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Focus question 2: What is a rule and what is a law?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: What is a rule? (10 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: What is a law? (20 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Road laws (40 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Why we need road laws (30 min) ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Pick the rule, pick the law (40 min) ESL Activity 5
Assessment ESL Assessment
Further activities ESL Further activities

Activity 1: What is a rule? (10 min)

1a The class makes a poster showing what a rule is. These posters become the first in a 'Rules and Laws' frieze.

1b Divide the class into five groups. Each group makes a poster showing:

  • a situation where certain rules apply
  • who has to obey these rules.

Activity 2: What is a law? (20 min)

Some students could now use the Stories of Democracy CD ROM.

2a Ask how students get to school.

2b Students solve this riddle, for those that come by car: I'm not a cap or coat, but you must put me on before you hit the road! What am I?


Stories of Democracy

  • Why must you wear a seatbelt?
  • What could happen if you do not wear a seatbelt? What are the consequences?
  • What could happen if a police officer saw you without a seatbelt?
  • Does everybody have to wear seatbelts in cars?

2c Repeat Step 2b, substituting 'helmet' for 'seatbelt' for students who ride bikes and must wear helmets by law.

2d Discuss what makes wearing a seatbelt or helmet a law. List the reasons on the board in a column. Ask students to suggest other laws they know and list those on the board. Discuss why these are laws.

Handout 2Activity 3: Road laws (40 min)

3a Distribute Handout 2 and discuss the laws depicted on the handout and who is bound to obey them.

3b Divide the class into small groups. Assign one of the following roles to each:

Road rules are road laws - they apply to everyone.

  • cyclist
  • parent with small child
  • person with sight impairment
  • newly arrived migrant or foreign tourist
  • senior citizen.

Alternatively, play the headline as an audio-taped 'radio' newsflash.

3c Announce the headline: 'Shock Stop! Road laws cancelled for the rest of the day!'

3d Each group considers the impact of not having any road laws if they had to cross the road to go shopping.

  • How do you think having no road laws would affect you?
  • What might happen to you?
  • What care would you have to take? What care or responsibilities would others have to take?
  • What do you need road laws for?

Handout 1 Stories of Democracy

3e Distribute another copy of Handout 1 to each group and have them complete a 'Consequences tree' (replacing 'rule' with 'law').

3f Each group selects a member to be their VOX POP (voice of the people in the street) for a brief 'radio interview' conducted by the teacher as a form of reporting back.

Some students could now use the Stories of Democracy CD ROM.

3g Consider rules and compare them with laws. Students might refer to the two versions of their 'Consequences trees' and the list of suggestions on the board. Each group should complete a 'PMI' (a plus, minus and interesting chart).

3h Each group prepares a one-minute oral presentation:

  • What are the differences between rules and laws?
  • Are the punishments for breaking laws generally more serious than those for breaking rules? Why is this?

Rules apply to small groups in special circumstances whereas laws apply to the broader society.

3i As a class draft a final definition about rules and laws and add to the 'Rules and laws' frieze.

Activity 4: Why we need road laws (30 min)

4a When all the groups have completed the interactive on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM conduct a short debriefing session. Discuss:

  • why we needed to have road laws Stories of Democracy
  • how and why the road laws changed over time
  • the processes the students used to solve the road laws game and the effects of the process on the traffic.

4b Working in small groups or pairs, ask students to list the most important ideas they understood from the interactive. Report back and create a whole class list. As a class, prioritise the ideas.

4c Student groups should then develop a slogan about one of the ideas for display in the classroom.

Activity 5: Pick the rule, pick the law (40 min)

5a Take students outside, walk around the school block and list evidence that students see for rules and laws that operate in the area. For example, Speed limit and 'stop' signs indicate road laws while a canteen sign might indicate a school rule.Handout 3, 4

5b Distribute Handouts 3 and 4. In class, students work individually on Part A of Handout 4 to identify whether a rule or a law governs each situation (marked A, B, C, D, E, F or G) on Handout 3. To distinguish between a law and a rule, students might ask themselves, 'Does this apply to everybody in a state or territory (law) or only to some people/groups?'

5c Students fill in the table (Handout 4, Part B).

5d As a class, students check and verify where a rule or law applies.


Collect completed student handouts and assess using the following criteria. The student can:

  • identify some differences between rules and laws
  • identify some differences in the consequences of breaking rules and laws supported by reasons.

Further activities

  • Compile a class glossary of terms, to clarify key concepts. Each group of three students will research one term (such as consequences, court, democracy, discrimination, equality, fair, government, judge, justice, law, parliament, protection, responsibilities, rule, safety) and produce a page of illustrated text for the class glossary. The glossary could become a set of wall posters or a frieze, Rules and laws from A-Z.Stories
  • After completing the interactive on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM, students could consider a future with different kinds of transport, or the past. In groups of three, students list why some road laws might need to change.

ESL activities

Back to 'Rules and Laws - At a glance'

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