Session 3: How do we make change in a democracy?

Citizenship (Ages 11-14)
Session 3: How do we make change in a democracy?
  • How do we make change in a democracy?
  • Exploring democratic process as a non-violent alternative for resolving conflict on personal, local, national and global levels
Key Messages

There are many “tools” to affect change in a democratic society. Change is never easy; no tool is perfect and all require patience and the ability to listen to others.

  • Students will explore the different tools that are available to make change in a democratic society
  • Students will consider the different ways in which these tools may be used
  • Students will identify different ways of making change in a democracy
  • Students will explore the advantages and disadvantages of different methods
  • Students will develop skills that are needed to make effective change
Links to National Curriculum

Students will consider the role of citizens in democratic government, the roles played by public institutions and voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities.



  • Before the start of the session, print out MV Citizenship Resource 3.2 Tools of change images and place them around the classroom.
  • This session starts by using the analogy of redecorating a house to get students thinking about the different ways that it is possible to make change in a democracy.
  • Begin by projecting Slides 1 and 2 of MV Citizenship Resource 3.1 Making change.  Ask students to think about their home. If they could change one thing, what would it be? Is it ever possible to have the perfect home? Slide 3:  Have they ever helped to redecorate a room or do DIY? If they wanted to change something in their home, what tools would they need? (Hammer, spanner, paintbrush, screwdriver, drill etc).

Phase 1

  • Slide 4: Now, instead of thinking about their house, ask students to think about the whole country. What would they like to change? They can write their ideas on post-it notes and stick on the board. Do they think these ideas are possible? Realistic? How could they make these things happen?
  • Slides 5 to 7: Introduce the “toolbox of change”. Just as you need the right tools to redecorate a house, you also need the right tools if you want to make changes to the country. Working in pairs (or groups), students look at the images displayed around the classroom and think about the different tools and how they might be used, completing MV Citizenship Resource 3.3 Tools of change sheet as they go.
  • Note that while some of the tools may be obvious, others will be less so (e.g. the cup of tea, used here to symbolize the power of having conversations and building face-to-face relationships with people; or the bike lock, a tool often used by direct action activists who may chain themselves to fences or gates during a blockade). It doesn’t matter if students don’t get the “correct” answers; the point is that they start thinking creatively about ways to make change. You may want to talk them through one example to give them the idea.

Plenary 1

  • Ask students to feedback their ideas. Use the images and keywords on Slides 9 to 18 to support and enrich their suggestions.  Some of the images are linked to news stories or web pages that will give you detailed examples if you want to explore any of these tools in more depth.

Phase 2

  • Ask students to discuss the different tools by answering the questions on the Slide 19. This could be done orally or as a written activity; individually, in groups, or as a whole class.
  • Ask students to think about the kind of skills and qualities they need to make effective change. (You could extend the “decorating a house” analogy here by first asking them what skills and qualities they would need for that task).
  • Slide 20: Ask students to draw stick person. Around the head, they should write the knowledge that they need to make change (who is for and against their idea; evidence to support their arguments; who has the power to make a decision, etc). Around the heart, they should write the personal qualities (determination, patience, confidence etc). Around the hands, they should write skills (listening skills, public speaking, computer skills etc).

Plenary 2

  • Discuss students’ ideas from the stick person activity. At the moment, what skills and qualities do they already have? What skills and qualities do they need to work on?
  • Slide 21: Question: What might make it difficult to make change in a democracy? This is an opportunity to remind students that they can’t always get their own way.  Perhaps others disagree with them, maybe they’ve got their facts wrong, or maybe there are deeper problems with society still being unfair.
  • Slide 22: Students place themselves in the room according to how much they agree or disagree with the statement, “Violence is an acceptable way to make change.”  Slide 23 brings the session to an end by relating this session to Miriam’s story.  Those who used violence on 7/7 had non-violent alternatives that would not have contravened the rights of others.