in Occupy Wall Street - and the classroom
will learn the definition of democracy
will identify some ways democracy is practiced in the country,
city/town and school and classroom
will learn how the protesters at Occupy Wall Street are using
will consider ideas for making their classroom more democratic
will determine the feasibility of their democratic ideas
of Idea chart
lesson is geared towards upper elementary and middle school students.
It helps students explore the meaning of democracy and how it
plays out in our society, as well as how Occupy Wall Street and
other "Occupy" movements are using elements of democracy
in their protests. It then asks students to apply the principles
of democracy in their own classroom, developing ideas and strategies
for making their classroom more democratic.
up if you've ever voted.
up if you've ever decided what kind of report you were going
up if you've been on the Student Council.
up if you've stated an opinion clearly and strongly.
up if you've helped a group of friends come to a decision in
which they all agreed.
your own statements if you like.)
Create a semantic web with the word "democracy" in the
the students: What is democracy? What are some words and phrases
that come to mind when you hear the word democracy? Record their
responses on the web, drawing lines between ideas that go together.
It might look something like this.
the web is completed, ask: What do you notice about the web? What
does it tell you about democracy? What kind of feeling do you
have while reading it?
with the students, define democracy as follows:
1 a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority
b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people
and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system
of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
Ask: In what ways is our country democratic? How about
our city/town? What about in our classroom and school? Get students
to think about key elements of democracy which include:
2. Participation/having a voice or say
3. Free speech
4. Communication (making sure people understand what's
students share examples of how democratic principles are present
in the country, city/town, and school/classroom. If they have
a hard time coming up with ideas, suggest some of your own first
to get the discussion going.
might also note that there are some ways that our country isn't
always democratic, even though people do have rights such as a
vote and free speech. Ask students if they can think of some examples.
(Examples include: People and corporations with lots of money
can make political contributions that give them more influence
over our government than other people. Another: People who have
a lot of power and resources can pay to have their opinion heard.)
Principles of Occupy Wall Street
Ask students: Have you heard about Occupy Wall Street? Do you
know what the protest is about? Do you know how Occupy Wall Street
is organized and how they work together? If they don't know anything
about Occupy Wall Street or how it is being organized, share the
following with them:
Wall Street is a group of activists who want to change the way
money, wealth, and income are distributed in the U.S. They want
to change the fact that there is a very big difference between
how much money and wealth rich and poor people have. Also, they
want to make our country more democratic so that even people with
little money and power can have more of a voice.
group of people, mostly young people, came together in New York
City on September 17, 2011, and began gathering in Zuccotti Park
in downtown Manhattan near Wall Street. Several hundred stay overnight
and sleep in sleeping bags. Since then, they have organized many
protests and marches, and thousands of other people have joined
in these protests.
are now hundreds of "Occupy" protests going on all over
the country and even in other countries.
Zuccotti Park, there are information stations, a recycling center,
a medical station, a media center where a gasoline generator powers
computers. At the east end sits the library, labeled cardboard
boxes brimming with donated books: nonfiction, fiction, poetry,
legal. There is a lost and found. The protesters are concerned
about many issues, and have varied points of view. But the main
focus of the protest is about inequality in our country.
way they have organized themselves and how they make decisions
is different than other movements. In protests, they sometimes
chant, "This is what democracy looks like." They are
trying to show the kind of society they want to live in by the
way they act and the way they organize themselves. They have been
called a "leaderless movement."
What do you think it means to be a "leaderless movement?"
Do you like that idea?
have a General Assembly, or "GA," every day, that includes
hundreds of people in Zuccotti Park. Anyone who is at the encampment
at the time of the meeting can participate. The meetings are led
by facilitators who rotate on a regular basis. They offer training
in facilitation so that anyone who wants to participate as a facilitator
can. Occupy Wall Street has working groups - open and inclusive
- to address particular needs of the encampment, including food,
medical and legal needs, outreach, and security. The working groups
periodically report back to the GA. Occupy groups use a consensus
process, and anyone can join in the decision-making and propose
What is consensus? How does it work?
