Lesson Plans that Help Students Learn About Democracy
Teaching students about democracy and their civic duty is an important part of education. When students understand their government, they are able to better participate in the greater society and help to create a stronger, more informed general population. Teachers should look for ways to incorporate these ideas into their lesson plans throughout the year. Here are a few lesson-plan ideas to get started.
Introduce the Class to the Core Democratic Values
A great way to lead into a lesson on the founding documents of the United States is to begin by discussing the core values that have come to define the nation.
Teachers can begin by asking students to list concepts that they value or that they believe are valued in the common culture. The teacher should then introduce the different core values of truth, justice, equality, diversity, patriotism, individual rights, popular sovereignty and common good. They can then be split into smaller groups to discuss the different core values. Younger students may be directed to discuss how the different values impact their lives, such as the importance of saying the pledge of allegiance, older students can go more in-depth with the topics. They may have discussions about assimilation versus unique ethnic groups, if there should be a limit to the ability to criticize the government or where religious liberty has boundaries. Each of the groups should then share their discussions with the rest of the class.
Teach Children About Local Government
In the minds of many people, local governments are overlooked in favor of the state or national government. People pay more attention to presidential elections than gubernatorial elections. Teachers should work to introduce their students to these local branches of government.
One possible lesson may be to plan a field trip to a local town government meeting. Students can have the opportunity to witness how important decisions are made for their city or town and how votes are collected. They can also be given assignments to attend a local school board meeting. The school board directly affects the lives of the students and watching this board in action will give the students the opportunity to see how democratic actions shape their future.
Once the students have witnessed the democracy in action, they can have a class discussion about how the decisions made by these governing bodies affect their daily lives and why voting is so important. Students can be encouraged to make sure that their parents are registered to vote, or when they are old enough, to themselves register.
A possible follow-up activity may be to learn about young people who have been elected to public office to show them how people in their age-range have made a difference.
Have Students Examine the History of Voting
Many people today take voting for granted, failing to realize the extent voting laws have changed over the years. Teachers should take the time to discuss these changes over the past two centuries to help their students gain an appreciation for the right to vote and gain a better understanding of the history of the United States.
Teachers can introduce the topic by asking students to read a book related to the topic, such as Voice of the People: American Democracy in Action. Teachers can then hand out voting cards to the students with a series of markers. A few less than half the cards should have green, red, and white dots. An additional handful should have red and white dots, and the remainder should have just white. The students should vote on different issues put forth by the teacher. The first round of voting, only those with green dots should count, to symbolize elections in 1800 which only Caucasian males could vote. The second round should have only those with red markers should count, symbolizing those in the 1860, following the right to vote being granted to African American males. The final count should include those with white dots, symbolizing when the right to vote was granted to women in 1920.
Understanding democracy is an important key to fully participating in society and the civic process in the United States. By using lessons such as those described above, teachers can help prepare students for their role in the modern democracy.