Unpack democracy

What is democracy and why is it important? Introduce and explore the concept of democracy with this discussion-based activity.

Year 5 to 12
1 or more lessons

Getting started

Introduce the word 'democracy' to your students. Democracy means rule by the people. The word comes from the ancient Greek words ‘demos’ (the people) and ‘kratos’ (to rule). A democratic country has a system of government in which the people have the power to participate in decision-making.

Each democracy is unique and works in different ways. In some democracies citizens help make decisions directly by voting on laws and policy proposals (direct democracy). In others, like Australia, citizens choose representatives to make decisions on their behalf (representative democracy).

Australia’s democracy is supported by 4 key ideas:

As a class, brainstorm some different examples of ways in which Australia is democratic. Use the discussion starters to explore the 4 key ideas of Australia's democracy. Inspire debate by using one or more of the strategies below.

Discussion strategies

Yes or no?

  1. Select some discussion starters to read out to the class. Choose discussion starters that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  2. Label one side of the room ‘yes’ and the other side ‘no’. Ask students to stand in the centre of the room.
  3. Read out the discussion starters and ask students to respond to each by moving to one side of the room or the other.
  4. After the class have made their decisions ask 2 or 3 students to explain their opinion and give examples to support their view.

Affinity mapping

  1. Provide students with a discussion starter and ask them to write their responses on post-it notes (1 idea per note) and place them in no particular arrangement on a wall or whiteboard.
  2. Once lots of ideas have been generated, have students begin grouping them into similar categories. Label the categories and discuss why the ideas fit within them and how the categories relate to one another.

Socratic circles

  1. Arrange the class into a circle and provide a discussion starter, explaining the goal is to share ideas and build a shared understanding.
  2. Allow the discussion to flow, encouraging students to ask questions and reflect on the ideas of others.
  3. Guide the discussion by drawing students’ attention back to the topic or, where needed, introducing another discussion starter.
  4. If you have a larger class, organise 2 circles—an inner circle and an outer circle. Have the outer circle listen and take notes while the inner circle discusses, then have the students swap places and roles.


  1. Give the students 1–3 minutes to think about the chosen discussion starter.
  2. Organise students into pairs and give them 2–5 minutes to share their ideas and listen to their partner.
  3. Join each pair with another pair to create groups of 4 and give them another 2-5 minutes to discuss.
  4. Ask some students to share their thoughts with the whole class.
  5. You may like to return to the pairs after the whole class discussion to allow students to reflect on how their thinking may have changed.