The Power of One

9, 10, 11, 12

Students engage in activities that illustrate the importance of every person contributing his or her voice in a democratic community/society.

PrintOne 50-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • explain the importance of registering to vote and participating in the democratic process.
  • identify groups who have historically had fewer rights or groups who may not fully participate today in the democratic process for a variety of reasons.
  • identify issues of importance over which they would like to take action through advocacy.
  • Notebooks/paper
  • Pencils
  • Voter registration cards, enough for each student plus extras for students to distribute
  • Internet with video capability
  • Student copies of Handout 1: Use Your Voice
  • amendment: a change or addition, often refers to the Constitution
  • Civil Rights: equality in social, economic, and political rights for groups and individuals; usually upheld by laws
  • Constitution: the basic laws of the United States government
  • democracy: government with elected officials, usually with a belief in equality of rights and privileges
  • suffrage: the right to vote in public elections

Ask students to work in pairs to write brief responses to the following:

  • Many people all over the world have struggled and died for the right to vote. For example, in 2010, many young people in North African countries protested and overthrew dictator leaders for the right to vote. Why is voting so important that people will risk their career and life to gain the right?
  • What difference does it make who gets elected?
  • What could a candidate say to gain your vote?
  • What might they say that would cause you to vote against them?
  • What would you say if you were trying to get elected?


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask students what democracy means. Encourage students to offer any words or phrases that they think apply, in addition to the definition of the word itself. Write their words and phrases on the board. Emphasize the fact that a democracy is a government that is elected by the citizens.

  2. Briefly discuss voting as a right and a responsibility of living in a democracy.Ask, "How is voting a benefit? Why is it a responsibility?"

  3. To illustrate the importance of the right to vote, ask two students to stand at the front of the room. Explain to the rest of the group that these two students will have the right to make all the decisions for the rest of the group. They will be able to tell the other students where to sit, when to talk, what to wear, whether they may get up and move around the room, and what classroom resources they can use.

    • Instruct the two students at the front to make a few simple decisions. (For example, they could assign the other students to new seats and tell some they could talk and others to be quiet).
    • Ask the class if they would be happy with this arrangement. Why, or why not?
    • How would they change this system to be more fair? Revisit the reasons voting is a benefit and responsibility.
  4. Distribute Handout 1: "Use Your Voice" and provide a few facts about voting history, followed by the questions below:

    • After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment gave every man the right to vote regardless of race.
    • In 1920 the 20th Amendment gave all women the right to vote.
    • Even after these Amendments, many people were still discriminated against when it came time to vote.
    • People often had to prove they paid taxes, or could read and write before they were allowed to vote.
    • In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed to prevent these practices.
  5. Why might it be unfair to have these requirements for voting? Who might be hurt? What stories have you heard in the news lately about turning voters away (requiring drivers' license)?

  6. Think about the preceding class exercise. Why is it important for everyone to be represented in our government? How does it hurt a democracy when some people are excluded?

  7. Briefly discuss “close calls” in voting history: Numerous elections have been won—and lost—by fewer than 10 votes. Many more elections are decided by a close margin of a few hundred votes. In the presidential election of 2000, there was a recount that took five weeks to decide whether Al Gore or George Bush had been elected president because the results had been so close.

  8. Play a short game of “What if?” Ask questions related to laws or events that have been shaped by elections. Start the game by asking questions and letting students speculate on possible outcomes. Then ask students to come up with the questions related to issues they feel are most important. In addition to larger, historical questions, try to include questions that are current and local in focus in the game.

  9. For example:

    • What if women never got the right to vote? What might be different?
    • What if the voting rights act had never passed? Would you or your family members be allowed to vote?
    • What if voting machines were not accurate and could be tampered with?
    • What if we did not have the Electoral College system?
Cross Curriculum 

Pass out voter registration cards to each student. Have them fill out a sample card with their personal information. Have students who are old enough send their voter registration cards into the county department. Discuss the responsibilty each citizen has to vote. Explain the importance of using your voice through voting to advocate for the issues that are important to you. Tell students that if they are not old enough to vote, they can still encourage their friends and family to register. They can advocate for the importance of using one's voice and tell them how easy it is to fill out the registration form.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
      3. 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.