Identify Problem & Explore Root Cause

Curricular Resources for Problem Identification and Exploring the Root Cause

When young people advance a policy argument in public settings, there is typically either an explicit or implied problem or issue that the policy argument is meant to address. Problem identification refers to whether the young people’s culminating performance offers a clear perspective or framework by which the audience can understand the extent and scope of their focal problem. Simply put, how well does the youth presentation identify a problem, provide evidence about that problem, and analyze and situate that problem in a broader context? Presentations with a high quality problem identification will also demonstrate the relevance of that particular problem to the students’ personal lives.

Curricular Resources:

1) Issue identification

2) developing research questions

3) personal connection to issues

4) issue mapping

5) Root Causes Activity

Naming the Problem

Choosing a Specific Issue: This lesson plan has lessons that will help you decide what your question can be based on both assets and issues within your community.

Relevance for Speakers

Your Personal Connection with the Issue: To identify a personal connection to an issue and to practice public speaking skills.

Analyzing the Problem

Imagining our Dream Community: This lesson plan has students visualize their ideal community using music and art as inspiration.


Example 1: 7th Grade Anti-bullying Campaign

Ms. A, a middle school literacy teacher, dedicated three class periods to facilitate discussions about potential problems to address and the students identified bullying  as a topic of great concern. Although there was also some interest among students to study gentrification in the neighborhood surrounding the school, the majority of students eventually agreed that they would be more likely to make an impact if they focused on policies and practices within the school itself. Students read articles and chapters that explored different aspects of bullying and safety. In order to look at the issue as more than just “a few bad apples,” Ms. A had her students read about concepts that encouraged them to understand how bullying plays out in systems, such as through racism and gender discrimination. Students also brought their personal experiences with bullying to the conversations about the complex roots of the problem.

Example 2: 7th Grade: Tuition Equity for Undocumented Students

The students in Mr. G’s literacy class selected the topic of college access for undocumented students – this was a topic that was motivated by their lived realities and experiences in their school. First, they noted that there was an academic achievement gap between the Latino students and White students at the school. Second, numerous students in the class were of Mexican or Central American origin, with varying citizenship status, and were aware about the difficulty of attending college as an undocumented student. Lastly, the students believed that requiring undocumented students to pay exorbitant college tuition with no institutionalized support was unjust. The cost alone made attending college a difficult decision, which they felt their school, with its strong college-going messages, did not acknowledge.