Fall Lesson 2: What Is A Good Rule? Creating Our Ballot Questions

This lesson offers students the opportunity to play the role of voters with special interests. Students draw up initiatives for new classroom or school rules. Working in groups of four or five, students share their ideas and rationale for new rules. Students listen to other students’ interests, provide justifications for new rules, and reach a consensus by majority vote. Each group submits its priority initiative for ballot consideration. Schedule this lesson to give students sufficient time to discuss their initiatives before the simulated election.

Suggested Grade Level

Elementary (Grades 5–6)

Estimated Time to Complete One to two class periods

Lesson Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • define the terms apolitical, direct democracy, initiative, proposition, and referendum;
  • define and understand the concepts of majority, majority rule, and minority rights;
  • learn the requirements for a good rule;
  • understand that a rule on a ballot is an initiative;
  • develop clear and understandable wording for an initiative;
  • explain the need for supportive information for an initiative; and
  • explain prioritizing ideas.


  • apolitical
  • direct democracy
  • initiative
  • majority
  • majority rule
  • minority rights
  • proposition
  • referendum

Materials Needed Supplies

  • Chart paper
  • Scratch paper
  • Markers

Teacher Resources

  • Quick Vocabulary (Teacher Resource 1)
  • Characteristics of a Good or Useful Rule (Teacher Resource 4), an initiative requirement chart
  • Class Ballot (Teacher Resource 5)

Student Handouts

  • Building Our Vocabulary (Student Handout 1)
  • Is This a Good Rule? (Student Handout 3)
  • We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 1, or a comparable social studies text

Before the Lesson

  • Confirm with the registrar of voters’ office the delivery of voting materials and date of participation in the simulated election.
  • Check that each student has completed the assignment to create a proposed initiative with justifications for their simulated classroom election.

Lesson Procedure 1. Beginning the Lesson: What Are Questions on an Election Ballot Called?

Student Handout 1, Teacher Resource 1, and We the People or a comparable social studies text are required for this part of the lesson. Explain to students that both the government and citizens have the opportunity to create new laws and rules. When citizens propose new laws, these proposals are called initiatives or propositions and are placed on an election ballot. Let students know that they will have the opportunity to create new rules for the classroom, school, or community. Ask students if they will be exercising direct democracy by creating these initiatives or propositions. Begin by explaining the difference between a referendum and an initiative or proposition (see Teacher Resource 1). Explain to students that a referendum is a potential new law proposed by a legislature and placed on a ballot for approval by voters. In contrast, initiatives and propositions are potential new laws proposed by citizens that are put to a vote on an election ballot. Initiatives and propositions are basically the same thing. Some states use the term initiative and others use the term proposition.

  • Ask students for an example of an existing school rule that they might be asked to vote on. Explain to the students that a new school rule proposed by the school administration and placed on a ballot for citizens to vote on is an example of a referendum.

Instruct students to add the definitions for the terms initiativeproposition, and referendum to their vocabulary list.

2. Reaching a Majority Vote and Considering Minority Rights

Ask a student to read aloud the definition of majority found in a social studies glossary; if using the third edition of We the People, this definition can be found on page 231. Explain to students that decisions usually are determined by a majority vote. This principle is known as majority rule. Define and explain the concept of majority rule for the students. Instruct students to add the definitions for the terms majority and majority ruleto their vocabulary list. Ask students if a majority of citizens voting decide the outcome of an issue, how does it affect those who could not vote or did not support the issue?

  • Students may respond that those who did not vote in favor of the issue may be upset. Students might respond that voters who could not vote or did not support the issue may lose some of their rights or freedom.

Inform students that those who are not in the majority are referred to as the minority. Ask students what the term minority rights means to them. Help students with the definition by explaining the concept of minority rights. These terms are defined in Teacher Resource 1. Ask students how the concept of minority rights might affect decision-making. Instruct students to add the definition for the term minority rights to their vocabulary list.

3. What Is a Good Rule?

Student Handout 3, Teacher Resource 4, and We the People or a comparable social studies text are used for this part of the lesson. Distribute Student Handout 3 to each student. Explain to students that they will have the opportunity to create new rules. These new rules will be initiatives or propositions placed on the class ballot. Explain that, in creating these initiatives or propositions, the class is exercising direct democracy.

