They Want to Know!: Civics for Upper-Elementary Students

At Scholastic Classroom Magazines, we want young people to become engaged and empathetic citizens. This blog post is the second of three from the Classroom Magazines editorial team about how we tackle civics by grade level. Steph Smith is an Editorial Director for Scholastic News Editions 3-6. 

We include a lot of civics in our news magazines for upper-elementary students—and they don’t hate it!

Far from it, in fact. The 8–12-year-old set absolutely loves to know about this stuff—from the three branches of government to our electoral process, to everyone’s role in our democracy.

Need proof? (I don’t blame you.) On a visit to a 4th-grade classroom in a presidential election year, I asked the kids to tell me what their favorite story was in the Scholastic News issue they were discussing. I had assumed everyone would rave about the cover story about mountain lions. I certainly would have! But no. Their favorite story was about third-party political candidates! They didn’t know that there were more than the two major-party candidates. They were thrilled to finally learn that, and were outraged at how unfair it was that the other two candidates got all the attention! Fair is big with these folks—and so is knowledge!

Elections are a huge civics topic for Scholastic News. We cover presidential elections extensively in the magazines—including the candidates, the issues, and even the Electoral College! We also offer a special election website with lots of interactivity. Our Election 2016 website focused on interactive timelines, maps, and games to explore the electoral process and candidates. It also included a mock election poll where kids could cast their votes for president. Many teachers get Scholastic News because of our election coverage—it’s civics in real-time!

When we cover civics—elections or otherwise—in the printed magazines, we work hard to make sure the formats and layouts are as engaging as possible. For example, for Constitution Day one recent year (That’s September 17, people!) we listed the 5 things kids need to know about the Constitution. The information was presented in short, fun digestible bits as opposed to pages of running text.

Giving kids a voice—and letting them know they have one—is perhaps the most important part of our everyday civics mission.We regularly publish debates that get kids thinking critically about news and civics. Here’s a debate about whether voting should be required by law. Kids love to debate these issues in the classroom and vote online in our polls.

We also often run features about kids doing civics-minded projects, like working to get state and local laws passed and helping people in need.

Today, civics goes beyond lessons about our government and the importance of an active citizenry. Media Literacy is obviously also a hot topic. Our recent cover story on fake news was a huge hit. We included a fake news story—about a class adopting a lion!—in our article designed to help teach kids how to spot a fake. It was really fun, even if some kids may have been disappointed to learn that there will be no pet lion in their future.

We also think it’s vital to explain key moments in American history, especially times Americans courageously stepped up to make our nation a more just place. For example, we regularly cover the struggle for civil rights. A recent story featured Ayanna Najuma. In 1958, seven-year-old Ayanna and her friends staged a sit in at a segregated lunch counter in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Their heroic efforts helped end segregation in Oklahoma City.

Many kids are still working to make America a better, more inclusive place in ways big and small. Last year, we featured at story about a fifth-grade girl in California who befriended a boy who had recently moved there from Mexico. He was sitting alone at lunch, in class, and at recess. He didn’t speak English so making friends was hard. She learned some Spanish and wrote him a note. He hugged her. They’re now best friends.

As you can see, civics is a big part of Scholastic News for upper elementary students. In fact, we know if we even tried to keep those topics from our readers, they’d call us on it. They want to know. It’s not right—or fair!—if they don't.

And because we know civics is so important, we created a free civics website that features articles and videos from our magazines, with supporting material from Scholastic GO! Click here to visit the site.

To read part one in this series, about teaching civics in early-grade magazines, click here.