Knowing the Ropes: Citizenship

9, 10, 11, 12

The learners will review the fundamental democratic principles and beliefs of American democracy that unite a nation and promote the common good. They will look to their own school to apply them as a basis of positive character traits and philanthropic actions.


Photo credit: Know the Ropes by A.Davey is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

PrintOne Class Period

The learner will:

  • describe how citizenship relates to fundamental democratic principles and beliefs.
  • give examples of how the principles and beliefs promote the common good.
  • graphically interpret each principle and belief.
  • brainstorm philanthropic action they can take to promote justice and civic principles.
  • Student copies of the handouts

Write three ways their school is like a community or nation that also has principles of justice and ideals for action for the common good. 


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Display and discuss the following quote by Louis D. Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice (1856-1941):"The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen."

  2. Distribute the handout with the fundamental democratic principles and beliefs. Have the learners read them all silently, and then ask individuals to share their thoughts about which ones resonate with them. Have them use their own words to describe the term.

  3. Tell the students that these are the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship. Several are related to making decisions that are for the benefit of all.

  4. Assign one term to each student; some students may have duplicates. On a blank sheet of paper, each student draws and labels a representation of their assigned value/principle. Tell them that their representation will act as advocacy to "sell" others on the value of the concept and its meaning in our government and civil society.

  5. Have the learner share their pictures with the class and explain their symbolism and meaning. Display this artwork in the hall for others to learn from their portrayals. Have the students come up with a title for the display that is a call to action.

  6. Share the handout Top Ten Character Traits of an Awesome Citizen and discuss how these statements are related to the fundamental principles. Focus on the theme of encouraging personal action for the common good. Define philanthropy as giving time, talent, or treasure and taking action for the common good. Have a discussion prompted by the question: "Are all responsible citizens also philanthropists?"

  7. Brainstorm philanthropic action they can take as a class that is inspired by these traits of an awesome citizen. Say, "Let's make a list of five things we can do to make our part of the school a bit more awesome through the thoughtful actions of school citizens."  Narrow the list down to five the students can agree on and take action to implement.

  8. Guide the students to carry out their plans and engage the larger school community. Reflect on any observed changes in attitudes, behaviors, and culture.


The learners will be evaluated on their participation in discussion, the depth of their thought in drawing their representative illustration/icon and explanation, representative of the Fundamental Democratic Principles and Beliefs and/or the Top Ten Character Traits of an Awesome Citizen to which they were assigned.

Cross Curriculum 

Students may advocate for a civil society in their school. They may look for injustice, such as bullying, and take action to promote the welfare of all.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Explain and give examples of how a democratic constitution requires and protects philanthropic behavior as a democratic principle.
  2. 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 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.