Samara Canada’s research and educational programming shines new light on Canada’s democratic system and encourages greater political participation across the country, to build better politics, and a better Canada, for everyone.
These teaching tools were developed based on our research and are meant to help you teach young people how they can engage meaningfully with democracy. (Scan down the page to ensure you've seen all the activities.)
We hope you find the below lesson plans helpful in your classroom. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Kendall Anderson.
Teaching Political Conversations
Talking about politics is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Many of your students will never have had a political conversation. There are a few reasons for this.
- They think "politics" doesn't affect them. They don't realize that political decisions affect their lives every day.
- They’re intimidated: politics is a foreign land with rules and a language that take time to master.
- They believe they don’t have enough information or that others know more—and they’re unqualified to have an opinion.
Adults feel the same way about political discussion. Two thirds of Canadians say that they haven't had a political conversation in the last year.
In response, we developed a program called Democracy Talks which allows people to have a conversation about what they want from their democracy. Democracy Talks is based on a simple premise—our democracy is healthiest when people’s voices are heard.
We run the program in places where there is a trusted intermediary—a teacher or facilitator—so that participants feel comfortable. The classroom is the perfect place for a Democracy Talks session.
Democracy Talks is made up of multiple activities, all of which can be accessed by downloading the facilitation guide below.
Teaching the Election
In the lead-up to Canada's 2015 federal election, Samara will be sharing resources here that we hope will help educators teach the election.
For starters, we've got an excellent piece to share from Maclean's parliamentary reporter Aaron Wherry explaining many of the common confusions about our elections and clarifying what the possible results might be this time around. He puts things in the context of the UK experience and explains some of the terminology that often trips people up when they read about our general elections. Check it out here.
Teaching Active Citizenship
Civic engagement is much more than voting. Voting happens very rarely and democracy is something that must happen every day.
As well, your students may not be eligible to vote!
Voting doesn’t happen in a vacuum—it requires a lot of planning and thinking and discussion beforehand.
Samara surveyed Canadians on the 20 ways to be an active citizen beyond voting.
- Online (posting on facebook, writing a blog)
- In-person activities (discussion at dinner table)
- Civic engagement (volunteering)
- Activism (petitioning)
- Formal politics (joining a party, donating to a candidate).
Teachers and professors are making CitizenSparks
a part of their curriculum by encouraging students to get political beyond the classroom, online
and in the newspapers. The fourteen thought-provoking questions that comprise the CitizenSparks series
can also serve as discussion prompts in classrooms and group discussions.
The activities in the downloadable checklist to the right can be performed before a person turns 18 or becomes a Canadian citizen. You can download and photocopy this checklist for your classroom. It can be used in many ways:
1) Use it as a check-in at the beginning of the semester—students will realize that they've already performed some activities and are already on their way to active citizenship.
2) Use it as a challenge to see how many activities your students can do during the semester.
3) Ask your students to complete a certain number of the activities (5 to 7 is manageable in a semester) and write up a page on their experiences. Ask them to report on what they enjoyed, what they found challenging and any barriers they found to accomplishing the activity.
Push your kids out of their comfort zones and show them that they are active citizens.
You can read about how one political science class at the University of Ottawa took this project on and produced the Active Citizen Papers based on their experiences.
Click to download a blank checklist for your classroom
Our sister organization CIVIX offers mock elections and lots of other great experiential learning activities. Check out their website for more information.
Teaching Political Leadership
Samara performed interviews with former Members of Parliament and recorded their observations about their lives and experiences as political leaders. Their stories as well as their advice and recommendations were recorded and written about in reports.
The reports can be assigned as reading for students in high school or above. The Educator's Guide to the right can be used to help you structure the discussion after they've completed the reading.
The Accidental Citizen? tells how the MPs became politicians.
Welcome to Parliament: A Job With No Description describes the MPs' initial orientation and the how they explain their job.
"It's My Party": Parliamentary Dysfunction Reconsidered summarizes how MPs spent their time in Parliament and their relationship with their political parties.
The Outsider's Manifesto: Surviving and Thriving as a Member of Parliament reveals the MPs' advice to future Parliamentarians and offers recommendations for change.
You can also download and use the Educator's Guide, which offers discussion questions as well as activities based on the Member of Parliament Exit Interviews.
Teaching Political Parties
Political parties are groups of people with shared views, who form organizations that create or influence government by competing in elections. To have candidates on a ballot in a federal election, parties must be registered with Elections Canada. Parties can organize themselves in a variety of ways. Here’s an example:
The party leader is the head of both the parliamentary caucus and the party. He or she makes key decisions about the direction of the party and platform. Party members typically vote to select a leader.
Parliamentary caucus is made up of those Parliamentarians (MPs, and sometimes Senators) from a single party who have the leader’s permission to participate. It convenes weekly behind closed doors and allows members to bring forward views privately.
Political staff are paid for by Parliament and serve the MP that hires them. They hold a variety of jobs in both the local constituency office and on Parliament Hill.
The Executive is made up of the party leader and other representatives selected through election or appointment to lead internal party operations.
Party staff are paid by the party to oversee its day-to-day operations, including fundraising, recruitment of party members, research and election readiness.
Party members participate in leadership review and selection, local candidate selection and policy conventions. They are people, as young as 14, who pay an annual fee to the party (permanent residents are also eligible to join).
Riding Associations (Electoral District Associations) are local party organizations that oversee the nomination of the local party candidate at election time. Between elections, they fundraise, keep local members engaged, and provide a local presence for the national party.
Teaching Parliamentary Procedure
At Samara, we're enthusiastic about procedure and the history of our institutions. We wanted to find a fun way to present what can sometimes be pretty dense information.
And so we present Samara's pop-up video guide to the Speech from the Throne!
We've condensed the events using past footage to provide a who's-who and the what's-what of the SFT ceremony in under 5 minutes.
If you liked the video, please feel free to embed on your own site and share widely!
Do you have an idea for another pop-up procedure video? Let us know
Civics in Action
Samara contributed to and consulted on a new Grade 10 civics textbook for Ontario. The book includes profiles of the youth Everyday Political Citizens, Member of Paliament exit interviews, Democracy Talks and excerpts from our research.
You can learn more and order the book for your classroom from McGraw Hill Ryerson.
Canadian Election Analysis 2015
Samara was the presenting partner for the open-access electronic project Canadian Election Analysis 2015: Communication, Strategy, and Democracy, which offers timely and insightful reflections on the 42nd federal election from Canada's leading academics and political commentators.
In English and French, our leading thinkers and political scientists have covered all of the key aspects of a modern election—from Prime Minister Trudeau as a celebrity politician, to the salience of international issues, to First Nations engagement in the federal election.
The short and snappy analyses are written for journalists, researchers, pundits, students and engaged citizens alike.
The PDF is available for download on UBC Press's website.
Become a Samara Teacher Advisor
We would like to adapt more of our projects into learning materials that can be used to teach students about Canadian democracy.
Samara is always looking for ways to expand its reach into schools and universities, and we’d like to get your feedback on how we can develop our learning materials so that they best meet the needs of your curriculum.
If you are passionate about teaching civics and engaging students in the democratic process, we invite you to become one of Samara’s Partners in the Classroom. To join our volunteer teachers team, please email your resume to Kendall Anderson through our Contact Us page, indicating which subject(s) and at what level you teach.