Social Action Curriculum

Scaffolding Social Action for Your Students

Taking Action Together (STAT) is an instructional strategy designed to assist middle school students in planning and, when appropriate, participating in feasible and personally meaningful social action within the existing social studies, history, civics, and current events curricula, as well as in the community.

The following are the two realities that we are witnessing right now, as we see an increased sense of activity and civic participation among students:

• The voices we are hearing right now are still those of a statistically insignificant number of kids.

• Even students who are involved in extracurricular activities may lack the abilities that would enable them to be more intelligent, effective, and successful.

Seven urban middle schools in New Jersey have implemented the Students Taking Action Together programme, and it is having an impact on students’ lives. Social action can be encouraged in response to current events such as gun violence in schools or issues such as cheating, gang presence, or bullying, but it can also be encouraged in response to historical events such as the American Revolution. Students can investigate historical problems such as the treatment of Native Americans during the westward expansion or the formation of the New Deal, to name a few examples.

The fundamental pedagogy is a problem-solving method that we employ and which is denoted by the abbreviation PLAN:

Problem: Write a problem statement that clearly outlines the topic under consideration.

To begin, brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the problem.

Action: Create and implement a plan of action to address the issue at hand.

Take note of triumphs as part of a continuous process of review and refinement.

School districts should continue to use an existing social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum if it includes a problem-solving approach and is proven to be effective. But even if you don’t, PLAN is simple to use and can be applied to a wide range of learning situations, both inside and outside the classroom.


Teachers at a middle school in New Jersey used the PLAN technique with their pupils to help them think about the most recent school shooting. They did it from the perspective of the students at the school where the tragedy occurred:

P: Can you tell me about the people who were involved? What exactly was the problem, as seen from many perspectives? What emotions did they experience?

Which of the following ideas did they regard to be appropriate solutions to the problem? L: What did they ultimately come to a decision on?

A: How did they go about carrying out their plan? What challenges did they have to overcome?

N: How did everything turn out? Is there anything else that needs to be done? What may be gleaned from their own personal experience and observations? What social action may be taken by the class, by the students in the class, by the school, by the community, and so on, to deal with this issue?

The debates that these questions elicit are fascinating, and they frequently inspire students to seek further information, double-check their facts, and listen to classmates who may not see the problem, or the solution, in the same light as they do.


PLAN was also applied to a historical event by the teachers. Presented below is a condensed version of what a teacher used as an orienting talk before to comprehensive reading about the American Civil War:

P: How did the North and the South characterise the nature of the problem in their respective regions? What were the issues, as seen from each point of view? What were the names of the major players that were involved in making critical decisions?

L: What options did they regard to be appropriate approaches to resolving the situation? L: What did they ultimately come to a decision on?

A: How did they go about carrying out their plan? What challenges did they have to overcome?

N: How did everything turn out? Which of their lessons may be applied to the present day based on their past experiences?


Students are guided through discussions of both historical and contemporary themes using the PLAN technique, which also encourages students to engage in deep reflective thinking.

Can you accurately paraphrase what you just heard one of your classmates say? Are you demonstrating responsible listening?
Respectful empathetic debate: Are you able to argue from the standpoint of all sides of an issue, including those with which you disagree, while acknowledging and understanding different points of view?
Collaborative creativity: Are you able to develop a variety of thoughts about how the problem could have been regarded differently in the past, or how the problem could be viewed differently in the present? Based on a different point of view, what other solutions might have been explored or might be considered?
Improvement through reflection: Are you able to reflect on what you learnt by taking this kind of a close look at a historical or current event or a school issue?


Following that, teachers invite students to explore who could be interested in learning about their point of view from a different perspective. What methods will they use to reach that audience? When it comes to targeting that audience, what medium or product would be most effective?

For example, the concept of a student or community march is one option, and it is beneficial for students to brainstorm a list of things that a march could accomplish, as well as what it might leave undone and how to solve these issues. It is up to the students to decide which constituencies they would like to approach. And, if not through a march, what other means can they use to bring their social action ideas to life and reach the people they want to reach? Here are a few ideas:

Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
Sending something to the victims or their families is always appreciated.
Make contact with a member of Congress.
Hold a debate in your school or in your town.
The Students Taking Action Together framework is being piloted by the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab with the intention of introducing it and encouraging its usage in other middle schools in New Jersey.