Student Voice with the 10 Questions for Young Changemakers

Student Voice with the 10 Questions for Young Changemakers

Why Are the Ten Questions Important in School Libraries?

School libraries are critical spaces for nurturing civic agency. They offer a variety of learning opportunities—from media literacy education, social and informal learning, and culturally responsive programming and learning to diverse civic engagement programs––which all lead to rich potential for active civic learning in the 21st century. To support librarians in their work as civic educators, Harvard's Democratic Knowledge Project ( sought collaboration with a group of librarians through the Young Changemakers in 21st Century Libraries program. The goal was to help partner libraries learn about the Ten Questions for Young Changemakers framework, experiment on their own, and develop new learning modules and program resources to help other librarians implement the Ten Questions to cultivate civic learning.

What Are the Ten Questions?

From 2009 to 2017, scholars from the MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics studied how digital technology has reshaped the ways young people participate in politics. From this study emerged the Ten Questions, which are designed to help young people develop successful––equitable, self-protective, and effective––civic agency in a digital age.

How Do the Ten Questions Help Young People Become Changemakers?

The Ten Questions framework is designed to prompt consideration of the key objectives of equity, self-protection, and efficacy in a developmental sequence. The sequence begins with a focus on one's personal narrative and stake in an issue and then pivots from "I" to "we" and coordination of divergent interests. It concludes by asking students to connect voice and expression to influence through institutional and policymaking processes. The Ten Questions map onto the core concepts as follows:


Value Orientation


Why does it matter to me?



How much should I share?



How do I make it about more than myself?



Where do we start?



How can we make it easy and engaging for others to join in?



How do we get wisdom from crowds?

Equity, Self-Protection


How do we handle the downside of crowds?

Equity, Self-Protection


Are we pursuing voice or influence or both?



How do we get from voice to change?



How can we find allies?

Equity, Efficacy

In this article, we share an exemplar produced by Laura, one of the partner school librarians. Laura proposed five methods of implementation. Presenting an incremental progression, she began with a mini-discussion, used the Ten Questions to guide book reading and essay writing, and incorporated them into more extensive programs such as a leadership conference and a week-long school seminar. The implementation of the Ten Questions is not mere technical incorporation of the questions into any given activities. It requires educators' thoughtful concern for what a healthy democracy means in our society and how educators should seek to support it for students. That authentic concern, also shown in Laura's case, is what drives educators to become more flexible and creative in experimenting with new ideas and best practices.

The Ten Questions in Practice

Since learning about the Ten Questions in a small cohort of public and school librarians in early 2019, I (Laura) have implemented it in my middle school library. The Ten Questions can be used as a prelude to a project, as an extension activity after a project is completed, as the basis for a project from start to finish, or to help guide a discussion. The goal of using the questions is to expose students to civics concepts in a personally relevant way to help "prepare students to have the knowledge and skills to become thoughtful and active participants in a democratic society and a complex world," including developing "knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will enable them to embrace democracy's potential, while recognizing its challenges and inherent dilemmas." A secondary goal is to give students an opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts in an authentic way that can result in real world outcomes.

One of the first ways I used the Ten Questions was to reflect with my lunch groups on our read alouds, Front Desk by Kelly Yang and Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Both Mia in Front Desk and Amal in Amal Unbound engage in civic work in their communities and experience success. By structuring the Ten Questions around Mia's and Amal's experiences, we were able to reflect on the stories and introduce civic action concepts. The first three questions alone were a powerful way to discuss the books. For example:

  • Why did racism matter to Mia Tang?
  • How much of a sacrifice did/should Mia make for this cause?
  • How did/should Mia make it about more than herself?

The next way I used the Ten Questions was for a leadership conference that was held for seventh and eighth grade student leaders. My workshop focused on Question 1, "Why does it matter to me?" and encouraged students to identify an issue and reflect on why it matters to them. I emphasized that being a student leader comes with a responsibility to be civically engaged and introduced the Ten Questions. We discussed the importance of looking beyond our own personal issues and confronting difficult issues that affect our peers, community, and world and then brainstormed ways to make a difference on an issue that we care about. I shared a personal experience of civic engagement with the Ten Questions as a framework. Students shared the issues they cared about and their "why" with the whole group. In asking kids to reflect in this personal way, I have deepened connections with students and have seen students come alive with excitement. After this exercise I created a Google Classroom for students who wanted to continue the work. One student decided to make it about more than herself by writing a letter to the editor for our local paper about climate change.