  • Ask students if their proposed rules are the same as an initiative.
    • Students should recognize their right as citizens to create these policies for a general vote.

Tell the class that each student will create a proposed rule for the class ballot. Groups will consider every member’s proposal, but first the class must learn what makes a good rule.

  • Project Teacher Resource 4 on a screen or the classroom board.
  • Explain to the class that every new rule must meet all of these qualifications.
  • Ask students for their explanations for each requirement.

Using the following hypothetical classroom policy, ask students to apply each rule requirement to their classroom policy. Here is an example: Proposed rule: Any student who is late to class must stay after school for two hours every day for a month.

  • Reason for the New Rule or Policy: To get students to class on time. Too many students are arriving late.
  • Is It Fair? No. Two hours is too long a penalty for being late to class. Some students may arrive only one or two minutes late.
  • Is It Understandable and Clear? Yes
  • Is It Possible to Do? Yes, students can take the late bus home or have parents pick them up from school.
  • Is It Legal? Yes, a teacher can set discipline rules for a class.

4. Exercising Citizen Power: Creating an Initiative or Proposition

Explain to the class that they will be working in groups to listen to, evaluate, and vote on new rule proposals by group members. They have 20 minutes to complete their considerations. Remind students that majority rule and minority rights must be considered in their group work.

  • Have students work in groups of four or five for this exercise.
  • Ask that one group member pick up Student Handout 3 for each member of his or her group.
  • Review the handout with the class and instruct the groups to listen to member proposals and apply the good rule requirements for each proposal.
    • Each student will explain his or her suggested rule and offer reasons in favor of the rule to his or her group.
    • Group members should write their opinions on the rule requirements as each proposal is presented.

After the group hears all the suggested rules, they will take a vote to prioritize the rules.

  • Tell students that they may need to take several votes in order to reach a majority vote in deciding their group’s initiative.
  • If a rule earns a majority vote, have students keep a list of the other rules considered and the number of votes each received.
  • Remind students that their secondary rules may be other groups’ chosen rule for the ballot.
    • Ask what this might mean for the class vote. Students may respond that one of their own secondary rules may win the vote.

Instruct students to refocus on the good rule chart (Student Handout 3) and ask the following:

  • Have you applied each requirement for a good rule?

If not, have you changed the suggested rule to meet the requirement?

  • Did you reach a majority vote?
  • Did you consider minority rights?
  • Is your suggestion for a new rule realistic?
  • Is there a possibility that this new rule will pass?
  • Will your teacher or principal accept it as a new rule?

Give groups an additional few minutes for final consideration of their initiative.

5. Informing the Voters: Initiative Charts

When groups have reached the goal of identifying their choice for a good rule, distribute chart paper, scratch paper, and markers to each group.

  • Instruct the groups to write their initiative entry for the ballot on the chart paper and a piece of scratch paper.
    • Tell them not to include the reasons for the rule.
    • They should use their free time to explain their proposal to classmates.
  • Instruct students to put all group members’ names on the initiative poster and hand them back to you and number the chart papers.
  • Check that each group has handed in its initiative proposal to you.
  • Have each group appoint one group member to post their chart paper in the room and a second group member who will read the group’s proposed new rule.

Explain that the class will have several days to ask group members questions about their initiative. Define the term apoliticaland have students add the definition to their vocabulary list.

  • Explain to students that a voting area must remain apolitical. Therefore, questions and discussions about the proposed ballot initiatives must be conducted during free class time.

Have groups post their initiative charts around the room. Check that all groups have handed in their initiative proposal to you.

6. Concluding the Lesson: Becoming an Informed Voter

Ask each group to have their appointed members come to your desk and pick up their chart paper. One group member will post the chart and one member will read the initiative to the class. When all charts are posted, ask Group One to read its proposed rule. Ask each other group to do the same until all groups have reported to the class. Tell the class that the initiatives will remain posted until the simulated election and that during their free time, they should ask other group members questions they might have about an initiative. Write or type in the group initiatives on the Class Ballot (Teacher Resource 5).


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