- Why should citizens attempt to influence elected officials?
Delaware Content Standards Integrated in the Instructional Strategies
Strategy 1: Gathering Information
The carousel brainstorming activity can be used to access prior knowledge. The focus of this brainstorm is determining how elected officials make decisions while in office.
Place students into groups of five. Write each of the following questions on an oversized sheet of paper, so that all five questions are placed in different areas of the classroom.
- What factors influence how an official votes on proposed legislation?
- How can special interest groups influence how an elected official votes?
- How can political parties influence how an elected official votes?
- How can constituents influence how an elected official votes?
- Why should citizens influence elected officials?
Assign each student a number (1 to 5) or have students draw a number and then ask them to move to the paper labeled with that number.
Each group should be given a magic marker that is a different color than the other groups. Give the group a minute or two to write an answer to the question or write everything they know about the topic.
After time is called the students move to the next question (4 to 5, etc.) and rotate around the room until they are finished answering all of the questions. Since more time is required to read the other groups’ notes before adding their own ideas, the teacher might want to add an additional minute each time the group rotates.
When students arrive back to their original question, the group should discuss what was added.
- Is anything still missing?
- Is anything included that they believe to be incorrect?
Have students collectively write a brief summary for their question/responses.
The group should then present their findings to the class. After all groups are finished a classroom debriefing should tie all five questions together.
1. What factors influence how an official votes on proposed legislation?
(personal beliefs; public opinion polls; pressure from their political party; pressure from fellow colleagues, particularly those who are sponsoring the bill; constituent contacts via letters, e-mails, phone calls, etc.; pressure from lobbying of special interest groups, etc.)
2. How can special interest groups influence how an elected official votes?
(lobbying, contributing money to legislature’s re-elections, running ads or brochures to influence public opinion, etc.)
3. How can political parties influence how an elected official votes?
(caucuses, party platforms, etc.)
4. How can constituents influence how an elected official votes?
(writing a letter, sending an e-mail, joining a special interest group, etc.)
5. Why should citizens attempt to influence elected officials?
(part of a citizen’s responsibility, consequences of public policy that he/she does not support, modeling for younger generations, etc.)
Check for Understanding:
Why is it often difficult for an elected official to decide how to vote on proposed legislation? Explain your answer.
2 – This response gives a valid reason with an accurate and relevant explanation.
1 – This response gives a valid reason with an inaccurate, irrelevant, or no explanation.
Strategy 2: Extending and Refining
Graphic organizers are useful tools to develop comparing and contrasting skills. In this strategy, students will begin to understand why citizens should influence elected officials by researching legislators’ voting records. The student may choose two senators, perhaps the two from Delaware, or two representatives at the state or federal level.
On-line resources to support this research include:
- Project Vote Smart
- Open Secrets – Center for Responsive Politics
- How to find out about Congressional votes
- United States Senate website
- United States House of Representatives website
- Delaware General Assembly
After selecting legislators, have students complete the graphic organizers to compare the background and voting records of two legislators.
Have students choose a public policy issue that is important to them: (e.g. the environment, education, etc.) and research how the senators or representatives have voted on that issue over the course of time. All of the legislative votes should focus on that one issue.
Click here for sample charts.
Check for Understanding
Based on your research, what criteria can a citizen use when deciding which legislators he or she should attempt to influence? Explain your answer.
2 – This response gives valid criteria with an accurate and relevant explanation.
1 – This response gives valid criteria with an inaccurate, irrelevant, or no explanation.
Note to teacher: More than one factor should be involved in a citizen’s decision.
Strategy 3: Application
Strategy Two helped students begin to understand why citizens should influence their elected officials by researching their legislators’ voting records and introducing them to the role that citizens can play as members of special interest groups. This strategy should help students increase their understanding of how citizens, through membership in a special interest group, can influence their elected officials.
The Jigsaw method of cooperative learning allows each student to be responsible for one aspect of a larger concept, in this case the role that special interest groups can play in influencing elected officials.
Have students in groups of four select a group leader. Each student is responsible for researching one special interest group. Teachers may wish to use these examples or allow students to select a special interest group that they find appealing:
- ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
- NEA (National Education Association)
- NRA (National Rifle Association)
Each group member will become an “expert” in providing information about one particular special interest group. Have the student research the following questions and complete a single column in a graphic organizer.
- How many members does the special interest group have?
- What is the group’s mission or goals?
- What methods does this group used to influence elected officials?
- What pending legislation is this group currently working toward influencing?
- Which political party(s) does this special interest group support?
- How successful is this organization in influencing public policy?
Have students break away from the larger group and meet with other students who are also researching the same special interest groups. The “expert groups” will share with each other their observations, analysis, conclusions, etc.
Have each “expert” add to or change their chart based on what the group shared.
Each “expert” will then go back to his/her original group and share their findings. Other members of their group should ask questions, discuss the information, and add it to their graphic organizer.
The role of the teacher is to float between the groups, answer questions, ask questions, or redirect when needed.
After all “experts” have shared with the group, students should discuss which of the four groups they believe is most successful in influencing public policy and reasons why they chose that group.
During the class debriefing, each group will present their conclusions. After all groups are finished, ask students to consider using a Think-Pair-Share strategy to answer the following question:
- Why might there have been differences of opinion about the most successful special interest group? What factors would cause this difference of opinion?
Check for Understanding
How do citizens, through membership in special interest groups, play an important role in influencing their elected officials? Explain your answer with an example.
2 – This response gives a valid explanation with an accurate and relevant example.
1 – This response gives a valid explanation with an inaccurate, irrelevant, or no example.