Today, I want to highlight a lesson of mine that always works incredibly well. It hits a topic that I know many teachers struggle to get to connect with students and does so in a fun, interactive way. Also, it is ugly. I mean like really ugly by my standards. The presentation piece was thrown together quickly many years ago and I’ve yet to improve it. I know sometimes people look at my stuff and say, “I can’t do that. I don’t know how.” This is one literally anyone could make and it highlights the power and importance of including your audience in your show!
Government Types and the Path to the Articles of Confederation
Students experience varying forms of government including Monarchy, majority rule and representative government as an introduction to the super-majority system required by the Articles of Confederation by making a series of decisions using the different rule systems.
None! Well, almost none. Download the PowerPoint and randomly mark 3 students on your role sheet. Have the PowerPoint up showing the welcome slide (slide 2) as students enter the room.
Students are given the following prompt to answer: Today, we have a bunch of decisions to make as a class. How should we do it?
Briefly discuss answers. They will almost universally say we should vote. Point them in the direction of calling this option “majority rule.” Specifically ask if there are any options they came up with that do not rely on majority rule. Often, there aren’t. That’s okay. Point out that since we were little kids on the playground, our ideas of fairness have ground into us the idea that majority rule is the best, and seemingly only, way to make decisions as a group.
Review the monarchy slides with students. Students take brief notes.
Progress through the 5 decision slides as a monarchy. You are the monarch. You make the decisions. It’s up to you how much freedom you give them to speak/influence you. I make it clear they can complain, but it won’t matter. I know what is best for them, so I will decide!
After making the 5 decisions, students reflect by making a short pro/con list of life under a monarchy. Have them briefly discuss their lists with a partner, then as a class.
Pros: immediate decision making, citizens don’t have to concern themselves with government.
Cons: no freedom or representation for the vast majority of people. Decisions don’t have to benefit anyone other than the Monarch.
Introduce the next government type - a council of nobles as created by the Magna Carta.
Make the 5 decisions again. This time it will be decided by the 3 randomly chosen students from the beginning of class. They are chosen “by birth” just as the monarch was.
Note any decisions that changed as a result of the new form (the homework question most likely will at the very least.)
Do pro and cons again.
Repeat the process for the next time - majority rule as shown in the Mayflower Compact.
Be sure to point out the weaknesses of this system. If you have a gender imbalance in the class, for example, then the last question will (almost) always favor the gender with the greater number. It is important to emphasize that some of the Founders were nearly as afraid of a majority rule system as they were a monarchy. This “tyranny of the majority” should help students understand why.
Repeat for a representative government as shown in the English Bill of Rights.
Have the first person in each row (or one in each group) vote for their group. It helps if the rows/groups have different numbers of students. Often I end up with a guy representing a group with a majority of girls which is always interesting!
Repeat once more for a super-majority as shown in the Articles of Confederation. You’ll find that some of the decisions don’t get made at all now as a super-majority in not reached.
Closing: Students answer the reflection questions on the final slide.
This series of simple simulations does an excellent job helping students understand why there are different government models and the pros and cons of each - far more so than simply reading about them would do. It is fun, interactive and hits the educational target every time. It’s a great example of how important interaction is and the fact that a simulation needn’t be over-the-top to be effective. By letting the audience not only participate, but to truly be a part of the show, they get so much out of it. Try it out to introduce the Articles of Confederation!