Mind Works Learning Circle Project Ideas
High School (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
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
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.
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
1. Select a topic and describe your point of view.
2. List five reasons why a person should agree with your point of
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
7. Restate your main reason for writing this essay or letter.
Sample Persuasive Essay
QUIT SMOKING NOW!
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
****** 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
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,
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:
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
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
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
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