Service learning programs offer special opportunities for students to go beyond the act of service and think critically about the causes they serve.  Educators view service learning as a means to develop responsible and engaged young citizens by using knowledge and skills from the classroom to help a real-world need. As Psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell explains in her article “How Teenagers Become Passionate about Giving,” effective service learning programs can play an important role in the formation of young people’s “civic identities.”


While the value of service learning can hardly be disputed, successfully implementing such a program can be tricky. GenerationOn, the youth-centered division of Points of Light, provides an excellent framework for educators to maximize the impact of their service learning projects. Termed IPARDE, the process focuses on: Investigation, Preparation, Action, Reflection, Demonstration, and Evaluation. The process offers enough flexibility so that all educators can utilize its tools in their classrooms.


We have digested the process for educators here, and provided additional resources below.

The IPARDE Process

   1. Investigation: Begin your service learning project by engaging students in critical thinking. In this stage, students will evaluate the needs in their community, and they will assess their own skills and assets that can help such needs. Identifying where community needs and student assets intersect will help students determine a manageable project. Take a look at the “Spotlight on Investigation” for guidance.

    2. Preparation: To help your class prepare for their project, deliver lessons that teach your students about the issue your project will address. Network with local organizations to identify how your students can help, and consider inviting the leader of an organization to be a guest speaker in your classroom. Taking the time to educate students on the scope of the issue will help them draw connections later.  A “Spotlight on Preparation” offers additional information.

     3. Action: After you and your class have prepared for your project, it’s time to take action. There are four different kinds of action:
• Direct Service: Students serve others in person.
• Indirect Service: Students assist an organization in serving a need but do not interact with the people who benefit.
•    Advocacy: Students inform others about the importance of addressing a certain need, and suggest ways to help.
•    Research: Students conduct research on a social problem and report their findings to an organization or public office that can help.

A “Spotlight on Action” discusses this in more detail.

     4. Reflection: During and following the “action” stage, engage students in thoughtful reflection on their experiences. Foster discussions on new perspectives, lessons, and feelings associated with their project, and help them draw connections between themselves, their skills, and the results of their action. A helpful webinar, “Spotlight on Reflection” offers additional insight.

     5. Demonstration: Throughout your project, collect items that might be useful to help showcase your students’ work. These could be photos, newspaper articles, or letters from those you served. Compile them into a portfolio or presentation, which will highlight the impact of your project. Tips for demonstrating your project can be found here. And, of course, the “Spotlight on Demonstration” contains additional tips.

     6. Evaluation: Finally, assess students’ work and the project as a whole. Be sure to highlight areas of success and note areas that need improvement next time.

Following the IPARDE method will cultivate an atmosphere in which students learn valuable problem-solving and leadership skills, and they will gain experience applying these skills to real-world problems. Their work will foster positive school-community relationships and increase public awareness of important issues.  

GenerationOn partners with Learning to Give, an organization that supports teachers’ efforts to develop compassionate, civic-minded students. Learning to Give allows teachers to search for service learning ideas by indicating a desired cause, skill, or activity, and they can also search for ideas that align with certain Common Core Standards.

For additional resources, visit GenerationOn’s home page, where educators can find brainstorming worksheets, sample projects, grant ideas, helpful articles, archived webinars, and more.

Subscribe to Email Updates