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 can we make change in a democracy?
  • Exploring democratic process as a non-violent alternative for resolving conflict while respecting rights on personal, local, national and global levels
Key Messages
  • There are many “tools” at your disposal for making change in a democratic society.
  • Change is challenging.
  • No society is perfect but improvement is possible.
  • We can develop skills that are valuable in democratic process.
  • Explore the different tools that are available to make change in a democratic society
  • Consider ways in which these tools can be used
  • Identify ways of making change in a democracy
  • Identify the advantages and disadvantages of different tools of change
  • Develop skills that are useful when trying to make change
Links to National Curriculum
  • Acquire a sound knowledge and understanding of how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government
  • 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 done any decorating or DIY? If they wanted to make changes 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 your society, or your country, or the world.
  • The following activity can be organised according to the needs of your class. Either have the students circulating, or the images. Working in pairs (or groups), students look at the images and discuss how the different tools might be used, completing printed copies of MV Citizenship Resource 3.3 Tools of change sheet.
  • You may want to talk them through one example to give them the idea. Some of the tools are more obvious than others. For example, the cup of tea is used here to symbolise building face-to-face relationships with people and the power of having conversations. The bike lock is a tool often used by direct action activists who may chain themselves to fences or gates. 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 while respecting rights.
  • Ask students to feedback their ideas. Use the images and keywords on Slides 8 to 17 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 those tools in more depth.
  • The class can feed back using the question on Slide 18, "What have you found out?"

Phase 2

  • Discuss the different tools by answering the questions on the Slide 19. This could be done orally or as a written activity, individually, in pairs or groups, or as a whole class.
  • 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 Students draw a stick person. Around the head, they should write the knowledge that they need to make change (evidence to support their arguments; who is for and against their idea; who has the power to make a decision, etc). Around the heart, they should write the personal qualities (determination, patience, confidence, diplomacy etc). Around the hands, they should write skills (listening skills, negotiation, public speaking, computer skills etc).
  • 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 ends by relating this session to Miriam’s story with the question, "How does the theme (Different Needs, Common Ground) relate to Miriam’s story and making change?" Those who used violence on 7/7 had non-violent alternatives that would have respected others' rights, because we live in a democratic society.