For links to integrated K-12 civics lessons in all non-social studies disciplines, see the bottom of this page or click here.

1. “Pedagogical Frameworks” and Philosophical Underpinnings

The study of democracy and the cultivation of thoughtful, engaged citizens forms the spine of the Civics for All K-12 curriculum. Civics for All provides common curricular frameworks that offer civics-based structures to the social studies but does NOT mandate content selection.  Course content should be and will be selected by individual teachers, schools, and departments in accordance with the District’s curriculum mapping.

  • In this K-12 “spiral curriculum,” all teachers help facilitate this process whenever efficacious, as students revisit core principles of democratic citizenship year after year.  As students’ sophistication grows, they should develop ever deepening and personalized understandings of their civic rights and responsibilities in our democracy as well as in the world at large.
  • The political spectrum banner above is a good example of a common Civics for All curricular framework that all secondary social studies students will see on their classroom walls – half of Seattle’s high school teachers are already using it. As students come to understand politics more deeply every year, they become inspired and empowered with knowledge to participate in our democracy.
  • Parents consistently and unfailingly support citizenship education that empowers their children to realize their civic identities and feel like they can make a difference in the politics that affects their lives. Civics for All facilitates this by helping students develop their own Civic Credo.

2. “Curricular Frameworks”: Common Curricular Frameworks, Structures and Traditions in the K-12 Proposal:

  • Annual mock elections
  • Essential Civics for All Questions – posted in every classroom
  • Essential Civics Tensions – posted in every classroom
  • Political Spectrum banner posted in all secondary social studies classrooms
  • Three Civics CBAs (classroom based assessments) in each year of K-12 social studies
  • Media literacy emphasis, especially related to electoral politics and current events.

3. “Civic Literacy”: Research proves that civic literacy is essential to academic achievement

  • The American Enterprise Institute recently announced that civic literacy is just as critical to success as mathematics and literacy, according to the findings of a massive ten paper research effort on civics education published in November 2012 by the Harvard Press. ;
  • At-risk students benefit tremendously from applied civics lessons – of students likely to drop out, 83% noted civics/service learning would have made them stay in school.
  • Because the critical thinking skills necessary to effective citizenship are the same as the academic skills we are striving to improve, increased academic achievement results from applied civics lessons (Billig & Klute, 2003.)

4. “Pedagogical Advantages”: Classroom Level

  • CFA is teacher friendly and student centered
  • CFA recognizes that all children love to learn! CFA leverages this interest to help empower students to succeed, especially low-skilled, or at-risk, or/and students of color
  • CFA increases relevance and purpose in all disciplines
  • CFA promotes deep, analytical thinking
  • CFA provides curricular frameworks which offer Tier 1, 2, and 3 students to find academic challenge and success within their zones of proximal development even when heterogeneously grouped
  • CFA respects teacher’s individualism and content selection by not mandating content
  • CFA improves student academic achievement so that…
  • CFA increases teacher agency – when students succeed, teachers succeed
  • CFA offers civics connections as a tool to increase student interest and success in classes like math and science where students often struggle
  • CFA uses civics to help highlight significant connections between current events and the primary topic being studied
  • CFA encourages making claim based arguments using both text-based evidence and personal ethical and political beliefs
  • CFA offers a plethora of text-sets which can serve as recursive, foundational texts as well as new texts when doing performance tasks
  • CFA touts Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs) over specific content requirements for each grade, thereby highlighting teacher and student creativity and engagement (CBAs are revered as “best practice” in WA)
  • CFA facilitates high leverage teaching practices (HLTPs)

