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democracy around the world: activity ideas

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  1. How Do Other Countries Vote?

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; Science & Technology

    In this activity, children will begin to understand that voting processes, elections and government parties vary throughout the world.

    Did you ever wonder if everyone in the world votes on the same day? If women in China and Saudi Arabia can vote? What the voting age is in Brazil? How votes are counted in Australia? When was the first election in the United States held? Once you start thinking about one question, surely many more will follow. So many countries, so many elections, so many questions.

    A fun way to learn about elections around the world is to devise a list of questions to inquire about. Have each child write a minimum of five questions they would like to know the answer to. The questions should center on the election process in other parts of the world. Afterwards make all the questions available to the children. Using this list as a guide, have them pick one or two countries to research and have them find the answers to their questions.

    Interviewing people they know from their chosen countries could be one way to find some answers, they could also write to embassies for information, they could even correspond with children at schools in other countries, and of course, they could also research their questions using books and the Internet. Once all the questions are answered make a classroom book or even a video. Videotape the children reading their answers and questions and then watch the video with other grades or parents on Election Day in November!

    Online Resources

    Frontline World:

    Election World:

    Elections and Electoral Systems:

    IFES Election Guide:

    Print Resources

    Introduction to Politics and Government by Janet Cook and Stephen Kirby
    How the U.S. Government Works by Syl Sobel and Pam Tanzey

    More Recommended Resources

  2. What Does Democracy Mean to You?

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: Reading & Language Arts; Social Studies

    As the U.S. Presidential election draws closer, children should understand the meaning of democracy. Of course like many philosophies and practices, the meaning of democracy has grown and changed since it first originated in Ancient Greek times. The word democracy comes from the Greek word demokratia, which simply still means, "people-rule." Demos means the people, and Kratos means power or authority.

    To help "kick off" lessons on democracy and other concepts associated with this vast and very important concept, the children will work in small groups to brainstorm ideas and words related to "democracy." The idea of this exercise is to bring out many topics that might spark more curiosity and interest in the coming elections. By conversing with peers and listening to others, this exercise will help guide and teach those children who are unsure as to what it democracy means.

    In groups of four or five, allow the children to record all the words/ideas they think of when they hear the word "democracy." Have the children record their answers on big post it notes or index cards. Remind them to write down all their responses and not to debate choices. Once they are finished, collect the pieces of paper and as a whole group discuss each contribution and organize the ideas into categories. Leave this collected record on display throughout the entire unit of study.

    This visual record and brainstorming activity will help drive future lessons and discussions while keeping an ongoing reminder to the November elections in sight.

    Some categories my end up being titled, "elections/leadership," "politics," "branches of government," "ideologies," "civil liberties," "diplomacy," etc. Have the children add to this classroom record as they read books, visit Web sites and make more inquiries as Election Day nears!

    Online Resources

    PBS Kids: The Democracy Project:

    Scholastic: Election 2004:

    Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids:

    Kid to Kid:

    Print Resources

    The Kid's Guide to Service Projects by Barbara Lewis

    More Recommended Resources

  3. We Are Women

    Grade Levels: 3-5
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; Science & Technology; The Arts

    In this activity children will learn about women leaders and appreciate the changes they have made and/or are still making. After reading and discovering facts and stories about women leaders, children will share information with their peers using a game like format. It is important to introduce the meaning of equality in leadership and present lessons in which stereotypes are noticed and discrimination is discussed.

    Begin this lesson by purposely "discriminating" against the male students in the class. For example, pretend to hold a vote to see which story you should read first, however, do not allow the male students to vote. This "voting" activity will make a great opportunity to introduce woman leaders Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Stanton, three influential women leaders who fought for equal rights in the mid-1800s. Hold a few more impromptu "votes" in which you discriminate against certain groups in the class (the girls, children born in certain months...); discuss how stereotyping and discrimination makes a person feel.

    Next, have students find out women in other countries who are fighting for democracy and human rights today. Just have them gather names (See Online Resources below) Gather the new list and re-organize the information according to where in the world the woman leaders are from, where/when they lived or the area they lead/led in (politics, education, sports, medicine, etc.).

    Once you devise a final list, have the children research a leader(s) and find a few facts out about each one. After the research is conducted (via interviews, books, reading, videos, the Internet), have the students use their language art skills to turn the facts into answers (similar to the format of the game show "Jeopardy").

