Celebrate Make a Difference Day on October 26, 2013

Join millions of volunteers around the world by uniting for a common mission to improve others' lives.

By Jen Lilienstein



October 26th marks the date that USA WEEKEND Magazine and Points of Light have sponsored the largest day of community service—a commitment that they've shared for the past 20 years. Will your class join the millions of volunteers around the world this year and unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others? Joining in this mission doesn't have to mean setting aside the Common Core or honing skills that will better prepare your students for standardized testing. In fact, service-based learning can not only integrate well with lesson plans, it can provide a deeper level of intrinsic motivation for your learners, as well. Most importantly, they learn a process that builds life skills and can make their lives both more enjoyable and more fulfilling. Here's one way you can kick off a full school year of service-based learning on October 26th.


October 26th

Talk about what a mission statement is with your students, and have them conduct online research to discover some of the mission statements of organizations they recognize—the mission statements can be from clothing brands, to fast food, to magazines, to toy manufacturers. After conducting the research, have a class discussion about the kinds of words used in mission statements. Talk about how those words make you feel and write the words where all the kids in class can see them. Finally, have the scholars in your class brainstorm their own personal mission statements. Here are two prompt ideas:

  • “What do you care most about?”
  • “What about the world would you like to see changed?”


Break into small groups to brainstorm the types of people who do work that’s similar to what each child’s mission was in the last exercise. Which career fields are close in nature? How about local, national, or global volunteer opportunities? Assign independent online research and have pupils write to 10 or more individuals whose work focuses on the areas in which they each are most interested. Their homework should be printouts of the e-mails sent to each individual.


Plan a date and time in late January to host a gathering in the gym or auditorium to talk to other learners and/or like-minded people in your community about their Make a Difference missions. Have pupils break into groups to create posters, postcards, flyers, brochures, e-mails, etc. to promote the event as a whole. Then, have each child individually create a printed piece about his or her own personal mission. Also, ask them to select a song that ties into their missions.


Brainstorm with the whole class how to set up the Make a Difference event for the student body and/or community:

  • How should you arrange the chairs? Do you want people standing up and talking to each other?
  • How will you manage conversation at the event? Will people raise their hands to speak, or will you talk as needed in small groups around each individual/small group mission area?
  • How will you record peoples' ideas with respect to how positive change can be made? Will you videotape them or write them down?

At the gathering, have pupils (or small groups with similar missions) talk with other students, staff, or community members about how to work together to bring about a “ripple effect” of positive change at local, national, and global levels. Talk through small changes that people are willing to make. Have learners make sure they’ve got contact information from everyone who joined in their Make a Difference mission, then complete a follow-up report of what was agreed upon, who will be responsible for each task, and how they will evaluate the results of each effort. As a class, set a date for an evening in March to have the next meet-up. Have learners contact the individuals who joined their mission team and encourage them to find ONE more person to bring to the next meeting.

February - Extra Credit

If pupils are really excited about their mission, encourage them to attend a trade show or conference with some of their fellow advocates and/or a parent that is in alignment with their Make a Difference mission and see what other people are doing that they could work into their plans. Have scholars talk to the people at the booths that are well-aligned to their chosen cause. Ask for feedback on other techniques to get the word out, or how they could work together to further their goals.


Host the follow-up meeting in the evening. Talk to the mission team about what your experience was with responsibilities assigned in January. Did everyone do what they said they were going to do? Did some people do more than they had planned?

Have the class analyze their results by writing down three numbers for each of the different techniques the advocacy team attempted:

  • Approximately how many people did you talk to about the mission?
  • Of those individuals, how many could understand why it’s important to you…and should be to them.
  • Divide the number of people you were able to inspire by the number of people you were able to connect with and write the percentage.

Talk about which techniques were most effective for each individual in these terms:

  • Reach (how many people you were able to connect with)
  • Conversion rate (what percentage of people you were able to get excited about your mission)
  • Evangelist rate (the number of new advocates each person was able to get to attend this meeting)

Based on results, have teams decide which techniques to get the word out the mission team wants to try this time around. Then, write a follow-up report with respect to whether or not their mission has changed course as a result of their efforts, and/or if their primary focus has narrowed or broadened.


Have students prepare a final mission project of their own design. It can be anything—PowerPoint, puppet show, video, song, traditional report, etc.—on their Make a Difference missions. The final projects will be shared with the class. 

Additional Lesson Planet Resources:

Selfless Service and The Giving Tree - Building Ethical Conscience

Upper elementary schoolers investigate philanthropy and selflessness by reading a children's book. They read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, and research Mahatma Gandhi's troublesome, yet inspiring, life.  Using an artificial tree in class, they hang a leaf each time they accomplish one of their goals throughout the year.

Where Oh Where Have All the Fish Gone? Oh Where Oh Where Can They Be?

Early elementary schoolers participate in an activity in which plain and peanut M&M's® are used to represent a community of fish. They role-play different scenarios that depict fishing practices by eating or discarding certain M&M's®.

The Scramble for Wealth And Power

The class participates in a simulation activity involving the distribution of the world's wealth and power. The activity starts when 100 pennies, representing wealth and power, are spread on the floor and scholars must grab as many pennies as they can with mittens on their hands. The activity progresses with a variety of scenarios. Each is discussed.