As the school year approaches, many teachers are preparing for their classrooms’ service learning projects. Teachers know that an effective service learning project is one that applies concepts learned in class to the solution of a real need in the community. As a result, students become aware of their own abilities to effect change.


While many teachers might have the bones of their service learning projects firmly put into place, some might be searching for ways to fine-tune the details. That’s why we’ve compiled four simple strategies to give plans the finishing touch.


Mix it up.

Part of the ethos behind service learning is that it challenges students to apply academic concepts to real-world situations, which commonly take students outside of their comfort zones. Whether students are taken out of their physical comfort zones by working in unfamiliar communities or whether they are taken out of their practical comfort zones by applying new skills, students often begin hesitantly but grow in confidence. As their teacher, you can take this concept even further by mixing students into groups in which they work alongside peers who aren’t their close friends. By purposely mixing students with those they don’t know well, you are challenging them to step outside their comfort zones, practice interpersonal skills, and engage in teamwork and problem solving activities.


Encourage students to take on new roles.

Along the same lines as mixing up your small groups, challenge your students to take on tasks that are unusual for them. Without forcing students into roles that paralyze them with fear, gently nudge them in directions where you see potential. This can help them realize gifts and talents that they didn’t know they had. Students have a tendency to let “the usual suspects” take on leadership and other high-profile roles, which can exclude others with potential from having the opportunity. Where possible, help shuffle the deck so that these willing students can flex their muscles in new ways.


Include options to accommodate different learning styles.

Offer students different options to reflect and report on their experience. Instead of requiring students to submit one final report or project when the experience is over, give them a few options from which they can choose. For example, you could allow students to choose between writing a standard research paper, keeping a journal throughout the experience, or even creating a digital media presentation. Offering options allows students to reflect in a way that comes naturally to them, which ultimately will deepen their learning and enhance the entire experience.


Have students share their experiences with others.

End your service learning project with an opportunity for your students to present their experience to others. They can give a presentation at a school-wide assembly or create an interactive display, which they could share at your partnering community organization or at a relevant symposium. Sharing their experience will enhance students’ understanding and appreciation of the project as a whole, and it will sharpen their oral and interpersonal skills.


Overall, think of ways to redirect what students will naturally turn to, and challenge them to be open to doing things differently. Encourage creative activities to deepen their reflection and learning. These strategies will enhance the meaningfulness of the project as well as the lessons learned in the end.


Related Articles:

  1. How is Service Learning Different than Community Service
  2. Why Service Learning Curriculum is Gaining Popularity
  3. Making the Most of Your Classroom's Service Learning Project
  4. How Service Learning Can Close Gaps in Special Education

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