5. “Administrative Advantages”: District Level

    • CFA supports and aligns with major district Teaching and Learning initiatives, including:                1. Curriculum maps2. Planning backwards3. Danielson4. Common Core5. DBQs
    • CFA supports the MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) approach by providing curricular frameworks which offer Tier 1, 2, and 3 students to find academic challenge and success within their zones of proximal development even when heterogeneously grouped
    • CFA supports district wide work on attacking the Achievement Gap and building stronger Family and Community connections between schools and families, especially in South Seattle schools.
    • CFA provides equity district-wide for all students at all schools in the arts of civics and citizenship.
    • CFA emphasizes teaching “civics across the curriculum,” mirroring and extending prior district initiatives on teaching literacy and math across the curriculum.
    • CFA builds bridges between teachers and academic disciplines, thereby cutting down the “silo effect” between classes and grades and increasing administrative influence and curricular control on a system-wide and city-wide basis.
    • CFA aligns perfectly with and supports implementation of the Common Core (SS) for secondary social studies reading and writing expectations.
    • CFA aligns with and supports the District’s Instructional Services Department current work on Curriculum Alignment in the social studies, as well as science and all core subjects.
    • CFA facilitates work with the Common Core in non-social studies courses with ease.
    • CFA promotes use of non-fiction civics texts which social studies starved elementary school teachers crave. This is an area of enormous opportunity: using more civics texts in alignment with the Common Core Standards at the elementary level could really boost student engagement and, consequently, achievement.
    • CFA aligns with and steps ahead of the federal government’s likely adoption of civics requirements attached to Race to the Top funds.
    • CFA will be a PR boon for the Seattle School District and will build good will city-wide — it has been absolutely embraced by the city of Seattle
    • CFA helps the district respond to and frame problems as civic opportunities to grow and facilitates honest AND productive classroom, school-level and district level conversations about difficult topics in our schools and democracy — e.g. recent press releases about district problems with racially disproportionate discipline and with the race curriculum
    • CFA helps fill the character education gap in our District’s strategic plan, towit: because CFA provides for recursive analysis of the civic virtues (like the Common Good, civic duty, tolerance, honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness,  patriotism, etc.) via intentional use of Essential Civics Questions, students receive opportunities for growth in character and values development that is embedded in coursework and not simply forced upon them. Harvard University reports that a staggering “85% of parents want schools to teach values.”
    • CFA provides a common instructional language for the entire school staff. Further, since civics is the language of values and ethics, CFA provides schools with new tools to encourage and enforce civility on campus.
    • CFA views the inter-marrying of all disciplines with content, like civics, as essential to build the cognitive connectivity that marks life in the 21st century. This wholistic approach benefits students, teachers, and administrators alike because civics/politics connections are the building blocks for great citizenship, both in school and after graduation.
    • CFA promotes increased participation, especially for at risk and/or minority pupils in student government and extra-curriculars; this can improve school climate, lower discipline problems, and increase academic achievement for all students.
    • CFA facilitates productive scaffolding between disciplines and grades. The timeless tensions it addresses can be addressed at the most fundamental level by a first grader and at the deepest level by a 12th grader. This is crucial because the fluidity of civics/politics topics allows kids at all skill levels to achieve a certain amount of success throughout their academic career.

6. “National Standards” National Civics Standards

The recommend national civics standards are divided into standards for K-4, 5-8, and 9-12.

K-4 Content Standards:

      • What is Government and What Should It Do?
      • What are the Basic Values and Principles of American Democracy?
      • How Does the Government Established by the Constitution Embody the Purposes, Values, and Principles of American Democracy?
      • What is the Relationship of the United States to Other Nations and to World Affairs?
      • What are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?

Grades 5-8 and 9­-12 Content Standards:

      • What are Civic Life, Politics, and Government?
      • What are the Foundations of the American Political System?
      • How Does the Government Established by the Constitution Embody the Purposes, Values, and Principles of American Democracy?
      • What is the Relationship of the United States to Other Nations and to World Affairs?
      • What are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?

7. “Cognitive underpinnings”: Bruner and Erickson, the Minds Behind the Method

Cognitive structure: Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner’swork provides much of the curricular framework for the Civics for All approach. This Harvard professor worked with JFK’s “best and brightest” and led the “cognitive revolution” of th1960s. His seminal 1960 book, The Process of Education, highlighted the necessity of the spiral curriculum, structure, and motives for learning:

