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Mind Works Learning Circle Project Ideas

High School (Text Only)

Elementary School Project Ideas (Text only)

Middle School Project Ideas (Text only)


Writing to Your Elected Official

In democratic societies, we elect officials such as prime ministers, mayors, and presidents to represent our interests, make our laws, and maintain law and order. There are many ways of telling our politicians how we feel, ranging from protesting to calling their offices with complaints or writing letters. Elected officials are concerned about what people think because they may be voted out of office at the next election if enough people disapprove of their performance.

The purpose of this project is to help students learn to write persuasive compositions and to develop a "snapshot" or what young people around the world consider important. The sponsoring class might send an open-ended request for classes to write on any issue of local or national concern. Classes may discuss a variety of issues or a class might decide on one they feel strongly about. Deciding on which elected official to write to depends on the issue and who is responsible for addressing it. Letters should have a respectful tone and clearly explain what the problem is and how the class wants the elected official to address it.
****** Problem Solving in a Democracy ******

Pick an issue that your class is particularly concerned about. Write a letter to an elected official who has the responsibility to help solve this problem and share your views on a solution. We suggest that you focus on one major issue in your letter. We include some ideas for an outline but you may have your own ideas!

Ideas for Topics

Foreign Policy Law and Order
Military affairs
Public Health

Letter Outline

  • Paragraph One - An Introduction
    Introduce your group or class and describe the issue you will address.


  • Paragraph Two - Your Opinion
    Clearly state your group or class opinion about the issue or problem. Explain in detail how the problem has affected aspects of community life (e.g. human suffering, loss of business, health drawbacks, etc.) and how it affects you personally, your family, friends, and community or country.


  • Paragraph Three - Proposed Solution
    What specific action should be taken to address the problem (e.g. the action might be to spend more money or enforce existing laws)? Explain how this action will solve the problem. Predict what will happen if no action is taken.


  • Paragraph Four - Conclusion
    Summarize the main points of your letter and emphasize your concern.

    Sample Letter to an Elected Official

    7114 So. Paxton Avenue
    Chicago, Illinois 60614
    April 13, 1991

    Mayor Richard Daley
    City Hall
    Chicago, Illinois 60602

    Dear Mayor Daley,

    I'm writing to you as the class representative of Computer Class 103 of Mount Carmel High School. Through an open class debate, we have formed an opinion that we would like to share with you. As concerned citizens of Chicago, we are writing to you about the widespread graffiti problem in our neighborhoods. Everywhere you travel, one finds graffiti vandalism in the form of words, sayings, names, crude art and obscenities on public and private property. In our opinion, this crime is an assault on our quality of life. Graffiti vandalism makes our communities appear run down and as if no one cares.

    Chicagoans have spent countless hours painting over graffiti on our property and public buildings to prevent them from appearing neglected and ugly. Some graffiti vandals write sexist, racial, or religious insults such as swastikas or ethnic slurs which are particularly offensive. These words and symbols are designed to show hatred for a specific group of people in our country.

    As the mayor of our great city, we ask that you consider solutions that would channel the creative energies of the graffiti vandals to a more constructive purpose. For example, the city could sponsor an art contest in every neighborhood. Or, through the network of Community Art Councils, the city could sponsor workshops for the young artists that feature professional artists. Since businesses are often the victims of graffiti vandalism, they might be inclined to donate materials or money for expenses related to a community arts project if it meant being spared from future vandalism. Some businesses might also consider offering up their wall to have a mural painted on it. We must be creative and take action now to protect our property and communities. If we dont channel the energies of our young people and stop this graffiti plague, the problem will grow worse and the positive feelings people have for our city will diminish considerably.

    In conclusion, Mayor Daley, keep Chicago great by taking action on the proposed measures that address our graffiti vandalism problem. Our citizens need your help and leadership.


    Walter Rutkus, Student Representative
    Computer Class 103 - Mount Carmel High School


  • The Art of Persuasion

    In our daily lives, we are often called upon to persuade others to see our point of view. The people we are trying to persuade may be family members who have bad habits or customers who come into the stores where we work. It's important when attempting to persuade people to show that they will be better off if they make the right purchase, pursue a new course of action, or change an inappropriate behavior.

