Civics Classroom Resources for Direct Instruction

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

The new Illinois Social Studies Standards and civics course requirement demonstrate that the “how” is as important as the “what” in closing the civic education gap. Just as knowledge of the Rules of the Road does not prepare a person to operate a motor vehicle; the ability to pass a test on civic knowledge does not prepare an individual for civic life. One needs to “get behind the wheel” and practice the knowledge, skills and dispositions of civic efficacy. Inquiry is the “GPS” that guides effective direct instruction in the civics classroom.

Inquiry begins with questioning. Albert Einstein realized this when he stated:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
The new civics standards ask students to address essential questions that reflect enduring issues; as well as develop their own essential and supporting questions (SS.IS.1 &3). Civic course design and teaching strategies should be anchored in compelling inquiries where students use disciplinary knowledge to investigate the issues facing our democratic republic. Student preparation for engagement in the workings of our democracy begins with questions.

There are a number of free resources available to help facilitate direct instruction rooted in inquiry.
  • The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) from the Right Question Institute is a simple but elegant protocol for helping students design good questions. Teachers can register for their Educator Network for free and have access to training in the QFT and classroom resources.
  • The C3 Collaborative Project from the National Council for the Social Studies includes resources to help teachers develop questions and plan inquiries for existing or new lessons.
  • To understand the connection of questioning and innovation, Warren Berger hosts a blog named after his best-selling book, A More Beautiful Question. This site gives a more global perspective on the importance of questioning in our daily lives.
  • has sample student inquiries for civics that can be used/ adapted to guide direct instruction.
Do you have any resources to share to help facilitate effective direct instruction in the civics classroom? Please send your suggestions to Together, we can prepare Illinois students for college, career and civic life.

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