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Service Learning Primer



How Do You Do It?




Reflection Questions

Reflection Activities

Some Advice

Project Planning Sheet

Project Examples










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by David Elkind and Diana Flasher


Service learning is a form of project based learning in which academic goals are accomplished through community service. Service learning develops citizenship and good character, and provides a rich context for academic instruction and student learning.

This primer is intended to provide guidance to school teachers and others who wish to engage their students in service learning projects, but aren't sure exactly what to do or how to do it.

In a nutshell, a good service learning project should:
- satisfy specific curriculum objectives
- be selected by the students (with appropriate teacher guidance)
- involve the students in preparation, implementation (action), and reflection
- be documented

In a properly implemented service learning program the role of the teacher is more supportive and supervisory than directive. The teacher helps the students select an appropriate project, integrates the project into the curriculum, and guides the students through the necessary steps to completion. The teacher assures that activities are structured in ways that promote learning, monitors student activities, and facilitates students' reflection and analysis of their experiences. However, all adult functions should be performed in a manner that is appropriate for the age of the children, and should, as much as possible, encourage student autonomy and creativity.


Service learning is neither an add-on nor a diversion from the curriculum. It is a powerful approach to teaching that provides kids with authentic learning experiences in which they learn academic content in a real-life, real-world context. There are many advantages to this approach, including:
The kids love doing it. It’s engaging, inspiring, and motivates them to learn.
It develops the students’ communication skills by requiring them to read, write, listen, and speak.
In addition to academic content, students learn a range of valuable practical skills including: problem solving, organizing, collaborating, project management, research, dealing with obstacles and setbacks, etc.
It develops character virtues and interpersonal habits such as respect, responsibility, empathy, cooperation, citizenship, initiative, and persistence.
It empowers the kids with the realization that they can make a difference.
It makes a positive contribution to the community.
All kids can actively participate and make a meaningful contribution regardless of their talents or their deficits.


There are many different kinds of service learning projects for all age levels. A lot of them deal with community needs related to health, poverty, social issues, or the environment. Another popular kind of community-based activity involves the students in documenting local history or culture through interviews, archival research, and photography. Projects like these connect the students more deeply to their communities and help the community at large to maintain a sense of history and identity. Other good service learning activites involve students helping other students through student mentoring and peer or cross-age tutoring.

Some activities, such as student mentoring or peer tutoring, can take place within your own school building. Others require getting the kids out into the larger community. Some may be one-time activities, while others occupy the whole school year or longer.

Included at the end of this primer are a number of examples of successful service learning projects for all age levels.

Want to know how to do it? Go on to the next page. And the next, etc.


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