Hold a Town Meeting

Social Studies

Children experience democracy in action by taking part in a town meeting.

Background

Town meetings have been used in this country for many years to make decisions about town activities and for passing new laws or rules. These days, not every town has a meeting, but there are still many that do. Generally, this is how a town meeting works:

Before the meeting, townspeople make suggestions for ideas they would like to see discussed and voted on. A list of the ideas is sent to every voter in town. At the meeting, someone makes a motion on the first item from the list ("I move that we . . .), and another person seconds it ("I second the motion."). The meeting can now discuss the motion. Voters speak for or against the motion.

When everyone who wishes to speak has done so, the townspeople vote on the idea. First the moderator calls for those in favor of the motion to raise their hands. ("All those in favor of . . ., raise your hands.") Vote counters count the raised hands and record the number. The moderator then calls for those not in favor of the motion to raise their hands. "All those not in favor of . . ., raise your hands.") Vote counters count the raised hands and record the number. If more people vote for something than vote against it, the idea is passed.

What You Need

  • Paper and pencils for recording votes

What to Do

  1. Tell children that they are going to have a chance to hold a town meeting. During their town meeting, they will be able to vote for or against an idea. Use the Background information to explain how a town meeting works.

  2. Make your own proposal or ask the class to think of some ideas, then narrow them down to one question. Here are some areas in which the class might take part in decision making:

    • A new rule about how something is done in the classroom, playground, or cafeteria
    • The addition of a new game or activity in the classroom or at recess
    • A special project to help the school or larger community (such as cleaning up, planting flowers, feeding the birds, making connections with senior citizens)
    • Recycling in the classroom
    • Such issues as snacks, birthdays, and classroom jobs
    • A fund-raising project

  3. Select a moderator or fill the role yourself. Before the meeting, choose one child to make the motion and another to second it. To make sure the discussion moves along, pre-select several children to make arguments for and against the motion, but also encourage unrehearsed opinions.

  4. Before the meeting comes to order, discuss the rules that each person must follow:

    • Raise your hand when you want to speak.
    • When the moderator calls on you, stand up, face the meeting, and say what you want to say.
    • Always use polite language.
    • When the moderator calls for the vote, raise your hand to vote yes or no. Don't lower it until the vote counters have finished counting.

  5. When children are ready to vote, be sure they understand that they are voting" yes" if they raise their hands when the moderator asks "All those in favor" and that they are voting "no" if they raise their hands when the moderator asks "All those not in favor."

Teaching Options

  • If the town meeting approach to decision making proves successful, you may want to reconvene the meeting, perhaps on a monthly basis, to discuss other issues.
  • Explain to children that on some issues, townspeople prefer to vote privately rather than publicly. In that case, the vote is done with paper ballots, either at the meeting or on a special voting day. Have children vote on an issue using paper ballots on which they write yes or no. Have vote counters tally the votes and present the results on a chart or bar graph.
  • Invite "the media" to "cover" the town meeting. Select several children to observe the meeting, then present news stories on it. One might take the role of a newspaper reporter, a second a radio broadcaster, a third a TV news anchor. After the meeting, the role-players might also interview different voters on how they feel about the town meeting.


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