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How Democratic Were Ancient Athens and the Iroquois Confederacy?

Prepare a report card on the political system of either ancient Athens or the Iroquois Confederacy.

Suggested Activities (selected) Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students examine the decision-making structures of ancient Athens and the Iroquois Confederacy and consider the degree to which they reflected the democratic ideals and principles of equity, protection for freedoms, representation, fairness and justice by preparing a report card on one of the models of democracy.

Use a graffiti exercise to review democratic principles
Invite students to participate in a graffiti exercise to review the key democratic principles of equity, protection for freedoms, representation and justice. Using markers and four sheets of chart paper, write, in large print in the centre of each sheet, one of the principles.

Organize students into four groups and invite them to gather around the four sheets of chart paper. Allow groups one minute to write all the descriptive words they can think of to describe the principle in the centre of the sheet. After one minute has elapsed, ask the groups to rotate clockwise to the next sheet of chart paper. Repeat the activity until groups have had an opportunity to contribute to all four sheets. Ask groups to return to the principle they began with to see what other groups have added.

Develop criteria for assessing democratic systems
Inform students that they will assess how well the democratic system of either ancient Athens or the Iroquois Confederacy reflected democratic principles.

Divide the class into new groups of five students. Assign each group either the Athenian democracy or the Iroquois Confederacy.
Provide groups with a copy of an adapted chart from Writing a Report Card (Support Material).

Ask groups to develop a list of questions to answer to prepare the report card. In particular, groups should identify the need for criteria to make a reasoned assessment. The four principles of justice, equity, freedoms and representation are useful headings for criteria. Suggest that groups add descriptive words from the graffiti exercise to expand the broad criteria.

The assessment criteria may include the following:

  • allows for active and meaningful citizen participation
  • effective protection of individual rights
  • effective protection of collective rights
  • accessibility of services
  • government structure that is responsive to the people
  • accountability of representatives.

Research the government of ancient Athens or the Iroquois Confederacy
Within each group of five students, assign to each member one of these five topics:

  • structure of government
  • citizen participation
  • identity, status, class and citizenship
  • role of women
  • consensus building.

Provide each student with a copy of Decision-making Matrix (Lesson Material). Encourage students to use a variety of resources to gather information about the democratic system assigned. Include relevant videos, selected readings from authorized student resources, credible Internet sites and other resources. Instruct students to gather evidence and place the evidence in the appropriate box in the matrix.

Possible guiding questions:

  • How was the government of ancient Athens structured?
  • How did the structure of the government in ancient Athens provide opportunities for citizens to participate in decision making?
  • How did identity, status and class structure impact citizenship in ancient Athens?
  • To what extent were democratic ideals of equity and fairness part of the structure of government and society in ancient Athens?
  • To what extent did the decision-making process within the Iroquois Confederacy reflect the democratic ideals of equity and fairness?
  • How was the Iroquois Confederacy structured?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of consensus as a decision-making model for government?
  • How did the Six Nations use the consensus-building process?

Collaborate in expert groups
Provide time for students to form expert groups to share their findings with other students who have examined the same element. Ask students to use a variety of technologies to organize and synthesize the researched information. Remind students to add any information that will help them to make their judgments and include all references.

After students have assembled their evidence, invite them to decide whether the element they examined positively or negatively reflected the principles of an effective democracy.

Share conclusions within the original research group
Ask student experts to share their findings with their original groups. All students should record the evidence and conclusions reported by each expert group member to complete the matrix.

Complete the report card
Provide students with a report card adapted from materials in Writing a Report Card (Support Material).

Ask students to complete individual report cards on Athenian democracy or the Iroquois Confederacy based on the evidence they recorded in their decision-making matrix.

Justify your choices
Ask students to complete the Comments section of their report cards. Comments should be based on criteria for an effective democracy developed earlier. Remind students to justify their assignment of report card marks by providing evidence to support their assessments.
Exchange assessments
Provide each group with a clean copy of the report card. Ask students to use their skills of informal debate and compromise to reach group consensus and complete one report card.

Invite each group to share its report card with the whole class providing an explanation as to why it assigned the grade it did. As students listen to the other groups present, invite them to revise their own report cards based on the most compelling assessments they hear.

Remind students that a compelling assessment is one that is based on ample evidence, links the evidence to the ideals of an effective democracy and is based on a consistent point of view.

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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