      • In the spiral curriculum students revisit the study of a subject at different grade levels and disciplines, each time at a higher level of difficulty and in greater depth. Bruner argued that : ‘A curriculum as it develops should revisit the basic ideas repeatedly, building upon them until the student has grasped the full formal apparatus that goes with them’ (ibid.: 13). The spiral curriculum provides the essential pedagogical structure and rationale for an integrated, K-12 curriculum which focuses on and deepens understanding of a few core principles, like citizenship, democracy, justice, etc.
      • The role of structure in learning is fundamental to great teaching and learning. Bruner stated that: ‘The teaching and learning of structure, rather than simply the mastery of facts and techniques” is essential. (ibid.: 13). The study of complex notions like democracy, and attendant structures like the political spectrum, provide a framework for endless years of investigation and connections between all disciplines. See links on Proposal and Home pages for linking civics ideas to non-social studies disciplines in a structured fashion.
      • Motives for learning. Bruner said that “Interest in the material to be learned is the best stimulus to learning, rather than such external goals as grades or later competitive advantage’ (ibid.: 14). In an age of increasing spectatorship, ‘motives for learning must be kept from going passive… they must be based as much as possible upon the arousal of interest in what there is be learned, and they must be kept broad and diverse in expression’ (ibid.:80).

Developmental psychology: Erik Erickson


Erik Erickson’s work provides much of the baseline developmental psychology framework for the Civics for All approach. His landmark model of the 8 stages of psychosocial development of humans provides crucial insight into effective educational practices. His work on the importance of affective learning has set the stage for today’s revitalized interest in the role of self-esteem and character development.

His work revealed:

      • Civics provides students the opportunity and the motive to learn about themselves and “individuate” in his classic stage of “identity vs. role confusion.” A half century ago, Erikson noted “that political commitment and the acquisition of a political ideology were key indicators of identity formation and cognitive growth.”These findings align with and buttress Civics for All’s emphasis on using the political spectrum banners (see above) because they allow students to not only analyze the views of others, both historically and contemporaneously, but to develop their own views.
      • Civics education sees learning as an evolving, humanistic process that involves teacher led elicitation of innate, intellectual, and emotional characteristics that make each of us unique.This process of individuation, or maturation, shapes and parallels the growth of students’ “civic identities.”
      • This process of individuation (self-understanding – “Know thyself”) is essential in all cultures, but it is especially ingrained in the American academic and cultural tradition – our faith in the intrinsic value of the individual and of original thinking is one of America’s proudest, and most endangered, traditions. Well-realized students become well-realized citizens.
      • “Individuation” and academic achievement is sparked when students personally encounter, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize the timeless; civic/ethic/political questions of humankind. As students’ civic identities evolve they come to see learning and citizenship as intimately interdependent and worthy of cultivation.

8. ” K-8 Civics”

Elementary school teachers are masters at interdisciplinary teaching. However, the pressures of standardized testing over the last decade have forced them to spend ever less time on social studies and civics. Literacy (reading and writing) and math have trumped all else and social studies at many schools have been reduced to half hour lesson every other day (in rotation with science often). Evidence in the Seattle Public Schools reveal that low-income / high-needs elementary schools have suffered the greatest losses of social studies and civics instructional time to test-prep demands. This is inequitable and unfair.

This shocking decline could even get worse as new Common Core measurement tools and assessment regimens (e.g. tests) are implemented. The time is now, as we transition to the Core, to carve out space and time in the academic day for our children to learn more about democracy, civic duty, and the Common Good. Civics for All calls for the integration of more civics rich texts and lessons into the literacy portion of each school day as well as into math when it is feasible. Elementary students love to grapple with the ethical and moral questions posed by civics texts and questions.

There are many superb resources and guidelines available for K-8 civics instruction, including those from the National Council for Social Studies.

Ironically, it is our K-8 schools that already have some of the best stockpiles of quality civics curriculum. Many schools already have curricula and multiple class sets of some or all of the following top-notch K-8 civics curricula: Project CitizenStoryPathWe the People,  and Justice O’Connor’s iCivics.



Other keys for K-8 civics apply to the entire K-12 spectrum:

The sky is the limit for our elementary students if we can help free up their teachers to give them the lessons they surely crave.

9. ” High School Civics”

There are many superb examples of teachers in our high schools who do super work with civics, both in the social studies and in other disciplines. Further, the internet is loaded with ideas. Integrating civics and current events into the traditional history classes that the District offers is easily done via the use of the Essential Civics Questions and the political spectrum, as well as other approaches.

Keys for high school mirror K-8  and the entire K-12 spectrum:

  • TALK with colleagues and see how you can build intra and inter grade connections and extensions for the work.
  • Develop an intentional plan for the main ideas/concepts you choose to grow through the 9-12 years and build and scaffold it as needed.
  • Remember recursive learning is rich learning, both for the kids who are “getting it” as well as for those who aren’t just yet.
  • Civics is politics and high schoolers can’t wait to develop their political belief system and their civic identity.
  • Elections can and should be infused into social studies classes. Covering the campaigns before voting and reviewing the results afterwards are standard practice in social studies classes that are educating for full citizenship.

