Reflection and Action for Civic Participation

This resource was part of our Election 2020 collection, designed to help you teach about voting rights, media literacy, and civic participation, in remote and in-person settings.


Political philosopher Danielle Allen describes democracy as “a combination of ideals and institutions that work to put power in the hands of ordinary people.” Further, she argues that the essence of democracy is the active involvement of people. She also emphasizes the importance of listening to young people in order to address the future of democracy. Young people "see the shape of our world presently" as they learn, grow, and anticipate the ways that they will pursue their future careers and provide for their well-being as well as their family’s. In this lesson, students will consider the importance of young people in making democracy work, and then they will use a framework of questions created by Allen and her colleagues at the Youth Participatory Politics Action Frame to analyze stories of individuals who participated positively in the world around them.



  1. Consider the Importance of Youth in Democracy
    Listen to the audio clip Danielle Allen on Youth in Democracy, and then use the following questions for reflection and class discussion.

    • What does Allen say about the role of young people? Why does she think the voices of young people are crucial to a democracy?
    • Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
    • How do we “let young people set the agenda for the issues we should be paying attention to”? Who else should help to set the agenda?
    • According to Allen, once the voices of young people are heard, what else is needed to help bring about the changes young people envision?
  2. Introduce Allen’s “Reflection and Action” Framework for Civic Participation

    More and more, young people want to participate in civic spaces—including spaces that are online. Allen suggests that when people choose to take action to strengthen their communities, they should consider ten important questions. She and her colleagues write: “Whether you’re creating your first Facebook page to support a cause you care about, or seeking to engage your friends, associates, and even strangers in a new platform aimed to achieve civic ends, these ten questions will help frame your decisions. Use them to shape your strategy and to check whether you’re doing everything in your power to achieve maximum impact.”1 These ten questions are called the Youth Participatory Politics (or YPP) Framework. Share them with students:

    • Why does it matter to me?
    • How much [about myself] should I share?
    • How do I make it about more than myself?
    • Where do we start?
    • How can we make it easy and engaging?
    • How do [we] get wisdom from crowds?
    • How do [we] handle the downside of crowds?
    • Does raising voices count as [civic and] political action?
    • How do we get from voice to change?
    • How can we find allies?

    One way to help students think more deeply about this framework and envision how they might use it in their own civic participation is by observing how others have answered them. As students reflect on each of the stories below, they might consider how these actions and strategies they learn about could strengthen democracy. Choose one or more of the following readings from Chapter 12: Choosing to Participate from Holocaust and Human Behavior, and ask students to think about how the individuals featured in each reading might have answered Allen’s ten questions:

    You might finish the lesson by discussing what students have determined about the usefulness of the framework. What do these questions suggest about the potential opportunities and difficulties in making positive social change and building a stronger democracy?

  1. Citations

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