    After the children have worked in groups, rotated, and shared information, hold a "We Are Women" game show. Invite staff, high school members, and people who contributed names to the list to come and observe or even participate! Have fun, and remember it's a celebration of equality in leadership and positive woman leaders!

    Online Resources

    PBS Kids: WayBack (Suffrage):

    Distinguished Women of Past and Present:

    Britannica Online: 300 Women Who Changed the World:

    Women's History Month:

    Print Resources

    Women World Leaders: Fifteen Great Politicians Tell Their Stories by Laura Liswood
    The Day GoGo Went to Vote by Elinor Batezat Sisulu

    More Recommended Resources

  4. World Leaders: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; The Arts

    In this activity children will understand the concept that there are many different types of leaders in the world. This activity is a great way to culminate a unit on Elections and Leaders. In this activity, children will devise research guidelines via listening, discussion, and voting and use multiple creative outlets to research and present information on various world leaders.

    Tell the students that after they read some sample biographies of leaders, they will decide what kind information is important when learning about these men and women. Then, devise a research format to follow when collecting information about leaders for projects. Ask the children what should be included in the guidelines. For example, what kind of facts and information are really important to include? What information really helps us understand this leader? What do we really want to find out? Once the guidelines are agreed upon (perhaps by voting) formulate one final set of guidelines that the children must follow when researching their chosen leader.

    The guidelines might include:

    • What did this leader do that made a difference?
    • Did someone or something influence this leader to take this path?
    • What kind of obstacles was this person faced with?

    (Personal details are not important. Emphasize the importance of quality information and good questions to ask and answer.)

    Students could make a poster, write a poem, put on a play, write a book, write a song, or give a presentation. Letting the children decide how to present the information encourages use of individual learning styles and hopefully will make the children excited about participating in the project.

    The only rule or expectation will be that the guidelines they voted on have to be followed or answered. Make sure the presentations are balanced geographically and that both men and woman leaders are researched. Also encourage children to choose leaders that aren't commonly discussed in school. Such examples include czars, dictators, presidents (Yasser Arafat, Vladamir Putin, Corazon Aquino), prime ministers, (Winston Churchill, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher), emperors (Akhito of Japan,) queens, kings, etc.

    Online Resources

    American Experience (Archives):

    People Spot: World Leaders:

    Women Prime Ministers:

    KidInfo: Historical World Leaders:

    Famous Men and Famous Women:

    Print Resources

    100 World Leaders Who Shaped World History by Kathy Paparchontis

    More Recommended Resources

  5. The Electoral College

    Grade Level: 4-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; Math

    While many people who live in the United States believe that we live in a democracy, we actually live in a "republic," in which voters elect representatives to vote their will in the legislative and executive branches.

    When the Constitutional Convention debated on how the president should be selected, they devised a system called the "electoral college," in which a formula was developed that provided a safeguard against voters electing an "unsuitable" president, and also providing that even the smallest state would have some leverage in selecting the chief executive.

    However, the election of 2000 proved that the system might allow one candidate to win the election while not winning the popular vote. While Republican George W. Bush won the electoral vote after the Supreme Court ruled he won the state of Florida; Democrat Al Gore collected more than half a million more popular votes nationwide than Bush.

    Have students work in groups and analyze the following Electoral College resources to investigate the reasoning for it and why it is still part of the American election system (see Online Resources below).

    After researching the Electoral College and the role it plays in the process of selecting the president, students can write newspaper editorials or letters to the editor either in favor of the system or proposing a replacement system for it. As an extension activity, students can also review other US presidential elections, comparing the percentage of popular vote a candidate received with the percentage of electoral vote the candidate got. Which percentage is higher? Ask students to speculate as to why that would be so.

    Online Resources

    NewsHour Extra:

    By the People : Electoral College Lesson Plan:

    U.S. National Archives and Records Administration:

    Harvard University Kennedy School of Government:

    New American Magazine: "Save the Electoral College":

    Print Resources

    Choosing a President: The Electoral College and Beyond by Paul D. Schumaker and Burdett A. Loomis
    Securing Democracy : Why We Have an Electoral College by Gary L. Gregg II (Editor)

    More Recommended Resources

  6. Iraq in Transition

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; Math

    The United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime, and put the US leaders in a position of "nation building," that is, assisting the Iraqi people to rebuild not only their cities, but their government as well.

    While the United States set a June 2004 "handover" date to give control of the new government to the Iraqi people, it was obvious that creating a new government system, even one that expressed the best interest of the people, would be difficult to achieve.

