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Taking Action in a Democracy

Year 8 Civics and Citizenship

Learning Module


Year 8 students learn about civics and citizenship by exploring community issues such as penalty rates for working on Sundays. They learn about different types of government, freedom of speech, and what it means to be an active citizen in a democracy by writing a letter to a politician about a real issue.


Freedom of Speech, Democracy, Penalty Rates, Government, Laws, Perspectives.

Australian Curriculum

Year 8 Civics and Citizenship

The Year 8 curriculum provides a study of the responsibilities and freedoms of citizens and how Australians can actively participate in their democracy. Students consider how laws are made and the types of laws used in Australia. Students also examine what it means to be Australian by identifying the reasons for and influences that shape national identity.

The civics and citizenship content at this year level involves two strands: civics and citizenship knowledge and understanding, and civics and citizenship skills. These strands are interrelated and have been developed to be taught in an integrated way, and in ways that are appropriate to specific local contexts. The order and detail in which they are taught are programming decisions.

1. What would happen in Australia?

For the student

Learning Intention: To explore issues in Australian society.

Insert Antz clips

Comment: What civic issue mattered to you the most in our discussions? Give one reason why it is important to you. Read other students comments and comment on one to two that you thought were interesting. It could be because it affects you or someone you know, or because you think it would help people in our country. Start with @Name, so the person knows you are commenting on their comment.

For the teacher

Students are going to watch a series of clips from the movie 'Antz' that shows characters who represent different types of government.

  • The Queen ant - Monarchy
  • General Mandible - Dictatorship
  • Z, the protagonist - Democracy

Next, in table groups they will use a placemat to generate ideas about issues and problems that exist in society, both in Australia and abroad. Ask each table group to decide on their four most important issues. Share these ideas in a Noisy Round Robin as a class.

Teaching Tips: Allow them time in this first lesson to login and set up their Scholar accounts and avatars. As they do this talk about internet safety, how you represent yourself in an online environment etc.

2. Penalty Rates

For the student

Learning Intention:  To read/view and respond to media about penalty rates.

Task: To become an expert on a perspective of the issue of the decrease in Sunday penalty rates.

The change to Sunday penalty rates will impact workers, employers and consumers. You will be allocated a number which matches to Read through one of the articles and make notes about the key ideas. You will then share with another student. Add to your notes. 

Choose someone who has become an expert of a different perspective.

  1. Penalty rate change: The arguments for and against
  2. Sunday Penalty Rates Cut, Affecting Student Workers
  3. Sunday Penalty Rates Slashed: How Will It Affect You?
  4. What penalty rate cuts mean for you
  5. 4 yearly review of modern awards - Penalty rates case
  6. Penalty rates are strangling small business

When you have been the teacher and the learner, respond on Scholar with what you believe the impact of changing Sunday penalty rates will mean.

For the teacher

Students will need access to a device to access Scholar and the links to the news articles. Allocate a number between 1 and 6 (inclusive) to students. This will match up with a news article. Students will be given time to read through the articles and come up with notes that highlight the key facts of the articles.

Students will move around the room to form groups that reflect the different perseptives shown in the article. Students will need to share what they learnt in order to teach the students.

Teaching Tips:

3. What is Democracy?

For the student

Learning Intention: To understand what democracy is and how it works within Australia.

Democracy Investigation: With a partner, complete the chart on finding out about what makes a democracy. You can look up any information to help you. As you complete it, think about what you already know about democracy in Ancient Greece and what you know about a monarchy, dictatorship and democracy.

Our Definition of Democracy Facts/Characteristics
Examples Non-Examples

Now look at a flow chart of how a law such as the one proposed on penalty rates is passed.

insert picture


For the teacher

Teaching Tips

Allow students to work in pairs using a Frayer Model to determine what a democracy is. Have students share with the class.

Students should also find out about the ACT Assembly, and state and federal governments to aff more facts. 

Have students write a class/dictionary definition of democracy into their book.

Referring back to the Penalty Rates they learnt about previously, go through a flow chart showing the process of how this issue would have been addressed within Australian government.

Allow time for students to reflect on and answer the Comment in Scholar.

4. How the issue affects us

For the student

Learning Intention: To reflect on how issues, such as changes to Penalty Rates, impact the lives of different types of people within society.


Comment: Why did we vote the way we did in the class activity? Do you think our opinions as a class reflect the beliefs of the majority of Australians? Would the country vote in a similar way? Give evidence and reasons why or why not.

For the teacher

Students complete a PCQ (Pros, Cons, Questions) Chart on the topic of penalty rates. Ask them to consider how penalty rates affect different people within Australian society - students, working class people, etc.

5. Freedom of Speech

For the student

Learning Intention: To contribute your beliefs and arguments about a range of issues that Australian society faces.

To generate a list of issues that you feel are important to you and Australian society and share these with the class.

Comment: Refer to the issues that had been 

For the student


6. How to write a formal letter

For the student

Part 1: Learning Intention: To understand how to write a formal letter.

Did you know that one of the most effective ways that you can have a voice in democracy and influence a politician is through writing a letter - more effective than emails or phone calls. In fact, you can even upload letters to politicians on their websites. So let's look at how to write a letter.

Read the letter below.

