Key Concepts in a Democratic Society

9, 10, 11, 12

Through an introductory pre-test, the learners will establish their prior knowledge of key terms and concepts important to creating and sustaining a democratic society.  The learners then will expand this knowledge and understanding through guided reading and presentations.

PrintTwo fifty minute class periods

The learner will:

  • assess the previous knowledge of key terms in philanthropy and civil society.
  • explore and increase knowledge through readings.
  • research, categorize and construct a presentation.
  • identify key individuals and events in American history that exemplify the concepts.
  • Pre-Test (handout)
  • Student copies of Presentation Rubric (handout)
  • Computers for access to assigned articles, additional research resources, and construction of presentation
  • Five copies of each Briefing Paper from the Learning To Give web site


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Use the handout Pre-Test to assess the students’ knowledge of key terms. Distribute the handout to all students and have them free write what they know about each term (pre-test). Collect the handouts, saving for end of unit assessment (post-test).

  2. Terms to define:

    1. Civil Society
    2. Philanthropy
    3. Civic Virtue
    4. Community Capital
    5. Common Good
  3. Research: Arrange the students in 5 groups. Assign each group one of the above terms to research. Hand out the corresponding briefing paper and make other resources (electronic or print) available to the groups.Students will then construct a presentation that defines the term, identifies an historical example and individual famous for the promotion of this concept, and summarizes the importance of the concept in a democracy.(Medium for the groups’ presentations will depend on available resources in the school, and student choice.)The research may also be extended as a homework assignment.

  4. Allow each group to present their research findings. Encourage the learners to take notes, make additions, and ask questions during each presentation.

  5. Check for Understanding - Enrichment: Engage in a discussion on the importance of the citizen engagement. Discuss the four sectors (business, civil society/nonprofit, government, household) and how each sector contributes to promoting key concepts in the student presentations. In their small group have the students brainstorm, through free writing, additional individuals famous for promoting these key concepts. Share these in a full class discussion.


Groups will present projects on key terms and students will take notes. Research projects will be assessed according to the Presentation Rubric (Handout Two) Teacher Note: Compare students’ lists with list of famous philanthropist on Handout One, Lesson Two. Make additions and subtractions to individualize Lesson Two.

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. Benchmark HS.2 Identify and discuss examples of philanthropy and charity in modern culture.
      3. Benchmark HS.3 Explain and give examples of how a democratic constitution requires and protects philanthropic behavior as a democratic principle.
    2. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Recognize and use a variety of terms related to the civil society sector appropriately, and identify the characteristics the terms describe.
    3. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Compare and contrast the basic terms and operations of the for-profit, government, family, and civil society sectors.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define the phrase <i>community/social capital</i> and discuss how it relates to all communities and the problem of factions.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.13 Define and offer examples of community/social capital.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss civic virtue and its role in democracy.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.10 Identify reasons why historic figures acted for the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.
      3. Benchmark HS.8 Explain the concept of community/social capital and how it contributes to building a democratic society.