Start a Service Learning Project!

by Rachel Stepp

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Is there a need in your community that your class could fulfill? Sure there is!

Service-learning involves students working to help meet a need in the community while learning academically and engaging in life skills. At first, the idea of bringing a service-learning project into your own classroom might seem overwhelming, but the outcome is worth the time! Here’s how to start your own project:

Talk with Your Students to Identify a Need. By talking with your students to identify a community need, you are allowing them to create their own project. The students live within their own community, and they often recognize needs that adults seem to ignore. For example, some of your students might realize that the local public playground has mud under the play-set, and it would be great to have mulch or grass instead of mud. Little ideas can grow into great projects. During this step, it is most important to listen to your students.

Make a Plan. What would it take to carry out your service-learning project? What information will you need to know in order to finish the project? This is where you, as the teacher, can talk academically with your students. If your class is going to repair a local playground, there are many things they are going to need to know. A few examples are:

  • What do we cover the ground with, and why? (research)
  • How do we go about covering the ground? (research, communication)
  • How will we afford to do this project? (write proposals and letters for support, hold fundraisers, mathematics involving counting/managing money)
  • How much ground cover do we need? (math-area)
  • How will we maintain the property? (educate others through speeches or letters, survey and collect data to see how often the playground is used)

Do It! Now that you have all of the bones to your project, it is time to get started. Contacting someone, whether it is your principal or your city’s mayor, can be intimidating, but it is worth the chance! Once you get the permission to continue with your project, involve your students constantly. It is their project, and the more work that they are able to do, the more accomplished they will feel.

Reflect. After your class has finished their service-learning project, allow them to reflect on what they have done. Has it changed them as an individual? How will it affect their community? Will they use the playground more often now that it is fixed? Students can reflect through writing, drawing, creating scrapbooks and more.

Demonstrate/Celebrate. When all of the hard work is done, you and your class need to enjoy what you’ve accomplished! Hold an event at your service-learning project location. If you were at the playground, plan a day of play and a picnic lunch. Invite people from the community to come to your celebration. Students can prepare speeches about their work to share with others.

To successfully complete a service-learning project, it is important to remember that students need to be actively engaged in service and in academic learning at the same time. If you’re still not convinced, studies have shown that service-learning projects raise attendance, gain students’ interest, build stronger teacher/student relationships, and more!

Here is a website that has some more ideas for service-learning projects:

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, currently working on a Masters in Early Childhood Education.



Filed under Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Teacher Inspiration

4 responses to “Start a Service Learning Project!

  1. Jackie Alden

    My husband and I felt strongly about doing a service learning project with his students. He worked in an alternative school. These kids already had a distaste for school and we wanted to find something for them to find enjoyable about it all again. We felt that a service learning project would be the ticket. The students said that they wanted to make their neighborhoods look nicer. Many of them lived in section 8 housing. They came up with a plan and implemented it and had a lot to say about it all in the end. It was completely worth all the hard work.

  2. Peggy Hernandez

    What a great idea. My students love to pick up trash on the playground and help out around school, but what a great idea to think about other ways to help our community. I am definitely going to try this with my students. We begin each day with a class meeting, so Monday I am going to bring this up to them and get their response and reaction. Can’t wait. Thanks for the idea! I love the idea of kids helping out, my own children need to do it as well.

  3. Susan

    I do family child care we go around the neighborhood and pick up trash. It is always interesting to see how much trash we pick up. Susan

  4. Mishelle Hair

    I am so glad you wrote an article on community service. I believe a great way to teach students about community service is to participate along side them. Over the summer, I visited Amicalola State Park in Dawsonville, Georgia. I spoke with a volunteer who told me the park is close to being closed due to lack of state funding. She mentioned volunteer work is what is keeping the park gates opened. I asked her how I could help and she mentioned “Save the Parks” day. It is a volunteer clean-up day September 25 for all ages. In third grade, I teach about the Georgia habitats with mountains being one of them. I’ve invited my students to join me at Amicalola Falls State Park on September 25 to help clean up the park and to learn more about one of our many habitats in the state of Georgia!
    Thanks for the great article Rachel!