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Teaching Social Change: 5 Student Service-Learning Activities


service learning activitiesService-learning activities are an excellent way to take our students’ passion and energy—and we all know that they have an abundance of both—beyond the classroom and into the community. Service-learning activities are hands on; they’re also a great way to encourage critical thinking, collaboration, empathy and civic responsibility. But where do you start? Fear not, we’ve got five service-learning activities to get you started. 

Teaching Social Change: 5 Student Service-Learning Activities

Adopt a soldier
Regardless of how you and your students feel about our troops’ mission, they still need our love and support. One way to do this is by adopting a soldier through websites like Adopt a US Soldier or Soldier’s Angels. Many of our soldiers are far away from home and often lack the familial support that we take for granted—and that’s where you and your kiddos come in.

Just remember that when you sign up, you’re making a commitment to regularly send cards and care packages. If you’re unsure what your class should say, check out these sample letters for ideas. Keep in mind that packages don’t have to be expensive and if you’re stumped on what to get for your adopted hero, just ask; you can also refer to the website for a list of the most-requested items. The length of adoption depends on several factors, but generally it lasts six to twelve months.

Sponsor an animal
Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” We think there is a lot of truth to this statement, so we’re referring you to SASHA Farm, an animal sanctuary in Manchester, Michigan. Many of the animals who reside there have experienced the cruelty of modern factory farming, abandonment or mistreatment.  Luckily, over 250 animals now enjoy the sun, space and fresh air of their 65-acre home. As you can imagine, caring for so many animals is a costly venture and even small donations go a long way.

Animal sponsorships start at $30 and payments can be made online or via snail mail. SASHA allows you to choose the cow, horse, goat, sheep, pig or turkey you want to adopt; in return they’ll send you a sponsor package that includes a certificate, letter, and photo of your new friend.

Volunteer at a soup kitchen
Although we lack conclusive data on rates of homelessness in the United States, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty suggests that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year.

Many of us volunteer at soup kitchens during the holidays, but remember, homelessness doesn’t end just because it’s a New Year. So hit Google and find your local shelter or soup kitchen; chances are that they’d be glad to have you and your students cook and serve a hot meal. If they don’t need help serving, ask them if you can help pick up and deliver donations, take food inventory or clean up. Keep in mind that soup kitchens need to keep their pantry stocked just like you do, so if they don’t need you in person, try organizing a pantry prep or food drive for them!

Waste not, want not
If you were driving through Bozeman, a small town in Montana, you just might see students biking the streets in search of coffee grounds. Yes, coffee grounds. Why though? Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and provide bacteria necessary to turn organic waste into compost. That’s interesting, but what’s the point? Bozeman’s Coffee 2 Compost program estimates that they have not only created partnerships with their community coffee houses and saved them the effort of disposing of the grounds, but they have also helped to divert 5,000 pounds of coffee waste from the landfill every year!

This particular service-learning project may not be your cup of…ahem, coffee, but it just goes to show you how far a little incentive and creativity can really go. 

Plant a community garden
If you decide to start a coffee-to-compost program, you’re probably wondering where in the world you’re going to compost the grounds. Why not take them back to the community garden you and your students planted right on campus?

Planting a garden is a fine way to interact with the local community, sure. But it’s also rife with pedagogical opportunities: The soil, seeds and plants your students grow will give students physical contact with nature, an experience that makes theoretical principles and biological processes they read about in textbooks come to life.

And once your garden is flourishing, why not use the fruits of your labor in the school cafeteria?

There’s no shortage of service learning activities out there. All you need is a little creativity and a classroom full of passionate philanthropists!



Children have a natural sense of right and wrong and having them apply it to others can really be a great developmental teachign tool. We have the community garden here but I will be suggesting the coffee grounds for composting idea. It is always amazing how many great ideas teachers put into practise! I love the "adopt a solidier" plan, I am going to adopt one myself.
Posted @ Thursday, January 17, 2013 9:04 AM by Nothy Lane
Hi, Nothy:  
Thanks for sharing. How did your community garden work out? What did you do with all of the food that your students grew?  
Be sure to keep us posted on how your "adopt a soldier" plan goes! 
-The MAT Team
Posted @ Thursday, January 17, 2013 12:41 PM by Ryan O'Rourke
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