10. “General Pedagogy” General Social Studies Pedagogy

  • According to the National Middle School Association, applied civics lessons and service-learning “involves students in solving community problems, and at the same time, helps [middle school students] learn and apply reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.”
  • Interdisciplinary instruction maximizes critical thinking for students and builds instructional bridges between teachers. Civics and current events lessons increase this success.
  • The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, along with the Youth Leadership Initiative provide essential rationales and resources for the civics minded educator.
  • Civics for All is guided primarily by the ancient educational, democratic, and behavioral precepts and norms of Ancient Greece. Other ancient cultural traditions like Confucianism guide Civics for All as well.

11. The “Political Spectrum”: Pedagogy

  • For secondary social studies (grades 6-12) the political spectrum is a foundational tool for the development of a civically engaged and alive social studies curriculum. Many teachers already use the continuum when studying government and the various political forms of modern world history.
  • Posters provide visual reinforcement that reinforces prior learning, cues new learning, and provides a foundation for the K-12 spiral curriculum.
  • Frequent reference to and use of the political spectrum chart above helps students organize facts, build analyses, and develop opinions. As such it gives students an exciting sense of success and pride in their ability to articulate their nascent ethical/political belief system successfully.
  • Students who do not know the political spectrum simply cannot understand most news media nor can they understand analysis of debates like the liberal/conservative Supreme Court battle over Obama’s health care plan for instance.
  • The use of the spectrum has helped maximize academic achievement and civic engagement for all youth in Franklin High’s Public Service and Political Science Academy (PSA) for 10 years.
  • The political spectrum increases students ability to use Aristotle’s dialectic successfully as they seek to understand the parameters, or “first principles,” of an issue and then develop their own opinion.
  • The spectrum offers learners of all levels an opportunity to succeed and grow within their ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development). Few instructional tools are so flexible. Ultimately, high level learners branch into ever deeper forms of analysis.
  • The spectrum is useful not only for political analysis of say the French Revolution, or the rise of Fascism, or the American politics today, it is also an excellent tool for socio-cultural analyses in religion (say Orthox vs. Reform Judaism or Confucianism vs. Taoism) or in culture (the cosmopolitan vs. the provincial in Athens and Sparta). Finally, of course, without a clear understanding of the basis lexicon of politics and political ideology students are stranded on the sideline when a political meltdown occurs in a country like Greece.

12. ” Service Learning”

Service-learning is a crucial component of the Civics for All Initiative.  Often called applied civics, service-learning can be transformative, especially for at-risk kids on the wrong side of the achievement gap.  The Seattle School District has a strong service-learning tradition which is headquartered at Cleveland High School and directed by Lois Brewer. Service learning dovetails directly with civics education and has been well recognized by Superintendent Banda.

Some of the best websites for service learning are:




Legislative Service: Two Approaches to Learning:

  • TVW’s Capitol Classroom is a new education program that lets students participate directly in the legislative process at the State Capitol via TVW video connection. With Capitol Classroom, students and teachers work closely with lobbyists in Olympia to choose a piece of legislation to support or oppose.
  • Politically based projects like the legislative service-learning  “Olympia Project,” highlighted in Educational Leadership magazine, in which students gather hundreds of petitions to lobby legislators on bills of their own choosing, dramatically increase student achievement.

13. “Instructional Keys” The Keys to Effective Civics Instruction

The most important facets of quality civics teaching are:

  • Intentionality
  • Relating the topic and tensions to current events
  • Remembering that civics is politics and that political angles are often easiest to find and leverage for student engagement
  • Choosing topics that lend themselves to controversy and that are of interest (relevant) to the pupils
  • Finding the tensions/questions/conflicts in the topic – Essential questions are very helpful for this (see links)
  • Providing students with frameworks for analysis – (e.g. the political spectrum – see above)
  • Engaging the students in deliberative discourse, debate, or both

14. “Voting” Every student votes! District-Wide All School Voting in Mock Elections

KidsVotingUSA has complied independent research that shows that voting:

15. “Interdisciplinary Lessons” Lesson Plans and Websites for Interdisciplinary lessons with Civics

Community Action Petition



Please download this petition  to customize for your class’s “applied civics” projects. Kids love the petition sheets! Petition targets can range from lunch food issues to world hunger issues. Try them – you will love them!! Of course, a myriad of extension activities are doable, including pre-reading and post-writing activities in multiple Common Core domains.



