America's Legislators Back to School Program

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Elementary School Lesson Plan III - Participation

Where's My Voice?


Age-level: 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades

Overview

Legislators represent the people in their districts, and they must work hard to support legislation that serves their districts, or they will not be re-elected. Therefore, legislators are actually very interested in what their constituents have to say. A legislator's job is to listen. A legislator's responsibility is to find out what the people want. A citizen's responsibility is to communicate with the legislators to share his or her ideas. This lesson will help students learn about the importance of communicating with their elected representatives.

Goals

Students will:

  • Identify pressing issues of concern to them

  • Learn about how Legislators communicate with their constituents

  • Participate in a discussion about ways to solve an issue by communicating their concerns with elected officials

  • Write a persuasive letter to a state legislator

Duration

One 45 minute class

Materials

National Standards

National Standards for Civics and Government, K-4 Content Standards addressed:

  • 5-A Meaning of Citizenship

  • 5-C Rights of Individuals

  • 5-E Traits for Democracy

  • 5-F Participation in Government

  • 5-G Political Leadership and Public Service

Vocabulary

Constituent
Lobbyist
Communication
Legislator
Legislation
Issue

Lesson

Introduction

  • Use the guide on NCSL's website to find the name, address, and party of the local elected officials.

  • Ask the students how legislators know what their constituents want. Brainstorm ways this might happen. Put ideas on the board.

  • Discuss with them that legislators hear from their constituents in many ways. They hear from individuals through email, phone calls to their offices and letters. Legislators also hear from their constituents through organizations that their parents might belong to.

  • Ask students if their parents belong to any groups, such as MADD, AARP (maybe their grandparents), Sierra Club, Ducks Unlimited, Greenpeace and NRA.

  • Explain that these groups represent many people, but give one message to the legislators. This message is something that is important to all the members of that group, so these groups are called interest groups. Some of these groups have a lot of money and can get a lot of attention, so some people do not trust the lobbyists who represent those groups. Legislators get points of view from many sources, not just lobbyists from large interest groups. Smaller interest groups, legislative staff and researchers, the media and concerned individuals all communicate with legislators. The legislators must take in all these opinions and make decisions they think their constituents want. The will not get re-elected if they make decisions their constituents don't like.

  • Discuss with students that citizens have a responsibility to communicate their ideas and wishes to their elected officials.

  •  

Main Activity

  • Explain to the class that today each student will identify an issue important to him or her and write a letter to a legislator.

  • Help the students identify issues by brainstorming possibilities on the board.

  • Once some ideas have been identified, model for the students some possible ways of addressing an issue. Students should include two or three possible solutions to the problem in the letter. Students should be clear about what the problem is and how they think it should be solved. Use the sample letter provided to show students what the letter should look like and how it could be structured.

  • Provide writing time. Provide names and addresses of various officials and show students how to address and stamp the envelope.

Closure

Have students share some of their letters. Collect finished letters. Mail them!

Follow Up/Extensions

Students can:

  • Share the written response from the legislator (if sent)

  • Look up their websites and email them regarding issues they find important

  • Attend community forums sponsored by local elected officials

  • Visit the state capitol

Bibliography

Find information about legislators on the National Conference of State Legislature's website, www.ncsl.org .

Find information about civic education at www.civiced.org .

Find information about national standards for civics education at www.civiced.org .


This project is supported by a Robert H. Michel Civic Education Grant sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, Pekin, IL.


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Posted 9/13/01