Action stations

9th May 2008 at 01:00
Your pupils want to change things but don't know where to start? Kate Brown is inspired by a song
Your pupils want to change things but don't know where to start? Kate Brown is inspired by a song



How can we make a difference? It's a question I have often been asked by my pupils. I respond by giving them the chance to develop their skills of participation. In Year 7 or 8, I dedicate a whole unit to completing an action for change: from choosing an issue, to planning what they will do and evaluating the impact they have had.

A great way to start this unit with energy and enthusiasm comes from an unlikely source: Honda. In 2004, the car company ran a TV advertisement for its new diesel engine, entitled "Grrr". A cartoon of bunnies, flowers and rainbows showing their dislike for a dirty, smelly diesel engine is the backdrop for the real star: the theme tune. Sung by Garrison Keillor, the lyrics are: "Can hate be good? Can hate be great? Hate something, change something, make something better."

Open the lesson by playing the cartoon (it's available at on the smartboard, without telling pupils what their new unit is about.

The next step is to get them thinking about what they hate enough to want to change. It works best to start with pupils working either individually or in pairs. But you may have to make suggestions to get them started: late buses, global warming, bullying - the list is endless.

It's good not to censor ideas now. However, I don't like them targeting an individual negatively, and, for practical reasons, sometimes limit their ideas to school, local or national level. Usually, I ask each group to agree on a problem after weighing up the importance of each issue and the likelihood they can make a difference.

Sometimes I look at ways to bring about change, such as letters, petitions, boycotts or demonstrations. Or, I can directly ask pupils to come up with suggestions and then start the planning for each group to carry out their aims.

It is fun to end the project with a further rendition of "Hate something, change something". You could even try the bouncing-ball sing-along version available on the website.

Kate Brown is an education writer, consultant and former citizenship teacher.

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