The Practice of Politics

The Practice of Politics

Click below to access the downloadable article that goes with the exercises on this page. The goals listed in the articles and exercises are derived from the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

Download “The Practice of Politics” Article

Section Objectives:

  • Students will discern the differences between the different branches of the U.S. government and the respective powers they hold.
  • Students will understand the tools that they have at their disposal to enact change in the government that serves them and the members of their respective communities.

Discussion Questions:

  • If you had to assign a letter grade to the United States government, what letter grade would you give it? Why? What assignments or extra credit would the government have to do to get a better grade from you?
  • What are the concerns and issues facing your local community? Are your representatives addressing these matters? How are you addressing the issues?
  • Do you feel that the branches of government have equally distributed power? Are they able to fairly check and balance one another’s power so one does not become too strong? 
  • What issues and topics matter to you? How do you stay up to date on them?

Citations / Further Exploration:

The Federalist Papers

Taking Back the Vote: Getting American Youth Involved in Our Democracy, Jane Eisner

By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik and Arely Zimmerman

Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, Henry Reeve

You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizens Guide to Making Change Happen, Eric Liu

Exercise: A Political Role Model

Subject(s): English, Theatre, History

Goals: Students will be able to:

  • Use examples from their knowledge and experience to support the main ideas of their oral presentation.
  • Use verbal techniques including, but not limited to, appropriate tone, diction, articulation, and clarity.
  • Keep eye contact with the audience, adjust volume, tone, and rate, be aware of postures and gestures and use a natural tone.

Note: This is a multi-day exercise and requires out of class work by students.

Day 1: Discuss / Do:

  • Lead the class in a discussion of the following topics:
    • What does it mean to be a role model? Think of your role models. What are the common attributes of the people you admire and seek to emulate? Create a list of attributes together as a class.
    • What does it mean to be a political role model? Maybe you have political role models, maybe you don’t. What attributes would a politician need to possess for you to admire them? Political role models can exist at every level of government or can even exist as a normal everyday civilian.
  • Invite the students, individually, to think about someone they see as a political role model. Maybe this person is an elected official, a politically active aunt, or a friend who volunteers for a non-profit.
  • Introduce the assignment. The students will make a “Museum of Political and Civic Activism.” Students will each create an interactive booth display and presentation that informs and pays tribute to their chosen political role model. These presentations should be more than the student just standing and talking. They can bring in objects, photos, pieces of art, books, music, video – whatever they think will make for the most compelling museum display. Their goal should be to inspire the class to follow the example of the person they’ve chosen to honor.
  • Provide a deadline for when the presentations will occur.

Day 2: Presentation

  • One half of the class will present at a time. Think about traffic flow as you place the booths around the room – give the students space to walk. Once the presenting half has set up their museum, invite the other students, who are now the museum patrons, to visit each booth and hear and see the presentations and displays. They can ask questions and roam at their will. Once they’ve seen visited all the booths, they should return to their desks.
  • Repeat the process with the other half.


  • What similarities and differences did you notice between the political role models on display today? 
  • Which did you find most inspiring? Surprising?

Exercise: Evaluating a Performative Democracy

Subject(s): Theatre, History

Goals: Students will be able to:

  • Apply narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing to develop experiences or characters.
  • Promote collaboration with others both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Apply narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing to develop experiences or characters.
  • Identify contemporary political issues through discussion.
  • Evaluate the evolving and changing role of government.


  • Paper, pens, pencils, markers, etc.

Set Up:

  • Before class, write the five categories listed in the next section on the board, along with their italicized descriptions.
  • Divide students into four groups. Group members should sit together, separate from other groups, with paper and something to write with.


  • There are many political systems, many methods for running a country. For the purposes of this exercise students will review and evaluate how effective their present democratic system at school is. 
  • Ask each student group to write the following five bolded categories on their sheet of paper, evenly spaced out with room below each to write. 
    • Effective Participation: All members of the state should have the freedom of speech to make known their views of a policy to all other members of the state. It should be ok to say what you think.
    • Equality of Voting: Everyone possesses the ability to vote freely and without fear of consequence. Furthermore, all votes which are cast hold the same weight.
    • Understanding and Transparency: Everyone should have the ability to learn about any policy and its potential benefits and consequences.
    • Control of the Agenda: All members of a state must have the opportunity to direct the policies which the government implements.
    • Inclusion: All who are permanent residents of a state must have full rights as citizens of the state.
  • Invite the student groups to think about student government at their school. How is the student government operating regarding each of the above categories? Invite the groups to spend ten minutes discussing each of the categories and assigning their student government a letter grade for each one.
  • Following the grading period, assign each group one of the following performance styles: Game Show, Nightly Cable News, Sports Show, Children’s TV Show. Give groups a sufficient time to create a two-minute theatrical scene in the style they were assigned that conveys the reasons for their grading. Encourage students to play big and bold characters and divide their scene into smaller segments that members of the group can work on simultaneously before presenting later. Every member of each group must be in the scene in some capacity, vocally and physically. 
  • Have each group present their scene.


  • Is there a shared consensus among the class about the current form of democracy present at this school? What grades did students give their school government?
  • What areas were deemed satisfactory by and large? Which ones need improvement?