Letter to a Politician

Think-Pair-Share: Do you think tthis is a good letter? Why/Why not? Refer to examples in the letter to back up your opinion. As you discuss the letter, annotate it. In the margins say what is good and why or what could be improved.

1. Now let's do a close analysis of the letter. In the first column of the chart, you will see features of a letter to a politician. Of course, if you have identified other features, add them to the first column.

2. With a partner, identify examples to record in the second column.

3. Then identify some of its effects. This will help you when you have to write your own letter. 

Features of a Letter Chart
Mode (Features in model) Field (Examples from model) Tenor (Effects)
 Correct mailing address of minister    
Formal address/greeting    
 Insert date    
1st person - I/we    
 Introduce yourself and your connections to the electorate such as school, sporting and community groups     
 2nd person - you    
 State your issue clearly and take a firm position    
 Include facts    
Include statistics    
Include stories/experiences of people     
Write a mixture of simple, compound and complex sentences     
Describe what you wnat the minister to do    
Be polite    
Add your contact details    

If you'd like to find out more about taking action and how to write letters, see Get Involved on the Youth Action website. Their mission statement is:

Youth Action is working towards a society where all young people are valued, engaged and supported.

Also Electonic Frontiers Australia has some great tips for contacting members of Parliament and writing letters.

Comment: What is one thing that you have learnt about writing a formal letter to a politician. Read what other students write and add 2 more that others have mentioned that you agree are important. This will generate a class list and remind you of what you must include if you want the politician to take notice of your letter.

Fig. 6: While typing a letter is more common, handwriting can be more personal. Both are acceptable.



For the teacher

Purpose: In this update students are scaffolded to write a letter to a politician through a model letter, a close analysis of the features of a formal letter, and websites for further information.

Teaching Tips

Students should be able to complete the second and third column in pairs. If necessary, offer them some possible effects that they can add to the third column (see retrieval chart) so that it becomes a matching activity.

Print the letter beforehand so students can annotate it in the margins.

Mode Example Effect/s
Correct mailing address of minister

The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
Minister for the Environment and Energy
Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600

Ensures that it reaches the recipient
Formal address/greeting Dear Minister Shows respect
Insert Date 14 March, 2017 Shows relevance of an issue
!st person - I/we

I am a 14 year old student....

We want secure jobs............

Personalises the letter.
Introduce yourself and your connections to the electorate such as school, sporting and community groups I have lived here in Federal Electoral Division of Canberra since I was 3 years old. I went to Gordon Primary School............ This also personalises the letter and helps the minister to understand your position. It is also  more persuasive than form letters.
2nd person - you Thank you in advance........ Addresses the minister directly and asks him to take action
State your issue clearly and take a firm position I am writing to express my concerns about the current state of renewable energy policy in Australia.  Makes your purpose in writing clear
Include facts A recent “Youth Action” survey showed that environment and climate issues were very important to young Australians and would influence their vote. Makes your letter more persuasive by describing the impact of government actions
Include statistics

Only a third of young Australians have decided their vote, so you could gain support by listening to our concerns.

In fact, the ACT is on track to achieve a 100% renewable electricity target by 2020.

Makes your letter more persuasive by describing the impact of government actions
Include stories/experiences of people Families are struggling to pay their bills but they also understand that there is a cleaner, cheaper way of generating energy through solar and wind. Already in Canberra, in my electorate, the polices of the ACT Government have lowered our energy bills.  Makes your letter more persuasive by describing the impact of government actions
Write a mixture of simple, compound and complex sentences As your party is in government, you need to implement policies that would enable easier access to solar energy for families, especially through subsidising the cost of solar panels. This will also produce employment in the new jobs that solar will create. We want secure jobs, a healthy environment and affordable energy.  Makes your writing more interesting and persuasive
Describe what you want the minister to do

Thank you in advance for considering this issue. Please contact me to let me know what actions your government will take with regard to renewable energy policy to protect the environment now and in the future.

Makes your purpose in writing clear
Be polite Thank you in advance for considering this issue More effective than harsh criticism
Add your contact details

Sophia Environment
1113 Lanyon Way
Lanyon ACT 2906
0123 456 789

So the minister can reply

7. Being Active in a Democracy

For the student

Learning Intention: To write a letter to a politician about an issue that matters to you.

Write a letter to your local member at the local (ACT) or federal level about an issue that matters to you.

We will actually send these letters so you might be able to make a difference on an important issue.

Fig. 7: Writing a letter is one way to be an active voice in our democracy.



For the teacher

Purpose: In this update students apply what they have learnt about issues as well as how to write a letter to a politician. In doing so they will have a real purpose and audience.

Teaching Tips

Refer back to the issues discussed throughout the learning module to prompt ideas for the subject of students' letters.

If you decide to run the project in Scholar, students could write and research their letters over one lesson and complete reviews and revisions in the second lesson. Alternatively, use the word file to guide students as they write their letters.

Letter to Politician Rubric


8. Who Gains/Who Loses

For the student

Learning Intention: To evaluate how democratic processes influence people and the decisions made in our country.



For the teacher


9. Let's Vote

For the student

Learning Intention: To actively reflect on the democratic processes we have seen.



For the teacher



Title: Election Box (Source); Fig. 6: Typist (Source); Fig. 7: Hands (Source);