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Focus question 3: Should the people rule?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Majority rules? (15 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Direct democracy for a day (25 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Direct democracy in Ancient Athens (45 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Using representatives to make law (25 min) ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Time travel report number 2 (30 min) ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Compare and contrast (40 min) ESL Activity 6
Assessment ESL Assessment
Activity 7: Who would you be? (30 min) ESL Activity 7
Assessment ESL Assessment
Further activity  

Activity 1: Majority rules? (15 min)

1a Ask students to decide a class activity by a show of hands. For example, choose between playing a game of netball, football or basketball.

Introduce the notion of 'majority rules'. The word democracy comes from the Greek demokratia, made up of demos, 'people', and kratos, 'rule'.

1b Elicit students' knowledge of voting.

1c Discuss:

  • How do you feel if you were outvoted?
  • Is voting like this a fair way to choose the actions of all?
  • What problems do you think this system might have?

Activity 2: Direct democracy for a day (25 min)

2a Distribute Handout 5 and read the following passage to the class.Handout 5

The time machine moves your body to another place. Move your mind to another time in history and to a different part of the Mediterranean Sea. Athens (today, the capital city of the country Greece), used to be a small country by itself with its own government. About 2,500 years ago, there was no single country of Greece. Instead, mountains and water separated the people into small countries, called city-states.

2b Using Handout 5, discuss who has the right to vote on decisions in Ancient Athens.

2c Divide the class into four groups of roughly equal numbers and assign students in each of the groups with one of four roles: citizen, metic, woman or slave.
Remind all non-citizens that their opinions do not count, they have no say and their voices are not to be heard.

2d In turn, direct all metics, women and slaves to sit down, each in a different area at the edge of the room. Explain that they can observe proceedings but they cannot vote.

2e Allow the citizens group to vote on where their Assembly will be and where they will put or seat the non-voting members of the class for the day.

2f Run the class using direct democracy for a day. Only the designated 'citizens' may take part in the Assembly and vote, and they get to decide everything.

2g In groups of four, students find and discuss examples of direct democracies, such as clubs and associations. Why does direct democracy work in these cases?

Activity 3: Direct democracy in Ancient Athens (45 min)

Handout 6,7

3a Read Handout 6. The Assembly gave every citizen a chance to have a say by voting. Discuss your experience of 'citizens' voting to decide everything for the class. What were the problems and good points? Students re-read Handout 6 and list the three things needed to qualify as a citizen.

3b Read and discuss Handout 7.

  • How fair (or otherwise) is a system in which the majority of people have no say in the way
    their lives are ruled?
  • Do you think that the system of direct democracy in Ancient Athens was fair?
    Give reasons for your answer. Think about responsibilities as well as rights.

Activity 4: Using representatives to make law (25 min)

Handout 6

4a Ask students to refer to Handout 6. Read or explain the following to the class.

The Assembly voted on laws, but who thought them up? The citizens of Athens took part in making laws. Five hundred citizens made up a Council. The members of the Council thought up laws by which to rule Athens. The Athenians thought that the fairest way to choose Council members was by lot. This means that the names of all the citizens in one tribe were put together and 50 names were drawn out. Those 50 were Council members. There were ten phylai, or electorates, in Athens so all together there were 500 councillors.

4b Discuss:

  • How many people are in your classroom?
  • How many classrooms-full would make 500? (perhaps 17-20?)
  • What would it be like to make up decisions with so many people?

Handout 8 Handout 5

4c Put Handout 8 on an overhead projector for students to copy and complete. They are to find four examples of different groups of society and list them from most powerful at the top of the hill (the 'Power Pnyx') to least powerful at the bottom.

Activity 5: Time travel report number 2 (30 min)

Students may use the Stories of Democracy CD ROM.

5a Using Handout 5, students prepare a brief report on Ancient Athens in the form of a voice mail or fax message.

5b Students deliver their report to the whole class or to small groups.

Activity 6: Compare and contrast (40 min)

Handout 9

6a Using their knowledge of who has a say in ruling from previous activities, students fill in the first two rows of the chart on Handout 9.

6b In class discussion, guide students to contrast and to make comparisons between the political systems of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Athens. List the pros and cons of living under each system.

  • Name some differences between the ways Ancient Egypt and Ancient Athens were ruled. (Name the people who ruled each system.)
    Students will return to the chart throughout the unit to fill in the remaining row.
  • Who had a say in the system of rule in Ancient Egypt?
  • Who had a say in the system of direct democracy in Ancient Athens?
  • Which people had no say in each of the systems?
  • In Ancient Egypt one person ruled. In Ancient Athens, men who were freeborn with Athenian parents ruled. Which one do you think was more fair? Give reasons for your answer.

Handout 10

6c Students complete Handout 10.


Collect students' copies of Handout 10 and assess using the following criteria. The student can:

  • identify some rights or lack of rights of people in different places studied
  • identify each person's position in the ruling system.

Activity 7: Who would you be? (30 min)

Ask students to work individually or in pairs to prepare a spoken response on the following topic:

Imagine you have the power to choose to live as one of the people in the Power Pyramid of Ancient Egypt or the Power Pnyx of Ancient Athens.

  • Which person in which place would you choose to be?
  • Report to the class, giving reasons for your answer.


Assess the student presentations using the following criteria. The student can:

  • identify a person from one of the places studied
  • evaluate the pros and cons of living in each supported by reasons
  • appropriately describe self in one role based on information from the unit.

Further activity

Research the duties of citizens in Ancient Athens and write a short script set in a court of Ancient Athens (where only citizens can speak). Present the findings as a play to the class.

ESL activities

Back to 'Stories of the People and Rulers - At a glance'

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