Active Citizenship of Benjamin Franklin

6, 7, 8

Learners explore the contributions and recommendations of Benjamin Franklin as a person who engaged in active citizenship.

PrintOne 50-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • identify various ways Benjamin Franklin contributed to society.

copies of handouts below

  • The Rattlesnake as a Symbol of America 
  • The Many Accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin, cut in strips and pasted on a note card
  • Core Democratic Values Defined 
  • Overhead of $100 bill 
  • Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids 
  • "Core Democratic Values Defined." Civitas: A Framework for Civic Education, a collaborative project of the Center for Civic Education and the Council for the Advancement of Citizenship, National Council for the Social Studies Bulletin No. 86, 1991.
  • GuideStar. Many donors and grantmakers use GuideStar to research nonprofit organizations before they give money. 


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask if the young people can identify the animal symbol of the United States (bald eagle). Then share some reasons that Benjamin Franklin suggested the rattlesnake as an appropriate symbol. Read from the handout below. Discuss whether the rattlesnake metaphor is appropriate (Parallels: vigilance, generosity and courage, 13 rattles with oppportunity to grow more, rattles work together/not separately, gains power by being with others).

    Optional: They may wish to suggest other animals with a symbolic reason to represent the country. 

  2. Benjamin Franklin is known for his active citizenship and creative ideas for encouraging people to contribute to society. In what kinds of activities would a citizen participate to have active citizenship?  

    Individuals, as responsible members of their communities, may give their time and volunteer their services to help obtain needed improvements. Active participation on local school boards and parent-teacher associations improves educational services. Citizens can take an active part in the community by offering their knowledge and talents to different local organizations or committees. Participation in town meetings, public hearings and community projects is important for community improvement and identifying and solving problems (Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids).

  3. Define philanthropy as "giving one’s time, talent or treasure for the sake of another, or for the common good." It may also be described as "voluntary action for the public good." Ask the learners for examples of giving time, talent and treasure. Do the learners see any connection between active citizenship and philanthropy?

  4. Explain that Franklin was known by many titles: scientist, inventor, statesman, printer, philosopher, musician, and economist. Write these on paper and hang up around the room. Pass out the index cards of Benjamin Franklin’s accomplishments. Ask the learners to stand by the role (on the wall) they feel corresponds with the accomplishment in their hand. The learners tell the others about the accomplishment and how it corresponds to the role he held in society.

  5. Discuss: "Would you consider Benjamin Franklin a philanthropist because of his active citizenship?" 

  6. Now it is the learners' turn to make a contribution to society through active citizenship.

    In groups, have the learners brainstorm a list of nonprofit organizations that are making a contribution to improving life. You may give them a list of 4-5 to get started. Through discussion and research, they identify the nonprofit whose work they want to support. They may each do chores at home to earn a dollar and combine their dollars to make a financial contribution. Alternatively, they may contact the nonprofit and find out what their needs are and how they can help with their time or talent. 

Cross Curriculum 

Learners will analyze one philanthropic organization to which they may choose to send a one-dollar (or more) contribution.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
    2. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark MS.1 State the purpose of a mission statement and describe how civil society organization mission statements relate to philanthropy.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.10 Give historic and contemporary examples of a voluntary action by an individual or a private organization that has helped to enhance a fundamental democratic principle.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.