Lesson: What Is A Good Rule? Creating Initiatives

Lesson Overview

This lesson offers students the opportunity to play the role of voters with special interests. Students draw up initiatives for new classroom or school rules. Students listen to other students’ interests, provide justifications for new rules, and prioritize initiatives for ballot consideration.

Suggested Grade Level

Elementary (Grades 5–6)

Estimated Time to Complete

Two class periods

Lesson Objectives

After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

  • define the vocabulary terms
  • apply learned standards for a good rule to their own created rules;
  • distinguish between rules and initiatives
  • write clear and concise initiatives;
  • explain the need for supportive information for an initiative;

Materials/Supplies Needed


  • democracy
  • direct democracy
  • initiative
  • majority
  • referendum

Before the Lesson

Assign as homework: create a new class/school rule, and explain why it is needed. (To create a proposed initiative)

Lesson Procedure

1. Beginning the Lesson: What Is a Good Rule?

(Vocabulary words are listed as part of this lesson. You the teacher should complete whatever vocabulary activity that your class has become accustomed to, i.e. a vocabulary-wall or a journal entry, etc. Definitions can be found in Teacher Resource 1 if needed.)

Ask students to take out their homework assignments, because they will use it during this lesson. Explain to students what new rules they have created will be refined and become initiatives that the class will vote on. Once voted on they will be participating in direct democracy. A term they should be able to define.

Conduct a short brainstorming activity with the students. Ask them to tell you what are the traits of a good rule? Place their answers on the board without questions or justifications

Now, look at the list created. Ask students why the traits or criteria listed belong on the list.

Project Teacher Resource 2 on a screen or the classroom board (or reprint it on the board). These are accepted standards for rules. Have students compare their list they brainstormed with this one. What are the differences and similarities?

Using the following hypothetical classroom Rule, ask students to apply each trait/standard.

Rule: Any student who is late to class must stay after school for two hours every day for a month.

Does it “address a specific problem”? Yes – prevent student tardiness.

Is it “fair”? No - Two hours is too long a penalty for being late to class. Some students may arrive only one or two minutes late.

Is it “Understandable/Clear”? Yes

Is it “possible to obey”? Yes, students can take the late bus home or have parents pick them up from school.

Is it “legal”? Yes, a teacher or a principal can set discipline rules for a class/school.

So is this a good rule as is or does it need to be adjusted?

2. Transitioning from a rule to an initiative

Ask students to differentiate between an initiative and a referendum. (and provide an example of each)

Do they believe that the proposed rules they wrote for homework (which should be out at this point) are the same as initiative or referendums and why?

Tell the class that each student has created a proposed initiative for a class ballot.

Break the class down into groups (each group should have 4 or 5 students).

Explain to the class that each group will listen to, evaluate, and vote on new rule/initiative proposals by the group members.

They have 20 minutes to complete their considerations (or however much time you decide to give them) once they begin.

Ask that one group member pick up Student Handout 1 for each member of his or her group.

Review the handout with the class and instruct the groups to listen to member proposals and apply the Good Rule requirements for each proposal.

Each student will explain his or her suggested rule and offer reasons in favor of the rule to their group.

Group members should write their opinions on the rule requirements as each proposal is presented.

3. Using a Majority Vote to Choose the Group’s Initiative.

Students are to remain in their groups.

After the group hears all the suggested rules, they will take a vote to prioritize the rules.

Each group should have one initiative. 

  • Group members may need to take several votes in order to reach a majority vote in deciding their group’s initiative.
  • Students should keep a list of the votes garnered by the other rules/initiatives
  • Remind students that their secondary rules may be other groups’ chosen rules for the ballot.
  • Ask what this might mean for the class vote.
    • Students may respond that one of their own secondary rules may become an accepted initiative.

Let this response lead to a mini-discussion where you may ask the groups:

  • Have you applied each requirement for a good rule?
  • Have you changed the suggested rule to meet the requirement? Example?
  • How hard was it to decide via majority vote what your group’s initiative would be?
  • Is your suggestion for a new rule realistic for the class or school? Why?
  • Is there a possibility that this new rule will pass?
  • Could your teacher or principal accept it as a new rule?

Give the groups an additional few minutes for a final consideration of their rule/initiative, based on the mini-discussion.

4. Informing the Voters: Initiative Charts

When groups have reached the goal of identifying their choice for a good rule, distribute chart paper, and markers to each group. Each group will identify the initiative they have chosen for their group to be placed on a class ballot

  • Instruct the groups to write their initiative entry for the ballot on the chart paper
  • Tell them not to include the reasons for the rule.
  • Ask one person from each group to read their initiative to the class.
  • Instruct students to put all group member names on the initiative poster and give you their initiative proposals.
  • The Chart paper will be hung around the room
  • Explain that the class will have several days to ask group members questions about their initiative.

Tell the class that the initiatives will remain posted until the class vote.

(You as the teacher should decide if this will be done as a class initiative vote or as part of a larger simulated election.)

Use Teacher Resource 3 to type up the Class Ballot for the group initiatives.

5. Concluding the Lesson: Let’s Vote!

On the Day of your choosing, the class should vote on the initiatives.

  • Read them out loud to the class before they vote.
  • Have a student remind the class the ‘majority’ vote is needed for an initiative to pass and what would be for your individual class
  • Choose which student (or 2) will count the votes and share the results with the class.
  • After the results are shared, conduct a mini- discussion. (the following questions may be asked.)
    • Are you surprised by the vote? Why? (ask students to be specific)
    • Did they have enough time to ask questions of the groups?
    • Would they do anything differently knowing what they know now? Why/what or why not?
    • What has this taught them?


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