PowerPoint presentation(s)
Blank paper for drafting
Review the requirements for the PowerPoint presentations, explained on the “Local Government Issues” project description sheet.
Show one or more sample PowerPoint slideshows using the LCD projector. Discuss key features of PowerPoint and “Dos” and “Don’ts” of successful Power Point slideshows.
In pairs, students create drafts of their PowerPoint slideshows on paper. They should include the information that will be included on each slide.
Collect drafts.
Note: This lesson may take two class periods to complete.
Complete draft of PowerPoint slide show, as needed.
Informal Assessment: Students’ understanding will be assessed informally based on their drafts using the project rubric.

Day 4: Creating PowerPoint Slide Shows
Students will learn how to create a PowerPoint slide show.
Students will present their research and recommendations in a clear and engaging manner.
Computers with Internet access and PowerPoint software
LCD projector
Drafts of PowerPoint slide shows
USB flash drive(s) and blank CDs
Using computer and LCD projector, show online PowerPoint tutorial. (“PowerPoint in the Classroom” http://actden.com/pp/unit1 is recommended.) Answer students’ “big picture” questions; save more technical questions to answer one-on-one.
Pairs of students work on creating PowerPoint slide shows on the computers, using their drafts as a guide. If there are not enough computers available for all pairs to work at once, pairs can work in “shifts,” alternating with another individual activity.
Students add graphics and/or sound to the slide shows.
Students edit and proofread their slide shows.
Students save their PowerPoint slide shows on the USB flash drive at the end of each period.
When the PowerPoint slide shows are complete, students or teacher burn them onto a blank CD.
Pairs may begin work on their PowerPoint slide show at different times, pending the completion of their drafts. Slide shows may take varying amounts of time to complete, based on students’ familiarity with the program and complexity of their designs.
Formal Assessment: Students’ PowerPoint presentation will be assessed using the project rubric.

Day 5: Presenting PowerPoint Slide Shows
Students will share their PowerPoint slide shows with the class and/or larger school community.
Students will learn about issues researched by other students.
Students will reflect on how citizens can influence the legislative process.
Computer and LCD projector OR multiple computers (one per PowerPoint slide show)
CDs with PowerPoint presentations
Introduce the project and purpose to the audience (if presenting to the larger school community) and the purpose of sharing the slide shows with others.
Show slide shows one at a time using the LCD projector. Student pairs show and explain their slide shows. Alternately, computers can be set up around the room displaying different shows. One partner can stand at the computer to explain the presentation while the other partner rotates around the room; then pairs switch.
Students/members of the community ask questions/share comments with the student presenters.
Students write a self-evaluation/reflection narrative of their research, PowerPoint design, and presentation/share process. What did they learn? What would they do differently? What will they do next?
Students will be assessed based on their presentations of their slideshows and their self-evaluation/reflection narrative.

Lindsay Oakes


Clinton School for Writers and Artists (MS 260)
320 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10027

Lindsay Oakes teaches sixth and seventh grades at the Clinton School for Writers and Artists in Manhattan, integrating writing and art, as well as technology, into her Social Studies classes. She previously taught English Language Arts, creative writing, and museum studies in middle schools, and drama to high school students. She began teaching in New York City in 2001. Lindsay holds a BFA in Drama and Medieval & Renaissance Studies from New York University and an MA in the Teaching of Social Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. She began her doctoral studies in Literacy at Teachers College in 2006.

Important documents for this lesson plan.



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