    The purpose of this project is to help students learn how to develop a persuasive argument on an issue of concern to them. One project idea is to ask students to write the text for an advertisement for a locally produced product to be marketed in one of the other Learning Circle sites. For example, students in California could try to persuade students in Ohio to buy surfboards. Or students might write an essay persuading other members of their Learning Circle to spend summer vacation in their community. Another idea is to have students write a persuasive essay suggesting a change to their school or community. The following project idea may help you think of others.

    ****** Changing Behavior ******

    Please take a class vote to determine what you see as the most important change that citizens in your community could make in their behavior. It might have to do with the way they use limited resources, their attitudes toward another group of people, their actions, or their understanding of their history. Select one way in which you, your group, or your class would like to see a change in behavior in others. Write a persuasive essay on the topic and send it to us. Here are some ideas to help you plan and organize your essay.

    Topic Ideas

    Changing Behaviors: Why People Should....

    • Quit smoking Exercise regularly
    • Eat more high fiber foods
    • Use seat belts
    • Recycle more
    • Take more vacations
    • Save more money
    • Not drink alcohol
    • Drive slower
    • Not use insecticides
    • Contribute to schools
    • Use less water

      Outline Ideas

      1. Select a topic and describe your point of view.
      2. List five reasons why a person should agree with your point of view.
      These can be for health, financial, personal or practical reasons.
      3. Illustrate each reason with one or more examples.
      4. Describe a personal experience related to the topic.
      5. List the positive effects of following your advice.
      6. List problems that will occur if the person does not take your advice.
      7. Restate your main reason for writing this essay or letter.


      Sample Persuasive Essay


      We urge all smokers to take part in the Great American Smoke-Out next month. We know that it is difficult to break a bad habit but this is the time that many others will be trying to stop. Smokers can do themselves and others a favor by joining the crowd.

      Smoking is extremely dangerous to one's health. Every year 390,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and emphysema. There are also many other side effects that make smoking unpleasant. Cigarettes stain teeth and smoke leaves a film on clothes, drapes, walls and everything in the environment. Smoking has also been found to harm the lungs of those who live or work around a smoker.

      But there is good news. More and more Americans are quitting. Now only 28% of Americans smoke compared with 50% of adults in the 1950s. Doctors have discovered that as soon as a smoker quits smoking, the lungs immediately start to heal themselves to different degrees. Even if someone has been smoking for more than 20 years, quitting now may minimize or end permanent damage to one's health.

      There are other reasons also. Cigarettes now cost more than $2.00 per pack. A smoker who smokes even one pack a day could save more than $700 dollars per year. Quitting smoking cigarettes will also make it easier to be involved in sports like tennis or swimming which depend on healthy lungs. Keeping fit could be a new lease on life.

      There are so many good reasons to quit smoking but the most important is that it is one of the best things a person can do for himself or herself and for loved ones. Please, for the good of all, join with others in the Great American Smoke-Out next month.


    Profiling an Everyday Hero

    Societies value and recognize individuals who give of themselves, often at the expense of their lives, so others can be free, safe and healthy. We call these people "heroes." We read about them in history books and build statues and name schools in their honor. But what about the everyday hero, the person next door who spends his or her life working in order to benefit others?

    Everyday heroes come from many professions and all walks of life. Most of us think of heroes as famous scientists who discover cures for diseases or presidents who lead their countries through difficult times. However, most heroes are ordinary people, the nurses, teachers, parents, school crossing guards, clerks and neighbors who extend themselves to others on a daily basis.
    The purpose of this project is to help students learn to write biographies while sharing information about special people in their communities. The sponsoring class might identify a particular type of everyday hero, for example, environmental heroes, school heroes or teenage heroes. The goal would be to collect at least one profile from each class to be used in a section on "Everyday Heroes" -- profiles of people who have had a positive impact on the lives of others. As students share stories about people who have made a difference, it will help dispel the myth that you have to be a leader or president or an adult to make a difference.

