Developing a Personal Definition of Civic Virtue—e pluribus unum

9, 10, 11, 12

The learners will identify and describe many different characteristics of civic virtue using material from a variety of sources and then select the characteristics they believe are most important.

PrintOne to Two Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • create a list of specific terms and phrases related to the characteristics of civic virtue.
  • develop their own definitions of civic virtue using at least five different words or phrases.
  • formulate a conclusion on whether the civic virtue of United States citizens today is of enduring nature and support that conclusion with at least two examples in a written essay.
  • copies for one-third of the class of each of these handouts:
  1. Philosophy of Rousseau
  2. The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution
  3. Alexis deTocqueville's Democracy in America
  • one teacher copy Key Terms and Phrases Related to Civic Virtue
  • student copies of handout Holistic Scoring Guide for Civic Writing
  • student copies of handout Student Handout: Instructions for First Essay on Civic Virtue
  • Constitution Society Web site. Constitution of the Iroquois Nation.
  • Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Edited by Edward Hacker. New York: Washington Square Press, 1973.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Review previous day's material by having students identify at least four words or phrases that describe good citizenship and civic virtue from the reading assignment.

  2. Explain that many different cultures and writers have contributed to our modern understanding of this term and that your students are going to spend some time learning about these different viewpoints and developing a personal definition of the word.

  3. Have the students count off as A, B and C.

  4. Give each A student a copy of Rousseau, each B student a copy of The Iroquois Confederacy Constitution, and each C student a copy of the Tocqueville excerpts from Democracy in America.

  5. Tell students to read the selection they have been given and underline all words or phrases that could be considered part of the definition of civic virtue.

    See Key Terms and Phrases Related to Civic Virtue  for a list of words and phrases that should be found in each article.

    Allow about 15 minutes for the individual reading. Amount of time may vary based upon the class reading level.

  6. Arrange the class into small groups of three-to-four students so there are three-to-four As meeting together, three to four Bs and three to four Cs in various groups.

  7. Give each group a piece of chart paper and a marker. Give them 10-15 minutes to discuss the article they read and to create a poster that includes the key words or phrases that constitute that author's definition of civic virtue. Spend some time with each group to make sure that they are identifying the key phrases.

  8. Have each group put their poster on the board and then lead a discussion on the similarities and differences in the various lists. Students should add at least 5 or 10 words and phrases from the lists on the board to their own lists created after reading the textbook material. Using this list, each student should identify at least five words or phrases he/she would include in his/her own definition of civic virtue.


Assign students to write a first draft of an essay, using Attachment Six: First Essay on Civic Virtue for the specific assignment and rubric. The essays should be evaluated using the rubric in the Attachment Five: Holistic Scoring Guide for Civic Writing instruction sheet.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Analyze philanthropic traditions of diverse cultural groups and their contributions to civil society.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss civic virtue and its role in democracy.