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Teach Civics for Democracy, Basic Skills, and Résumé-Worthy Transferable Skills

by Cynthia Peters

So many reasons to teach civics

Most would agree that civic participation is inherently good. It strengthens our democracy by lifting up diverse voices and gives all of us a chance to influence policies that have a big effect on our lives now and in the future. For adult education teachers and students, there are even more good reasons to engage in civics: it teaches reading and writing, speaking and listening, digital literacy, and transferable skills that are extremely attractive to employers. In this article, I will share with you one activity for civic engage­ment that checks all these boxes (and more!)—the Voting Ambassador training developed by The Change Agent at World Education.

A unique source of content

Before I get into the details for the Voting Ambassador training, let me introduce you to The Change Agent. It is an online magazine written by and for adult learners. In February of every year, we circulate a Call for Articles to adult education programs nationwide on a topic that is relevant to adult learners. We receive hundreds of submissions. An editorial board makes recommendations about what to accept and then I (the editor) put together three issues that include the students’ writing, along with standards-aligned pre- and post-activities and extensions. As a teacher, you get classroom-ready teaching materials, and as a student, you get highly relevant, engaging stories written by your peers. In 2023, our editorial board included a teacher (Mary O’Brien) and student (Svitlana Troesch) from Literacy for Life in Williamsburg, Virginia. They helped shape the content for a three-part series we are publishing on transferable skills. Use your VALRC login creden­tials [*username VALRC; password VALRC2023] to see Issues 59 and 60 in this series and all our back issues.

Centering student voice

Why share this background about The Change Agent? Well, the Voting Ambassador training is unusual in the field because it includes articles by students. This is not a training that centers the voices and perspectives of people outside the field of adult education. On the contrary, in the lead are the voices and perspectives of adult learners who share what they think is important about voting and civic engagement. When students have access to peer-written civics articles, it acts as scaffolding for students to engage more fully in civics, take on complex texts, and step outside their comfort zone to incorporate real-life digital tools and speaking and listening challenges.

Voting Ambassadors: A hands-on, interactive training with real-life impact

To prepare your students to be Voting Ambassa­dors, start with this set of Google slides. It includes three articles from various perspectives about why voting matters, including an article by a non-citizen who can’t vote but who can still support others to learn the issues and vote. Next there is a piece (by me) on the “nitty gritty” of voting called, “Register, Learn the Issues, Vote, and Stay Engaged.” These slides take you through all the steps you need to take to vote (including links to find out what your state’s rules are). Finally, the last nine slides prompt students to “try it out”—offering guidance for making a plan, carrying it out, and then reflecting on how it went. There is a link to a Google doc that students can make a copy of and use to guide their work.

For the résumé!

Another feature of that Google doc—it provides a chart with a list of ten transferable skills as defined by the Personal Workplace and Success Skills Library developed by World Education. These skills include: communication, leadership, teamwork, digital literacy, critical thinking, etc. Many students already have these skills, but this training gives them a way to highlight them and amplify them. With the Vot­ing Ambassador work under their belt, they can add skills and experience to their résumé such as:

  • Volunteered with others to run a voter regis­tration drive, including using social media to promote the event, using a laptop to register people to vote online, and supporting new vot­ers to learn the location of their polling place.
  • Engaged in public speaking at my church to promote registering to vote and voting; answered questions about the logistics of vot­ing.
  • Conducted internet research to find out the rules around mail-in voting in my state and shared this information with community mem­bers.
  • Coordinated rides to the polling places during early voting and on election day.

If you offer the Voting Ambassador training to your students, definitely share all the dimen­sions of learning (so many basic skills!) and all the benefits that can result (e.g., an actual impact on government and policy!), along with this type of meaningful addition to their résumés.

Are you interested? Here are some next steps:

  1. First, think about whether this is a classroom- or program-wide activity. If it’s the latter, which colleagues
    do you need to consult with to make a plan? If it’s the former, what steps do you need to take
    to integrate it into your coursework?
  2. What is the timeline? Note that the presidential primary is held in Virginia on “Super Tuesday,” March
    5, 2024. Keep that in mind if you want to register people in time to participate in the primary. The
    general election will be held on November 5, 2024. In Virginia, you must register 22 days before the
    general election. Find out more from the Virginia Department of Elections.
  3. Come to a workshop on February 1 at 3:30 to learn more about the Voting Ambassador training and
    think with your colleagues about strategies for carrying it out.

Link to register: https://vcu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUuduCgrjoiHdUOGgG4arP00YMUVapaSxN3#/registration

Photo of Cynthia Peters


Cynthia Peters has been the editor of “The Change Agent” since 2007. She is an adult basic education (ABE) teacher and a national presenter and provider of professional development to states and regions all over the country.


Various covers of The Change Agent publication with text 'the Change Agent, An Adult Education Magazine for Social Justice'“The Change Agent is an online publication featuring authentic writing by adult learners that anchors classroom-ready teaching materials. By centering student voices, The Change Agent helps address equity in the adult education classroom—providing an accessible way for teachers to incorporate the ideas and perspectives of people who are often marginalized. In addition, Change Agent staff provide professional development to teachers on persistence, equity, and teaching to the standards, in the context of these socially relevant, peer-written articles and lesson activities.

Easy to use in the remote classroom, The Change Agent helps teach basic skills, digital literacy, and critical thinking to multi-level ABE and ESOL learners. Our website includes additional teacher supports, such as standards-aligned teaching packets and instructional videos about how to use the content, which are available in PDF, audio, and slideshow presentations. Organized both by theme and by level, articles address issues that matter to adult learners (e.g., jobs, immigration, transportation, health, the pandemic, etc.).”

World Education

Please note: Access to “The Change Agent” changes with each calendar year (e.g., username: valrc, pw: VALRC2024)