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The Lesson: Forms of Government
Generally, 5th grade social studies lessons include learning the different forms of government, where they are being used, and how each works. There is no other way to present this to the students but by giving a long, dreary lecture with a powerpoint presentation---or so you think. How do you get your students to completely understand each form of government that you will cover in class? By making them actually experience the government itself! You don't have to have field trips in different countries to do this--bring the different countries right inside the four walls of your classroom.
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A Government A Week
For your lessons on republic, monarchy, and parliamentary government forms, simulate each of the three in your class for the next three weeks. You may also choose other forms of government, depending on the standards stated in your social studies curriculum.
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Monarchy, Parliamentary, Republic
The first week of this lesson unit covers monarchy, a form of government wherein all power and authority is in the control of a monarch. Kings and queens rule countries with this type of government.
For this week, you will pretend that you are a dying king and you are to pass on the full power of ruling a nation to your son. You will pick a boy from your room, and he is to be the king of your students for a week. He is given the right to make any rule that he wants and to command his subjects and the people of his land to anything he desires. No one from the rest of the class is allowed to contest or to propose any new rule, and their trust is to be given entirely and solely to the chosen king only. Ask permission from the other teachers to allow your students to take on their roles even in their other subjects to make the simulation more meaningful. This simulation is to extend even on to recess and lunch. Instruct the students keep a journal of how it feels like to be under a monarchy. At the end of the week, process the entire activity and organize all their answers to form the definition and characteristics of a monarchy.
The following week, reset all roles and give new ones for the parliamentary system. Assign students who act as the legislative and executive body of the class (but don't mention these two terms yet--just tell these students that they have the power to make laws and enforce them in the class). The rest of the class will consist the "nation's people." Have them keep a journal, and process all reflections, observations, and insights at the end of the week in order to come up with the definition and characteristics of a parliamentary system of government.
Finally, have the republic form on the third week. This time, open a class election on the given positions: president, vice-president, and three senators. The class shall elect students to be in these positions. Afterwards, you shall orient each elected official on their task and responsibility for a week. Have everyone keep a journal, and process all reflections, observations, and insights at the end of the week in order to come up with the definition and characteristics of a republic form of government.
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This simulation technique has always worked in 5th grade social studies lessons primarily because the students' comprehension deepens due to their first-hand experience of the lesson. Constructivitist strategies such as the one outlined above gears toward student-centered lessons, making learning more meaningful and enjoyable for the students.