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Focus question 3: Why should laws apply equally and be public?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Instant replay (30 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Only a few knew! (45 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: The law before and after (30 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: The Twelve Tables (30 min) ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: What makes laws fair? (15 min) ESL Activity 5
Assessment ESL Assessment
Further activity  

Activity 1: Instant replay (30 min)Handout 5

1a Prepare to replay the game 'Guess my rules' (Focus question 1, Activity 1) but this time, divide the class into four groups (A, B, C, D) and give each a role card cut from Handout 5.

1b Each group examines its role card in isolation and discusses the implications of the role on the way they play the game. Students in Group A should decide some rules for play in collaboration with the teacher.

1c To play, set up two teams: A team (consisting of all the 'A' players and half of each C and D players) and B team (consisting of all the 'B' players and the remaining C and D players). Explain that although there are four groups, there are only two teams and the players must play according to their roles.

1d After five minutes' play, return to the classroom for debriefing.

1e Students sit in their group and discuss the game before discussing the following questions as a whole class:

  • Was this game fair? Why? Why not?
  • Was this game easy to play? Why? Why not?
  • Who had most of the say?
  • Who was left out?
  • How did you feel? (as an A, B, C, or D player)
  • What if the classroom operated by this kind of system?
  • What do you think each of the different groups could do to make the rules fairer? Would Group A want change?

1f Each of the four groups makes a pluses, minuses and interesting (PMI) chart about the game from their perspective to present to the class.

1g As a class, compare this game to the one they played in Activity 1, Focus question 1. Is it possible for everyone to take part in a game when only some people know the rules? Is it fairer when a few people know the rules or when only one person knows the rules?

Point out where Rome is on the world map. Draw on the experiences of students who may have relations in Italy or who have been to Rome.

Activity 2: Only a few knew! (45 min)

2a Explain that a long time ago, the Ancient Romans had a system of laws which was run a little like the game they just played.

Show an illustration of the Forum (or market place), the centre of public life in the town. Here, important news is announced, elections and court cases are held, and the citizens of Rome gather.

2b After examining Handout 6 as an OHT, students identify which group, patricians, plebeians, women and slaves of Rome matches the role of each group A, B, C or D from the game 'Instant replay'.

Handout 6

Ask students to imagine what the consequences would be if the game situation applied to daily life. Discuss what might happen if they did not know the laws.

You know how hard it is to play a game if you do not know what the rules are. Imagine that you did not know the laws - you could break a law and go to gaol.

Most resource centres have pictorial materials of Ancient Rome, including the Forum and the citizens.

2c Students return to their groups (A, B, C, or D) to make a placard expressing the group's view of how fair (or otherwise) they think life is when only one group knows the laws.

Group A - patricians

Group B - plebeians

Group C - women

Group D - slaves

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

2d Hold a 'protest' rally in the classroom, with each group displaying and explaining its placard.

Activity 3: The law before and after (30 min)

3a Discuss the law-making process in Rome by displaying Handout 7 as an OHT. Ask students to comment on the fairness of the system from the perspectives of each of the Roman groups.
Stories of Democracy

3b Introduce Handout 8, and ask students to complete the checklist section before the plebeian protest. Students may also wish to draw on the information on Handout 6.

3c Introduce Handout 9 by explaining that eventually the plebeians became tired of the unfair law system. Display Handout 9 and discuss how the changes came about.

3d Students now complete the checklist column 'After' on Handout 8.
The Twelve Tables may have been made of bronze or wooden plates, but no-one really knows, as they were destroyed when the Gauls sacked Rome in 386 BC.

Activity 4: The Twelve Tables (30 min)

4a The Romans first wrote their laws down (about 2,450 years ago) and displayed them in the Forum on the Twelve Tables.

4b What were the laws like? Discuss some of the following examples:

  • no-one can bury or burn a body in the city
  • women cannot tear their hair out or wail too much at funerals
  • no-one can be executed without a trial
  • a person can be forced to go to court
  • a father has absolute power over his children
  • no-one can set fire to a house.
A father had the right to determine all aspects of his children's lives, including selling them into slavery to pay debts.

4c Compare the laws on the Twelve Tables with those of today:

  • Do you think that in Australia today we have laws similar to any of those above?
  • How could we find out?
  • Why was it important for the plebeians to have laws written down?

4d One law on Table XI said that a patrician and a plebeian could not marry each other but this law was changed. Discuss why a law such as this might change.

4e Divide the class into groups of four and ask them to consider why laws change. Suggest they consider road laws, remembering the information they encountered on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM. They should design posters entitled 'Why laws change' to add to the frieze.
Stories of democracy Handout 10

Activity 5: What makes laws fair? (15 min)

Ask students to consider what makes a good law. Distribute Handout 10 and ask students to decide which statements on Handout 10 they think should be true of fair laws. They can add additional principles to the reverse of the page.


Collect Handouts 8 and 10 and assess using the following criteria. The student can:

  • identify changes in the process of making laws in Ancient Rome following the Twelve Tables after the plebeian protest
  • identify principles of fair laws.

Further activity

Students may develop short group scenarios illustrating the struggle between patricians and plebeians for power and protection from unfair laws. Some scenarios may include women and slaves who want changes in law.

ESL activities

Back to 'Rules and Laws - At a glance'

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