Occupy Wall Street, if you have an idea, you state what it is
and then you have to respond to questions, justify why you think
it's a good idea and how you would go about making it happen.
Then the whole group discusses it and votes on it. Votes are cast
using hand signals (waving fingers up for yes, down for no). Proposals
are revised until 9/10 (90%) of the group agrees.
New York City requires a permit for "amplified sound"
(bullhorn or microphone), at Occupy Wall Street they have to use
what's called a "human microphone." Ask: What do you
think that means?
works this way: When someone needs to communicate with everyone,
they make their statement, and then everyone who can hear them
repeats back what they said in unison to amplify the speaker's
words. This creates a democratic feeling among the people who
are participating. It feels as if everyone's words are heard and
valued. Because of this, Occupy movements across the country and
the world are using this same process - even when they have a
How are democratic principles being used to organize and communicate
about Occupy Wall Street? Why do think it's important to the protesters
to use these principles? What do you think about it?
Democracy in our Classroom
Distribute large chart paper and markers and divide the students
into small groups of 4-5 students each. Ask each group to draw
a picture of what a democratic classroom might look like. What
would be in the classroom? How would it be arranged? How would
students feel? How would students, teachers, administrators relate
to each other? How would the class be organized? All of this should
be represented in their drawings.
the groups 10-15 minutes to do the drawing, and then have the
students hang the pictures around the classroom. Have students
do a "picture walk" to look at all of them and then
have each group present to the class.
What are your ideas for making our class more democratic? (This
can include new ideas, in addition to what is already happening
in class that they want to continue.) What about in our school
as a whole? As the students are coming up with the ideas, record
them on the board or chart paper.
list could include:
what we are learning in class/make curricula decisions
a student council in the class to create and enforce rules
the classroom rules and consequences as a group
decide the menu for school lunch
consensus decision-making for important decisions
students take turns teaching the class
List all of their ideas, grouping together ideas that are connected.
See where most of the energy is and work with the group to narrow
the list down to five ideas they will be pursuing in greater detail.
If you can't come to consensus about which five to choose, vote.
students divide into five small groups of 4-6 students each. Their
task will be to take one of the ideas and discuss it together,
coming up with the pros and cons of the idea for students and
for the teacher, and to answer a list of questions about the idea.
(For whole school ideas, you could also add pros and cons for
the school.) The goal of the small group work is to determine
if the idea will make the classroom more democratic, if it is
a good idea, and what would be needed to make it happen.
might want to make sure students understand that this is an exploration,
and that there's no guarantee that the class can implement a particular
proposal. You as the teacher have a certain role you must play.
Also, there are many people outside the classroom who make decisions
affecting your classroom - and who also have a real stake in what
happens in the classroom.
will use the following chart and list of questions to work out
the idea. (A specific example is given but you should distribute
blank sheets for the students).
decide what books they read for English literature class.
like the books because they choose them and are more motivated
might not get to read as wide a variety of books (genre).
might be hard to make a decision in which all students agree.
will be motivated to read the books since they choose them.
Teacher might not know the books well and have more to read
may not be able to cover everything for standards and prep
for high school.
Idea # ___:
completing the chart, the group should answer the following questions:
What is the reason you are proposing this idea?
does it make the classroom/school more democratic?
it a good idea? Why or why not?
would be needed to implement the idea? What conversations would
Have each group present their idea (pros, cons, response to questions)
to the whole class. Allow students to ask questions. As a group,
try to determine which ideas could actually be implemented, and
which are the best one or two ideas. Make a plan for implementing
a method of identifying and solving problems that depends on creative
thinking, the use of analogy, and informal conversation among
a small group of individuals with diverse experience and expertise.
the large group, ask students to think of:
five machines (e.g. TV, car, ipod touch)
things that occur in nature (tree, mud)
thing people like to do (e.g. eat, dance)
their responses on the board or chart paper. Give students the
is like a __________________ because ____________________."
to the first machine and use that word to fill in the blank ("Democracy
is like an ipod touch because it includes many different voices.")
through the list of words, having students complete the analogy
for each one.
lesson was written for TeachableMoment.org by Jinnie Spiegler.
We welcome your comments. Please email them to: email@example.com.