Petitioning for Change

By Eric Gomez, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Summer Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

3 - 90 Minute Classes


In this lesson students will need to identify an issue they want to see changed in their community, whether that is locally, at a state level, or nationally. They will then need to do research on their topic to add validity to their argument. Once they have researched their issue, they will also need to offer a solution to that specific issue. The primary topic of the lesson is how to petition an elected representatives. The topic and the lesson are invaluable to a civics or government class because it allows the students to grasp the role of the citizen in an American democracy. It also teaches them how to petition on their behalf, in the event they need to do this in their future. The design challenge will be to create offer a solution to the issue the students will petition their elected representative for. The lesson will engage the students in the design process by allowing them to generate solutions to real world problems they see in their community.

National Standards

CIVICS Standard 19- Understands what is meant by “the public agenda,” how it is set and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media. Level IV (Grade 9-12) 5. Understands the influence that public opinion has on public policy and the behavior of public officials   Standard 28- Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals. Level IV ( Grade 9-12) 3. Knows the many way citizens can participate in the political process at a local, state and national levels, and understands the usefulness of other forms of political participation in influencing public policy (e.g. attending political and governmental meetings, demonstrating, contacting public officials, writing letters, boycotting, community organizing, petitioning, picketing) Language Arts Standard 1- Use the general skills and strategies of the writing process. Level IV (Grade 9-12) 5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audiences background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)   6.Uses strategies to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform, analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade)   7. Writes expository compositions (e.g., synthesizes and organizes information from first- and second-hand sources, including books, magazines, computer data banks, and the community; uses a variety of techniques to develop the main idea [names, describes, or differentiates parts; compares or contrasts; uses cause-and-effect reasoning; examines the history of a subject; cites an anecdote to provide an example; illustrates through a scenario; provides interesting facts about the subject]; distinguishes relative importance of facts, data, and ideas; uses domain-specific vocabulary, such as appropriate technical terms and notations; provides concluding statement that articulates implications or significance of the topic) Standard 7- Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of informational texts. Level IV (Grade 9-12) 1. Reads a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps) Strand-Speaking and Listening SL.4.                  Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience Writing Standards 6–12 text types and Purposes 1.Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. a.Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence. b.Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases. d.Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing. e.Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented. Research to Build and Present Knowledge 8. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation. 9.Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Students will:
  • Identify a real world problem.
  • Research information on a specific problem to gain further insight.
  • Create a solution for a real world problem.
  • Craft a petition letter to an elected official.


We the people website- Change. Org Website- Benjamin O\'Keefe, 18-Year-Old Activist, Talks About Petition Against Abercrombie & Fitch On HuffPost Live (VIDEO)- Krystie Yandoli How to Petition Your Representative Handout-1 for each student


Petition- a written document that many people sign to show that they want a person or organization to do or change something Grievance- a reason for complaining or being unhappy with a situation Redress- to set ready; remedy


Day 1 1. 10 minutes (student work) / 10 minutes (Class Discussion, Teacher Led): Warm Up (Present the Challenge) Question 1. “ If you could improve or change one thing in your neighborhood, city, state or country, what would it be and why?”   The teacher will then listen to student responses and then present the challenge: How might you use the power of petitioning to correct a problem in society?   2. 30 minutes - Reading And discussion (Identify/Investigate): The teacher will notify the students that the discussions and readings they are going to do will be to fulfill the challenge of writing a petition to an elected representative concerning a specific problem They see, along with offering a solution to the problem. The teacher will need to explain what a petition is and why they are created. The teacher will then handout the students a copy of the Benjamin Okeefe article and have the class read it together. Once the reading is complete, the teacher will lead the class in a discussion that highlights the effectiveness of petitioning in this example.   3. 15 minutes: Identify problem (Identify/Investigate): The teacher will then have the students examine the problem they chose in the warm up. To examine the problem the students will be required to interview 2 classmates about their opinion and knowledge of the topic. Once the students have finished interviewing, the teacher will instruct the students to determine if that is in fact the issue/problem they wish to create their petition from.   4. 20 minutes-Investigate the issue (Identify/Investigate): the teacher will then instruct the students to research their topic to gather factual, anecdotal, and any other information they feel will be useful in creating their petition. ( Technology or Pre-determined readings may be utilized by the teacher at this point)   5. 5 minutes: Wrap Up: The teacher will then instruct the students to continue to read information regarding their topic and begin to think about possible solutions they can offer in their petition.   Day 2 1. 10 minutes: Warm Up (Generate & Edit/Develop): The teacher will instruct the students to ideate solutions to their issue. The teacher will encourage the students to create as many solutions as possible.   2. 10 minutes: Discussion: The teacher will then lead the students in a brief discussion that allows the students to give their ideas for correcting their identified issue.   3. 65 minutes: Create Petition (Generate & Edit/Develop): The teacher will then provide the students with the “ how to petition your representative” handout and explain to them each component. The teacher will have the students complete the handout as an outline to their petition. The students will then have to create their rough draft of their petition based on their outline. (Students May also use this time to gather more information or generating possible solutions.     4. 5 minutes: Wrap Up: The teacher will instruct the students to have a peer help them edit their draft and create their final draft to present next class.     Day 3 1. 5 minutes: Preparation: the students will be instructed to prepare their petitions to read to the class. 2. 60 minutes (Evaluate/Implement): The students will present their petitions to the class. The teacher will instruct the presenters to give background to their issue prior to reading their petition. The audience will be expected to take notes on each petition so they can decide on which they chose to support when the lesson is concluded. 3. 20 minutes: Reflection: (The teacher will need to create sign up sheet for all of the students in the class that will be posted accessible to all students.) Once all of the students have presented the teacher will instruct the students to sign their initials next to the petition they support. The teacher will then present the results of the petition signing to the class and questions the class on why those specific petitions were successful 4. 5 minutes: Closing: The teacher will have the students write on a sheet of paper what they think the power of petitioning is. The students will turn these in as they walk out of class.


The students will be assessed on the completion of their written petition. The students will be informally assessed on their ability to generate a possible solution to the grievance they hold. The students that are strong in reading and written comprehension will benefit from the research portion of the assignment, along with the construction of their petition. Visual students will be able to sketch out their solutions to their grievance to gain a better understanding of what they are trying to suggest to their elected representative.

Enrichment Extension Activities

One possible way to extend the activity is to have the students follow up on their petitions by contacting their elected official and creating a news article to present to the class that states the updates. This lesson can extend into English, history, speech or art classes. English- The instructor can link a persuasive writing lesson to this one. History- The instructor can have students research cases in history where petitioning has been successful. Speech- The instructor can have the students present their petitions as if they were performing it in front of a crowd of protestors. Art- The instructor can have the students graphically represent the grievance they hold or the solution they are offering.

Teacher Reflection

The teacher will be able to reflect on how well the students understood the power of petitioning. Students that are more enthusiastic to share their petition, will have felt passion about their topic and the ability to make a change.   The teacher can reflect on the structuring of the students’ research methods. Students that do not have much substance to their argument may have not done an efficient enough job of researching, which may highlight their inability to research

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