What is a Democracy?
by Lori Woitalla

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Suggested Curriculum Areas:

- Social Studies and Language Arts


To allow students the opportunity to expand their knowledge base of democracy, political parties, and elections.


- Students will define what makes a country democratic.
- Students will observe United States and Indian political party symbols.
- Students will create their own political party and party symbol.
- Students will work together to create a campaign speech and will share it with the class.
- Students will participate in the voting process.

Background information for teachers:

India is the largest Democracy in the world. It became a democracy in 1949 after years of passive resistance led by Gandhi, against the colonial government of England. India has a federal system of government similar to that of the United States. Powers are given to the individual states but are held together by a central union. Parliament handles decisions that affect national interest such as defense, atomic energy, finance, railways, etc. The states handle roads and bridges, sanitation, police, public health, etc.

India holds elections every five years. This country is divided into sections and people vote on their states day. All votes are then counted on the same day. Once the application is approved, the candidate is given a symbol. The symbol is affiliated with their political party and is used in conjunction with their name and picture while campaigning. On the ballet, the symbol is placed next to the name so all people, literate and illiterate can vote for their intended candidate.

India is unique when it comes to political parties. When India first became free, they had three main political parties, the Indian National Congress, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. In 1952, when they had their first elections, there were over 50 parties. Today there are more than 600 political parties in India. Some are individual state parties. Others are national parties.

Lesson Outline

Background for students: See "What is a Democracy?" sheet


Day 1

Have the children read "What is a Democracy?" in groups of two or three. Have them discuss whether they think the United States is a democracy. Have them write down proof as to whether or not we are a democracy. Then share each group's thoughts in a class discussion. Challenge them to find out where the worlds largest democracy is located for tomorrow's lesson.


Day 2

Begin with yesterdays question about the world's largest democracy. If nobody guesses, tell them it is India. Explain to them that India also has the largest number of political parties among all democratic nations.

Refer back to "What is a Democracy?" and discuss that more than one political party is often a part of a democracy. "Often times a democracy has more than one political party. A political party is a group of people that share the same opinions and want their government to make decisions in a certain way. Having more than one political party allows for discussions among groups of people to share their points of view. More than one political party often keeps all the citizens informed of the choices in a country. "

Explain to the students that groups of people who share the same political ideas and opinions often join together to form a group to elect leaders to vote in a way they believe is best. We call these groups political parties.

Political parties try to convince voters to support their party's candidates and ideas by sponsoring debates, writing letters, holding fundraisers, advertising, making speeches, writing slogans, and holding big meetings called conventions.

Explain that often times these political parties have symbols that they use to stand for their political party. Show them pictures of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant (on C.D.) and explain that these are symbols for the two major political parties in the United States. Ask them why they think each party chose their particular animal.

Next share with the students some of the pictures below of the Indian political party symbols. Again, ask the students why they think the party would choose each for its symbol.

Divide the class into groups of 3-4 children. Give the children the task of coming up with a symbol, a slogan, and a party name that stands for something they feel is important to them at school and would like all the children in the class to agree with them on. Give some suggestions such as getting more playground balls, having chocolate milk for lunch or snack, having a hat day once a month, etc. Depending on the age of the children you could have anywhere from one to five topics of importance.

Have the group create a poster that shows their political party name, the symbol they have chosen to represent them, and the slogan they have created for their group.

Day 3

Have the group write a speech to share with the rest of the class. This speech should be used to convince the other students to vote for their platform or idea. Their speech should include a greeting to the audience, the use of their slogan, the important issues they have chosen to stand up for, why they would be the best group to lead the class and a thank you for their time.

Day 4

The children will hold conventions and share their speeches this day. They should have the rest of the day to campaign at recesses and lunchtime. You might also allow them to create buttons, pennants, and flyers to pass out.

Day 5

On voting day, explain to the students that they must be a citizen of the country to vote. In the United States, they must also be 18 years old. Have them draw a slip of paper out of a basket to see if they can vote on this election day or not. Put X's on 2/3 of the pieces of paper. Only those students with X's will be allowed to vote. Then hold a voting session using ballots and ballot boxes to determine the winning political party. An extension to this activity might be to look at when women and African-Americans were allowed to vote.

Amount of time:
- three (50 minute sessions)
- two (30 minute sessions)

Cross references to other themes

Materials list

- "What is a Democracy?" sheet
- Pictures of Indian political party symbols (see pictures below).
- Pictures of American political party symbols.
- Poster paper for drawing symbols
- Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
- Writing paper for political party speeches
- Sheets of paper having X's on 2/3 of them
- Ballots and ballot boxes

Extension Activities:

Do some in-depth research on how elections are set up.

Have the children campaign using their newly formed political parties for student council.

Study the issues important to the Democratic and Republican parties of the United States.

Examine the voting systems of other democratic nations.

Other Grade levels: 9 - 12

Other discipline areas:
Political Science

Connections to Standards:

Social Studies: B.4.1, 4.6, 4.9, C.4.1, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, E.4.6, 4.8

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