Citizen Participation

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will identify the ways citizens can become active participants in the community through political parties, interest groups, voting and providing public service. This lesson may include determination of need in the community and response.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Class Period with optional extender

The learner will:

  • compare and contrast the work of political parties and interest groups.
  • describe how citizens can become active participants in their community, working to improve the common good.
  • define and use the vocabulary of philanthropy when giving examples of experienced philanthropic acts.
  • Optional: identify needs and service opportunities in the community through a survey.
  • Heavy 8.5" x 11" paper
  • Crayons, markers, colored pencils
  • Teacher copy of handout Definitions 
  • multiple copies of handout: Survey Announcement Flyers
  • student copies of Service Opportunity Profile Worksheets
  • Community map (one per group)
Home Connection 

Learners are encouraged to ask their parents when they have given and received time, talents or treasure. Learners may use their parents and extended families as resources to assist them in reaching out to find community needs.

  • Bradley, Richard C. Service Learning: A Strategy for School Improvement and Building Community Partnerships. Columbus: Ohio Department of Education, 1999.
  • Constitutional Rights Foundation. "Service Opportunity Profile Worksheet". Module 4, p. 12 in Service Learning: A Strategy for School Improvement and Building Community Partnerships by Richard C. Bradley, Ohio Department of Education, Columbus OH, 1999.
  • Follman, Watkins and Wilkes. "60-Minute Community Search." Module 4, p. 11 in Service Learning: A Strategy for School Improvement and Building Community Partnerships by Richard C. Bradley, Ohio Department of Education, Columbus OH, 1999


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners to brainstorm a list of issues that they are concerned about in the country and community. Have them list ways they can influence decision-makers about these issues.

  2. Explain that political parties usually take a stance on issues and pursue policies that fit their point of view. Yet, non-politicians can also influence public policy. Citizens can form interest groups, also known as pressure groups and advocates.

  3. Political parties: 

    • nominate candidates for office and try to win elections to gain control of government.
    • are generally broad-based and seek to gain members with many points of view. To be successful, they must be concerned with the problems of most Americans, not just certain groups.
  4. Interest groups:

    • influence government officials to support certain policies. They may support candidates who favor their ideas, but they do not nominate candidates for office.
    • usually are concerned with only a few issues or specific problems. They do not try to gain members with different points of view.
    • are usually organized on the basis of common values rather than from geographic location, although some groups may limit their reach to a specific geographic area or be a local branch of a national group
  5. Ask the learners for examples of interest groups. 

    (labor unions, business groups, senior citizens’ organizations, religious groups, environmental interest groups, public interest and civil rights groups)

    • Ask why an interest group has more influence than one individual who wishes to get an idea across.
    • Is it possible for one person to support more than one interest group at a time?
  6. Explain that interest groups get their point across in the following ways:

    • lobbying: making contact with lawmakers or other government leaders to try to influence government policy. Persons who represent special interest groups are called lobbyists; they may be paid or citizen volunteers
    • media campaigns: using the mass media, including television, newspapers, radio and, increasingly, social media to inform the public and create support for their views.
    • legislator contact: interest groups urge their members to write, call and/or social media to government officials to show support for or against a public policy.
  7. Discuss what other ways citizens support their communities. 

    (vote, assist with campaigns, remain informed on what is going on in the community, volunteer with other citizens to help improve the community)

  8. Put the term philanthropy on the chalkboard. Ask for definitions from the learners.

    • When they have given their responses, define it as "the giving of one’s time, talent or treasure for the sake of another, or for the common good." Other definitions include: voluntary action for the public good, voluntary giving, voluntary service and voluntary association, primarily for the benefit of others.
    • Discuss ways that citizens act philanthropically for the community and people in the community.
    • Define and ask for examples of the following terms to make sure they are clear in the learners’ minds: service, time, talent, treasure, common good, volunteer. See Definitions (handout).
  9. Optional: Explain that the class will decide how they will advocate for one issue to improve the common good of the community. Before doing the project, they will investigate needs in the community and explore which issues area are of the greatest concern. 

  10. Optional: Brainstorm a list of key community individuals and nonprofits that are involved in community improvement (especially around the issues brainstormed). Invite individuals from the list to speak with the class about their philanthropic work for the good of the community. 

  11. Optional: Students create a survey to ask community members about what they see as the greatest needs of the community. The survey may include questions about issues and ways to solve. There may be questions about specific projects that need to be done. 

    The teacher or administrator should sign the document introducing the surveying students.

  12. Determine the best way for students to get a fair sampling of the community for surveying. This may be by dividing up an area of the community and assigning students to poll people in an assigned area, or by using email or social media to get feedback. Discuss bias and fair sampling techniques. Also, talk about student safely about approaching strangers. 

    Students survey people using  the pre-determined method.

  13. After the allotted time has passed, learners should return to the classroom and share the information. Locations should be marked on a master map. Generate a list of project ideas from group surveys to share with school and community leadership.


The survey of community needs and the wrap-up discussion may be used as an assessment of learning.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Explain why needs are met in different ways by government, business, civil society and family.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.9 Explain the role that public interest groups play in public policy formation.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.