    Have students work independently or in groups and investigate the former Iraqi government as well as the proposals for provisional and revised Iraqi governments. Who will provide security? What will the role of the United Nations be? What are the plans for elections? Some believe elections should be held as soon as possible; others argue that elections should wait until 2005.

    After students have researched the procedure and problems encountered in Iraq's transition, ask them to assume that they are working with the US Government in the handover of control to the Iraqis. Ask them to either draw posters or create short radio or television "spots" to gain support among the people for the new Iraqi government.

    Online Resources

    NewsHour Extra: The U.N. in Post-War Iraq:

    NewsHour Extra: Iraqi Interim Government:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/middle_east/ ...

    NewsHour Extra: Iraqi Provincial Government:

    President Bush: Speech Outlining New Iraqi Government:

    BBC: Who's Who in the Iraqi Government:

    The Coalition Provisional Authority: Law of Administration for Iraq:

    More Recommended Resources

  7. 15th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies

    June 2004 marked the 15th anniversary of the pro-Democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Square is symbolic because it is the location of the Great Hall of the People, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, and was the site where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

    Chinese students initiated protests against the Communist government in the People's Republic of China, and erected a statue similar to the U.S.'s Statue of Liberty, named the "Goddess of Democracy."

    Within days, however, the government sent troops to break up the demonstrations. Thousands died in the government crackdown. The crackdown was widely condemned worldwide.

    Using the online resources below, ask students to research the events leading to the crackdown by the Chinese government, as well as the impact of the crackdown.

    After reviewing the events of June 1989, and the aftermath, ask students to assume they are State Department officials who are charged with drawing up some sort of official U.S. government response to the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the Chinese government's crackdown. Students should write a "position paper" or "government response" to the events in Beijing.

    Online Resources

    Frontline: "The Gate of Heavenly Peace":

    NewsHour Online: Tiananmen at 10:

    Amnesty International:

    BBC: Tiananmen Square page:

    CNN: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square:

    Print Resources

    China and Democracy: The Prospect for a Democratic China by Sui-Sheng Chao, Suisheng Zhao
    The China Democracy Movement and Tiananmen Incident: Annotated Catalog of the UCLA Archives, 1989-1993 by Jian Ding, Elaine Yee-Man Chan, Leslie Evans

    More Recommended Resources

  8. The Cradle of Democracy

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts

    Greece has long been considered the "Cradle of Democracy," although the system of government created there is not the same as the republican form of government established in the United States.

    Grecian democracy was limited. For example, only males born in Greece could become citizens. Women could not obtain the rights of citizenship, and males born outside of Greece, while they could establish businesses and enjoy some of the rights of citizenship, were not able to become citizens. As with most other countries, however, the Hellenic government changed and adapted over time.

    Have students work independently or in groups to research historical and political information about the development of the government of Greece.

    Online Resources

    The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization:

    NewsHour Online: Interview with the Prime Minster of Greece:

    Greece's Government:

    European Parliament:

    Map Zones: Grecian Government Page:

    NationMaster.com: Greece:

    More Recommended Resources

  9. Ten Years After Apartheid: A New Era in South Africa

    Grade Level: 6-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; The Arts

    One of the most dramatic democratic movements in the world occurred in Suoth Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During that time, the racial separation policy of apartheid was dismanted. A new government--chosen by a "one-man, one-vote" election -- replaced the old order and black citizens of South Africa won more equality and freedom.

    Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress, and held a prisoner for years by the white dominated South African government, was named the first black president of the nation. He served from 1994 until 1999.

    Students can work independently or in groups investigating the fall of apartheid and the rise of the Black Nationalist government using the Online Resources below.

    After reviewing the information regarding apartheid, have younger students draw pictures demonstrating the effects of apartheid, or illustrating the work of democratic reformers, such as Mandela. Older students could use the information and pictures contained in the resources to develop posters or multimedia presentations highlighting apartheid or showing the end of apartheid and the rise of democracy in the nation.

    Online Resources

    Frontline: "The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela":

    NewsHour Online: Life After Mandela:

    NewsHour Online: Apartheid's People:

    NewsHour Online: Truth & Consequnces:

    ElectionWorld: South Africa:

    BBC: South Africa Timeline:

    United Nations Apartheid and South Africa site (Historical Images):

    Print Resources

    Mandela : An Illustrated Autobiography by Nelson Mandela
    The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Legitimizing the Post-Apartheid State by Richard Wilson

    More Recommended Resources

Published: July 2004