My school also participated in Climate Preparedness Week in September when we offered an entire week of optional events related to climate preparedness and awareness to our students. Over fifty students participated in the program, which included a presentation from me, guest speakers, and Little Warriors, a short documentary about students in Indianapolis who convinced their City Council to adopt a youth-driven climate recovery resolution. The week culminated in roundtable discussions that again focused on Question 1, "Why does it matter to me?" and Questions 3, 4, and 5. Students collaborated in Google Classroom to share their reflections. One student said, "I am worried about the fact that most people are either unaware of climate change or they choose to ignore it. I am excited that scientists are finding better ways to store solar and wind power and I also think we should somehow get MA or at least our school to do more about it." Another student reminded her peers that "Climate change is real. VSCO fads like 'save the turtles' are always taken as a joke. We need to take climate change seriously!" After the week of activities, students chose to form a before-school club called the Climate Defenders Crew. They collaboratively wrote a letter to the district business manager to ask that he consider eliminating the use of styrofoam trays and plastic straws in the cafeteria. Our efforts were successful; the cafeteria recently returned to using reusable trays and eliminating straws.

One of our guided inquiry projects, a pro/con argument essay in eighth grade, is a perfect fit for the Ten Questions. After the essays are finished, I will offer an extension activity of activist lunches for two weeks in which we'll go through the entire Ten Questions and hopefully take action as individuals or groups on topics the students are passionate about. I am hopeful it will result in more letters to the editor, letters to politicians, and even planning or joining local actions or marches.

The very best fit for the Ten Questions is embedded within a civics curriculum from start to finish. Massachusetts has recently released a new social studies framework that emphasizes civics. In particular, eighth grade students are required to complete a student-led civics project by the 2020–2021 school year. (The Democratic Knowledge Project offers a year-long, eighth-grade civics curriculum aligned to the state standards that utilizes the Ten Questions for its overarching structure). In my school, eighth-grade social studies teachers and I are exploring ways we can use the Ten Questions for this curriculum.

AASL Standards

Depending on the context, using the Ten Questions for Young Changemakers can incorporate all of the foundations of the AASL standards for a powerful learning experience.

  • Inquire—Learners combine inquiry with elements of civic responsibility and relevance.
  • Include—Learners must consider and anticipate different viewpoints and reflect on perspectives of others to be effective in their pursuit of change.
  • Collaborate—Civics projects sometimes start as individual projects, but they are ultimately collaborative by nature.
  • Curate—Learners must find a way to curate and synthesize information for a specific audience.
  • Explore—Learners consider their issue from all viewpoints, accept feedback and self-assess.
  • Engage—Learners must be passionate about their topic to engage others and valid, quality information is essential.

Overall, a project that incorporates the Ten Questions for Young Changemakers has the potential to help students think, create, share, and grow as learners while giving them a voice to share about issues that matter to them and their community.

Download posters and find other materials related to the Ten Questions at

About the Authors

Laura Gardner, a National Board Certified Teacher in library media, is teacher librarian at Dartmouth Middle School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Laura was awarded the School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Co-finalist award in 2016 and the AASL Reader Leader social media superstar award in 2019. She is on Instagram, Goodreads, and Twitter as @LibrarianMsG. She's a huge reader, a mother, and an avid runner. She is also passionate about social justice, particularly as it relates to the environment and immigration reform.

Chaebong Nam is the action civics specialist at Harvard's Democratic Knowledge Project. Her work revolves around a broad range of civic learning both in and out of schools, including inquiry-based learning, youth civic engagement, and community inquiry. She is a Korean native and previously taught social studies at a middle school in Korea. She is on Twitter as @chaebongnam.

MLA Citation

Gardner, Laura, and Chaebong Nam. "Student Voice with the 10 Questions for Young Changemakers." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

View all citation styles.

Back to Top