    ****** Local Community Heroes ******

    We would like to ask you to send us a biography of a local community hero. Please select someone who is not overly recognized by the media; ask your parents and friends to recommend someone who has helped your community. You may want to invite this person to your class to be interviewed or to make a presentation about his or her work. Here are some ideas to help you collect information for writing your biography.

    Profile Outline

    1. List the name, age, birthplace and current residence of the local hero.
    2. Describe why this person is considered an "everyday hero." What qualities does he or she display to earn this title?
    3. Describe a significant contribution made by this person or any event he or she has helped influence.
    4. Provide a brief history of this person's life (goals, aspirations, current work).
    5. What lasting impact will your subject have on your community or on society at large?
    6. Why did your class select this person?


    Building Bridges: Connecting the Disconnected

    There are many people in this world who would appreciate and benefit from some type of correspondence. Many are frail, elderly, or sick and reside in nursing homes, hospitals, institutions or are shut-ins in their own homes. These people may be from our own families or they may be people who have been forgotten by society. Their common plight is that they are lonely and in need of a voice that says, Hello, I care about you. The bridge that once connected them to others has eroded; maybe it has collapsed altogether. The bridge must be built again, or at least repaired, so these folks can stay connected.

    The purpose of this project is for students to learn how to write procedural essays by describing "how to" entertain oneself in confined spaces. The sponsoring class might conduct a search for the disconnected and needy people of their community. These may be critically ill children in a children's hospital, residents of a local nursing home, or soldiers on an army base. The class would, in effect, "adopt" this group and ask participating classes to write friendly letters with a common theme to individuals in the group. The recipients will enjoy the personal connections and the students will receive the intrinsic rewards from helping to brighten another person's day. The purpose of this project is to provide students a goal in writing and an audience that will benefit from the personal contact.


    ****** Reaching Out to Children ******

    For our project, we are adopting a special floor of Children's Hospital where the children have their physical movement restricted. We are asking you to share your ideas for recreational activities that people confined to beds and wheelchairs would find enjoyable. Are there any special indoor games that you play in your region that could be shared? Please address your letters to all of the kids on Floor 9. We will put them into a booklet format and give one to each child with ideas for how to make their stay in the hospital more fun. If you would like to hear back from the children, please include your name and address.


    Indoor, solitary, and inexpensive recreational activities
    Games that require limited physical movement
    Exercises or games that you can do in bed
    Versions of card or board games for specific age groups
    Books and music recommendations
    Inexpensive arts and crafts projects
    Paper folding activities
    Ideas for hobbies and how to start collections
    List of sources to write to for free samples and gifts
    Creative writing ideas
    Stories and Riddles


    Our Civil Rights

    Citizens in democratic countries enjoy many rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, equality under the law and the right to vote for those who govern them. These rights are extremely precious; many people have fought and died to protect them.

    With freedom comes conflict over interpretation of the laws guaranteeing them. Citizens must defend their rights and liberties. Threats sometimes come from hostile outsiders, but more often they come from fellow citizens who try to limit people's freedom.
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, None of us are truly free until all of us are free. If a person restricts anothers freedom, what would stop that same person from restricting your freedom? The issues of civil rights are often extremely complex and all citizens need the knowledge and skill to think about each specific situation in light of our overall human rights.

    The purpose of this project is to collect student opinions on civil rights and freedoms. Your class might want to sponsor a section on a specific instance of conflict over a civil right. You might propose a discussion of the right of privacy and abortion, or the right of free speech and respect for a national symbol like a flag. You might ask the participating classes to write about a local issue or debate where an individual's rights are being challenged or defended. For example, in many communities there are heated debates about the rights of property owners to rent or not to rent to specific groups (families, pet owners, teenagers, ethnic groups) vs. the rights of others to be treated equally. In this instance, like many others, each group wants their right protected.

