Get Up, Stand Up

9, 10, 11, 12

Students explore the connection between rights, laws, and voting in a democracy. They learn about their local government structure and visit a public office to collect data through interviews and observations.

PrintOne 50-Minute Class Period and Additional Time for a Field Trip to a Public Office

The learner will:

  • identify rights and responsibilities of US citizens.
  • understand the concept of civil rights, and how they relate to the ideals of democracy.
  • identify ways in which laws uphold civil rights.
  • identify a right, and defend in a debate format whether citizens should or should not have that right.
  • locate and contact a public office to visit on a future date.
  • determine questions to ask and information to research about local government.
  • identify the resources required to run local government.
  • gain insight into the daily workings of the local governmental systems.
  • develop a greater awareness of the structure and function of various political and governmental positions and offices.

• White board or flip chart• Markers• Notebooks/paper• Pens/pencils• Phonebook• Internet• Notebooks/clipboards with paper• Pens/pencils• Typed questions lists (generated by students)• Cameras (optional); voice recording device (optional)

  • amendment: a change or addition, often refers to the Constitution
  • Bill of Rights: the first ten amendments to the US Constitution
  • Civil Rights: equality in social, economic, and political rights for groups and individuals; usually upheld by law
  • Constitution: the basic laws of the United States government
  • Constitutional rights: rights that are specifically stated in the US Constitution
  • democracy: government with elected officials, usually with a belief in equal of rights and privileges
  • Miranda Rights: rights that are read to a person who is arrested so they are not forced to say things that can be used against them in court
  • public office: an office created by a constitution or legislative act, having a definite tenure, and involving the power to carry out some governmental function

Ask students to consider the following scenario and write about how they would respond:

You have been elected to public office. A group of citizens have come to you with a petition stating that their rights are being violated. A waste management plant is planned for construction in their neighborhood, and they want the site to be located away from their homes and schools. The waste management company states that the land is approved for building their facility, and they have followed proper procedure. The group of citizens provides research that the plant may be harmful to their health. The waste management company denies these claims. The group with the petition says they have a right to a clean environment. All people involved have voted for you, and they want you to help solve their problem.

Guiding questions for reflection: How do you, as an elected public official, help resolve this conflict? Who would you ask for help? Is there a way for both sides to win or feel the outcome is fair? How do you decide what is fair? Is the legal path always the fair path?

Ask students to reflect on how they were feeling during the trip to the community office. Did they feel comfortable? Were they nervous? Excited? Interested? Bored? What would it be like to work in a place like they visited? What would they like about it, and what would they dislike?


  1. Day One:

    Anticipatory Set: Ask students to define “rights,” then ask them to list some basic rights of US citizens. Write their answers on the board. Be sure the list includes rights from these groups:

    1. Miranda rights protect the Constitutional right not to say things that can be used against you in court.
    2. Civil rights protect people from discrimination in voting, education, housing, employment, and the use of public facilities based on race, color, or national origin.
  2. Choose a right or law that is currently debated in the pubic forum. Topics might include national issues, such as the right to carry concealed guns in public places; the right of same-sex couples to marry; the right for a woman to have an abortion; the right to drink alcohol at age 21. Local issues of interest should also be considered. Topics should be current and appropriate for the group.

  3. Randomly move the class into two groups. Assign one group the “pro” position and the other group the “con” position. Give students five minutes in their groups to create a list of reasons to support their position on the law. Students on the “pro” side list how the law upholds the individual’s rights. Students on the “con” side list how the law interferes with others’ rights.

  4. Hold an informal debate of the issue with representatives from each side sharing their main points.

  5. Discuss how students feel about the process of determining what is right when there are two sides to an issue.

  6. Tell students that one way citizens give their opinion about issues is by voting for people who represent their views. Voting is an important responsibility, because our rights are determined through the vote—either indirectly by the people we elect, or directly through a popular vote. Our other major responsibility is to follow the law (whether we agree with them or not), because the purpose of laws is to protect our rights and the rights of others.

  7. Ask students to imagine what society would be like if some people were not allowed to share their opinion with lawmakers. For example:

    • What if only one side of the room was allowed to vote?
    • What if people who lived in houses with odd-numbered addresses were prevented from giving their opinions to lawmakers?
  8. Inform students that they have the opportunity to visit a public building where laws are made and/or upheld. Use Internet searches or the blue pages of local telephone books to identify possible locations for the trip. Options include the following: the courthouse, an office of an elected official, or City Hall. A city organizational chart can be accessed online. As an alternative, students could visit a nonprofit advocacy organization that supports the civil right, or the particular law that they are defending.

  9. Allow students to vote to decide which building or office they would like to visit. The decision should be based on type of building or office, location, and areas of interest.

  10. Students should locate the contact information and prepare to call the office of their choice to arrange for a class visit:

    • Have one group write a brief script of what to say when making the call. The script should be fairly specific. The script should include an introduction (“My name is…. calling from…”); initial inquiry (“I would like to schedule a visit for my class…”); and follow-up questions (dates, times, and other details).
    • Students elect a peer to make the call, or it can be decided on a volunteer basis. The person calling should rehearse the script with peers before calling.
    • A facilitator should be available during the call to answer any questions and finalize arrangements.
    • Have students compose a list of questions they have prior to the visit. Suggestions include the following: How many people work in this office/building? How many of those people are elected? What is the agency/department budget? What services does this office provide? What area does it serve? What laws do they influence?
    • Details about the trip should be provided to families and proper permission acquired. Discuss proper attire for the field trip.
    • Day Two: Anticipatory Set: On the day of the field trip to a local government office, discuss expectations and roles. Advise students of proper etiquette of the office or building.
  11. Students divide prepared questions among the group. Several students should serve as “historians” and write down responses. If recording equipment is available, one student should be the “reporter” and tape-record any question-and-answer sessions or other relevant information. If cameras are available, assign several students to take photographs. Roles should be clear prior to leaving for the field trip.

  12. Instruct all students to pay attention to facts or observations they find interesting, surprising, confusing, or otherwise noteworthy. They willl write their observations after the field trip.

  13. Go on the field trip to learn about how laws are made and enforced or interpreted. Or, if they are visiting an advocacy group, they explore different forms of advocacy and outreach.

  14. Upon returning, allow each students to comment on one aspect that struck them as significant on the trip.

  15. Written reflection: Ask students to make note of several details of the environment/culture: What does the building look like on the outside? On the inside? Are there pictures or paintings on the walls? Of what/who? What are the decorations like? Is it quiet or noisy? How are the people you meet dressed? What kinds of roles do people have? What are their job titles? How do they introduce themselves?

  16. Follow-up: Share the collected interview notes and pictures and have each student write an analysis of the work of the people in the office they visited.

Cross Curriculum 

Students make up a children’s bill of rights based on the rights they learned in class. They will also access information about children’s rights, nationally and internationally, through an internet search. (Suggested sources include the Child Welfare League, the Children’s Bureau, UNICEF and the United Nations.) Local agencies that serve children can be located in the phone book and through an online search. Students will create a bookmark or brochure listing key rights of children and contact information of local agencies that provide assistance to children and families. These will be mailed or brought to local agencies and public offices for distribution to the public.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.
      2. Benchmark HS.6 Describe nonprofit advocacy organizations and their relationship to first amendment rights.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
      2. Benchmark HS.3 Participate in acts of democratic citizenship in the community, state or nation, such as petitioning authority, advocating, voting, group problem solving, mock trials or classroom governance and elections.
      3. Benchmark HS.4 Analyze and synthesize information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to public policy. Discuss these issues evaluating the effects of individual actions on other people, the rule of law and ethical behavior.