There is enormous potential to integrate civics/politics/ethics into the study of mathematics as a tool to leverage student interest, engagement, and achievement. The following areas seem ripe for interdisciplinary work:

  • Elections: The election season provides excellent opportunities to engage in statistical work, predictive modeling, historical vote returns, and, of course, the shenanigans involved with polling and numbers tampering.
  • Taxes: Students love learning about taxes both in terms of how the marginal income tax structure is scaled and what values that scale reflects, but also how state level taxes affect them and their families on a daily basis (esp. the disproportionate effect our high sales tax has on low income citizens – e.g. students!)
  • Scholarship calculations and eligibility matrices.
  • Free and reduced lunch eligibility calculations.
  • Government subsidies and how they work.



Many, many science teachers already infuse civics/politics/ethics into their units. The overarching question of “How do YOU define the Common Good” works well with many science issues and topic, especially local and international conservation issues.

Further, many science teachers are role models when it comes to infusing service-learning into the academic work.


Foreign Languages

Integrating civics/politics/ethics into 1st or even 2nd year foreign language studies is usually framed by teachers within the 5 domains of  OSPI’s standards: Communications, cultures, connections, communities, comparisons. Opportunities for cultural sensitivity and discussions about tolerance already happen in many classrooms and could be deepened.

When teachers engage in comparative cultural analysis they could easily branch into comparative political analysis – I suspect many teachers often do. Comparing the political economy of the US to France, China, Spain/Mexico, etc. is a huge opportunity for academic growth for many students. Pointing out the differences in areas like college funding and teen wages provide excellent buy-in for kids of course.

For all students, when the teachers objective is cultural comparisons, passages from the great civic/political/ethical texts of the object nation could be studied. Upper level students could read in the mother language, 1st and 2nd year in English translations and/or annotated versions.


Special Education

Special education students presence on campus is almost universally seen as a major boon to the civil and civic atmosphere. In this two way street everyone wins. As far as specific civic lessons for special ed. students I think they would be identical to the work other students do, just at a pace that was appropriate for them.

Special education students and teachers can and often do play outsized roles in building a “civic culture of learning” in our schools. Their simple presence brings a humanizing element to all spaces on campus that can be profound.


The Fine Arts: Music, Drama, Painting and Drawing, Pottery, Photography

The arts have always played a major role in the “civic culture of learning” dating back thousands of years. Creative work can be framed as advocacy or dissent art or, of course, as a retreat from any engagement with the body politic.

Ways to infuse civics/politics/ethics into the fine arts:

  • Consider using some precious class time to frame the course from the beginning in a civic way perhaps, talking about the role of art and artists throughout history and currently
  • Consider using a certain amount of time during the semester to simply have a more academic day and discuss important work in the field that they would be interested in – either current events or historic
  • Consider talking about the role of art in the Humanist tradition and in our society today how lucky they are to be doing making art
  • Discuss the NEH’s ongoing funding controversies –write letters, emails, tweets, petitions etc. to legislators
  • Discuss the environmental issues and connections associated with natural materials for art, etc.


Language Arts

There are far too many to list! But here are a few:


Social Studies

Journalism – “Newspaper class” – Media Literacy

Physical Education

See athletics below. And …


The Common Core – General Websites:


Sports teams are like little armies of civic soldiers wanted to be called to battle! There are a million ways to infuse civics into athletics.

  • Ways to infuse civics into sports teams:
  • Clean up crews! Around fields, gym, etc.
  • Assisting local programs whenever possible
  • “Tutoring” players on your team and on other teams
  • Family night games, alumni games

Student government

Find the best and model after them.

  • Ways to infuse civics into student government:

Extra-curricular Activities

How should/could student governments be more civics engaged?

How can participation be expanded more widely, especially to at-risk kids and kids of color?

  • Ways to infuse civics into extra-curriculars:



Smith, M.K. (2002) ‘Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education’, the encyclopedia of informal education with added italics and reconstructed sentence.


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