Hold a Town Meeting
Children experience democracy in action by taking part in a town meeting.
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
- 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
- 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,
- The addition of a new game or activity in the classroom or at
- 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
- 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
- Before the meeting comes to order, discuss the rules that each person
- 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
- 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."
- 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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