Active Citizenship through the Spectacles of Benjamin Franklin
  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
    2. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark MS.1 State the purpose of a mission statement and describe how civil society organization mission statements relate to philanthropy.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.10 Give historic and contemporary examples of a voluntary action by an individual or a private organization that has helped to enhance a fundamental democratic principle.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.

Learners will develop an understanding of the importance of participating in active citizenship through their contributions to society. Benjamin Franklin will be highlighted as an example of a person who engaged in active citizenship.

PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • identify various ways Benjamin Franklin contributed to society.
  • describe how Benjamin Franklin’s achievements were examples of Core Democratic Values, active citizenship and philanthropy.
  • research and analyze philanthropic organizations which contribute to the community.
  • A picture or toy of a rattlesnake
  • Learner copies of The Rattlesnake as a Symbol of America (Handout One)
  • Large sheets of paper posted around the room, each with one of the following terms: scientist, inventor, statesman, printer, philosopher, musician and economist
  • The Many Accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin (Handout Two), cut in strips which are each pasted on a note card
  • Learner copies of Core Democratic Values Defined (Handout Three)
  • Overhead of $100 bill (Handout Four)
Home Connection: 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:The learners will take their dollar bills home and present their causes to their parents/guardians. Their goal will be to convince their parent/guardian to contribute a dollar to this cause. Each learner would bring this dollar to school and the class would mail it to the organization with a letter of explanantion.


Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids

"Core Democratic Values Defined." Civitas: A Framework for Civic Education, a collaborative project of the Center for Civic Education and the Council for the Advancement of Citizenship, National Council for the Social Studies Bulletin No. 86, 1991.

GuideStar. Many donors and grantmakers use GuideStar to research nonprofit organizations before they give money. 

The Franklin Institute On Line. [no longer available] 

  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Begin by showing the learners a toy (or picture) of a rattlesnake. Tell them that the U.S. government is considering changing the American symbol of the eagle to a rattlesnake. Ask learners the qualities rattlesnakes possess that may qualify them for such a prestigious honor and list them on the board (e.g., both the rattlesnake and the U.S. Government could be considered quick and efficient).


  2. Tell the learners, "As absurd as this idea seems, it was suggested in 1775." Distribute The Rattlesnake as a Symbol of America (Handout One) to each student. Divide the class into six groups. Assign each group a paragraph from the letter. Each group should analyze their paragraph for the qualities the author feels qualifies the rattlesnake to be the symbol. A spokesperson from each group should report to the class the quality (qualities) and the author’s reason. Compare the new list of qualities with the class-generated list from the Anticipatory Set.

  3. Ask the learners to define active citizenship. In what kinds of activities would a citizen participate to have active citizenship? Are the qualities found in the rattlesnake the same qualities that support our definition of active citizenship? Teacher Info: Individuals, as responsible members of their communities, may give their time and volunteer their services to help obtain needed improvements. Active participation on local school boards and parent-teacher associations improves educational services. Citizens can take an active part in the community by offering their knowledge and talents to different local organizations or committees. Participation in town meetings, public hearings and community projects is important for community improvement and identifying and solving problems (Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids).

  4. Define philanthropy as "the giving of one’s time, talent or treasure for the sake of another, or for the common good." It may also be described as "voluntary action for the public good." Ask the learners for examples of giving time, talent and treasure. Do the learners see any connection between active citizenship and philanthropy?

  5. Tell the class that the person who wrote The Rattlesnake as a Symbol of America was Benjamin Franklin. Explain that Franklin was known by many titles: scientist, inventor, statesman, printer, philosopher, musician and economist. Write these on the chalkboard, each at distance from the others. Distribute one of Benjamin Franklin’s accomplishments, listed on a note card (Handout Two), to each student. Ask the learners to go and stand at the title they feel corresponds with the accomplishment. The learners will then take turns telling the class about the accomplishment.

  6. Distribute Core Democratic Values Defined (Handout Three). Go over the words and their definitions. Ask the learners to select at least two core democratic values that correspond with the accomplishment on their card. Have the learners share their responses for their cards.

  7. Put the following question on the board: "Would you consider Benjamin Franklin a philanthropist because of his active citizenship?" Conduct a discussion on the topic.

  8. Show learners an overhead of a $100 bill (Handout Four). Our country has chosen to commemorate Benjamin Franklin’s contributions because of his belief that all people are created equal and each person should have the same opportunity to achieve success.

  9. Now it is the learners turn to make a contribution to society through active citizenship. In groups, have the learners brainstorm a list of non-profit organizations that they feel are making a contribution to improving life in the United States.

  10. Explain that organizations have mission statements which focus on their purpose. Allow the learners Internet access to research the mission statement, address and basic information about their chosen organization, including the problem this organization is attempting to solve. Learners may use to research charitable organizations.


Each learner will take the information they acquired about the nonprofit organization and create a $1 bill. On this bill they will include the name of the organization, its purpose, the core democratic values that the organization is demonstrating and why they personally feel this organization can make a difference. This project will be graded on the above focus areas. The teacher can determine point values for the areas.