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

This lesson offers students the opportunity to take 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.

Supplemental Materials

We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution student text correlations are offered as examples to use with Citizens, Not Spectators lessons when applicable. A comparable social studies text used in your classroom can be adapted instead for reference as needed.

The Citizens, Not Spectators middle school curriculum correlates with the We the People, Level 2 text’s Unit Six, Lesson 29: “What are the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?” (pp. 253–262), and Lesson 30: “How might citizens participate in civic affairs?” (pp. 263–74).

Suggested Grade Level

Middle school (Grades 6–8)

Estimated Time to Complete

One to two class periods

Lesson Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • define the terms amendment, apolitical, direct democracy, initiative, majority,
  • popular sovereignty, proposition, referendum, and republic;
  • 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 or a proposition;
  • develop clear and understandable wording for an initiative or proposition;
  • explain the need for supportive information for an initiative or proposition; and
  • explain prioritizing ideas.


  • amendment
  • apolitical
  • direct democracy
  • initiative
  • majority
  • majority rule
  • minority rights
  • popular sovereignty
  • proposition
  • referendum
  • republic

Materials Needed


  • 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 2, or a comparable social studies text

Before the Lesson

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

Lesson Procedure

1. Beginning the Lesson: What Is a Good Rule?

Student Handouts 1 and 3, Teacher Resources 1 and 4, and We the People or a comparable social studies text are used 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 now have the opportunity to create new rules for the classroom, school, or community. Ask students whether 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 because a governmental agency is asking citizens to vote on one of the school’s proposed policies.
  • Ask students whether they know what the term amendment means. Ask a student to read aloud the definition of amendment. If the students need further clarification, have them read the definition found in a social studies glossary; if using We the People, the definition is found on page 301. Have students turn to the U. S. Constitution’s amendments found on pages 293–300 of We the People. Explain to students that when changes are made to official documents, such as a constitution, those changes are known as amendments.

Instruct students to add the definitions for the terms amendment, initiative, proposition, and referendum to their vocabulary list.

Ask various students to read aloud about direct democracy from a brief passage in a social studies text. If using We the People, read the two bullet-point paragraphs on page 25 under “How did the Founders adapt the idea of republican government?”

Ask students to define direct democracy and republican government. If the students need further clarification, have them read the definition found in a social studies glossary; if using We the People, turn to page 305 for the definition of direct democracy and page 313 for the definition of republic and republican government. Ask different students to read aloud the definitions.

Ask a student to read a paragraph on popular sovereignty from a social studies text; if using We the People, turn to page 85 for this task.

  • Ask students if popular sovereignty is a form of direct democracy.

Instruct students to add definitions for the terms direct democracy, initiative, popular sovereignty, proposition, referendum, and republic to their vocabulary list.

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

Tell the class that each student has created a proposed initiative or proposition 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 of each requirement.

Using the following hypothetical classroom policy, ask students to apply each rule requirement to your classroom policy.

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 coming in 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 later.
  • Is It Legal? Yes, a teacher can set discipline rules for a class.

2. 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 twenty minutes to complete their considerations.

  • Have students move into 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 for the rule to their group.
    • Group members should jot down opinions for the rule requirements as each proposal is presented.

3. Reaching a Majority Vote and Considering Minority Rights

Ask a student to read aloud the definition of majority rule found in a social studies glossary; if using We the People, turn to page 310. Next, have students add the definition to their vocabulary list.

Explain to students that decisions usually are determined by a majority vote. This decision-making process is known as majority rule.

If the greater number of people voting on an issue decides the outcome, how does this affect the lesser number of people who did not vote in favor of the issue?

Ask students what the term minority rights means to them. Help students with the definition. Ask students how the concept of minority rights affects decision-making?

Instruct students to add the definitions for the terms majority, majority rule, and minority rights to their vocabulary list.

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

  • Tell students that they may need to take several votes in order to reach a majority vote on their group’s final number-one 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?
  • Does your proposed rule violate anyone’s rights?
  • What do you think the possibility is for this new rule to pass?
  • Will your teacher or principal accept it as a new rule?

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

4. Informing the Voters: Initiative or Proposition 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 to be handed into you.
    • 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 then give you their initiative proposals.

Explain that the class will have several days to ask group members questions about their initiative.

Define the term apolitical and have students add the definition to their vocabulary list.

  • Explain to students that a voting area must remain apolitical. This is the reason they will use their free time to ask questions about and discuss the proposed initiatives that will appear on their ballot.

Have groups post their initiative charts around the room.

5. Concluding the Lesson: Becoming an Informed Voter

Ask one person from each group to read their initiative 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 the group initiatives on the Class Ballot (Teacher Resource 5) and make a copy for each student for the Lesson 3 simulated election.


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