    **** Civil Rights in Our Communities ****

    What debates over civil rights are taking place in your community? Please send us a description of a conflict over a civil right that is currently being challenged and debated in your community. Describe the issue, the people involved, and the possible ramifications it may have on others. Here are some organizational ideas:

    Essay Outline

  • 1. Introductory Paragraph
    Describe the local issue debated by opposing citizen groups in your community.
  • 2. Second Paragraph
    Describe the conflict, the position of the different groups, and the reactions of the community.
  • 3. Third Paragraph
    If the issue has not been resolved, explain the possible ramifications on the community from multiple points of view. If the issue has been resolved, describe the reaction of the community to the decision.
  • 4. Concluding Paragraph
    Summarize the essay by describing the opinion of the class on this issue. Explain why it is important for people to be vigilant in the protection of all civil rights.

    Sample Essay

    The Bart Simpson Controversy

    By George Smith
    Wheat Grove School
    Fromley, Missouri

    At the Wheat Grove School, Mr. Ridgeway, our school principal, has restricted students from wearing Bart Simpson shirts and other clothing. Mr. Ridgeway made his decision based on the belief that Children should not glorify an underachiever and Bart Simpson is not the role model our children need today.

    Mr. Ridgeway felt that Bart Simpson was a negative influence on student learning and would, in a subtle way, encourage students to be wise crackers and poor students. His decision caused quite a controversy and protest among students who were fans of Bart Simpson. Many students and their parents complained that wearing Bart Simpson clothing was as harmless as wearing clothing with pictures of Mickey Mouse or Batman. Other students complained that this was an infringement on their First Amendment rights to free speech. Some parents felt that since the public school didn't have a dress code, students were well within their rights to wear Bart Simpson clothing.

    A few parents protested the restriction and threatened to take the principal to court on the grounds that the First Amendment rights of their children were being violated. Mr. Ridgeway, not wishing to go through a lengthy court fight, lifted his ban but has asked students not to wear Bart Simpson clothing to school. Most parents and students supported the principals request and now only a handful of children wear their Bart Simpson clothing.

    The majority of our class supports our right to wear whatever we want. The principals claim that Bart Simpson is a bad influence and children will start being underachievers is really an insult to our intelligence. Most children realize that Bart is just a cartoon character and can distinguish between fantasy and real life. We also think that our parents were right in standing up to the principal because if he got away with making this rule he might start banning other things that he didn't like. We think that students have a right to express themselves through their clothing choices, as long as they do not offend or infringe on the rights of others.


  • Being a Parent: How Would You Respond?


    One of the most difficult jobs in the world is that of being a parent, especially being a parent of a teenager. Teenagers need love and guidance to learn how to make their own decisions wisely. Parental decisions are often contested by teenagers who believe that they are now old enough to make all of their own decisions. Decision making often means setting limits, and these limits may cause conflict and rebellion in the family.

    The purpose of this project is to give students a chance to solve problems from the perspective of another person--a parent. One way to do this would be for the sponsoring class to suggest a number of different problem situations that parents might have with teenagers. The students at each of the sites can come up with a group consensus for how the parent should handle the situation. The sponsoring class could then see if there were regional differences in how teenagers believe parents should act. Here is another way to have fun with this project.


    ****** Advice Column for Parents *****

    This project will help us understand the role of parents in family conflicts and to discover what are some of the most common situations that lead to parent-teenager conflicts in the different places represented in our Learning Circle. Your job is to pretend to be a parent (you might ask your parents for help). As a class, decide on a small number of problems that are most likely to lead to conflict between parents and teenagers in your location. (You may want to list possible areas of parent-teenager conflict and have some parents rank the top five).

    Here are some ideas to help you form a list.

    Use or overuse of things shared by the family: the phone, car, computer, television, bathroom, stereo or money.

    Differences of opinion about friends and sources of entertainment.

    Negotiation over rules for acceptable behavior regarding homework, dates, chores, or other responsibilities.

    The problems should be sent in the form of a letter to Dr. Peacemaker from an imaginary parent (students pretending to be a parent). We will read the problems, discuss them, and write a response from our imaginary expert, Dr. Peacemaker. You can write back to Dr. Peacemaker and comment on the advice if you like.

    More Project Ideas

    Elementary School Project Ideas (Text only)

    Middle School Project Ideas (Text only)



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    Copyright © 1997, 2002, Margaret Riel