Lesson Plan: Introduction to the Principles of Democracy

President Obama on the Greek Origins of Democracy

In Athens during his final foreign trip as president, President Obama explains ancient Greek's influence on essential qualities of democracy. His speech includes a description about the origins of the word "democracy" and its development as a governing principle.


Democratic forms of government share specific characteristics that make them unique from other forms of government. These include principles such as limited government, individual rights, rule of law, equal protection, majority rule with minority rights and popular sovereignty. This lesson has students view video clips about democracy to come up with these characteristics of democracies.


  • STEP 1:

    Begin the class by asking the students the following questions:

    • Who has the power to make decisions in the United States government?
    • How are our leaders selected?
    • How can people influence their leaders in the United States?
  • STEP 2:

    Show each of the clips to the class and have the students use the following handout to make a list of characteristics of democracies.

    Handout: Principles of Democracy (Google Doc)

    Video Clip 1: President Obama on the Greek Origins of Democracy (5:50)

    Video Clip 2: Introduction to the Rule of Law (1:17)

    Video Clip 3: English Roots of Democracy (2:28)

    Video Clip 4: Ben Carson on the Constitution (2:58)

    Video Clip 5: Montesquieu Helps Frame the U.S. Constitution (4:17)

    Video Clip 6: Justice Breyer on Democracy (4:14)

    Video Clip 7: Rule of Law, Equal Protection and Rights (2:40)

  • STEP 3:

    As a class make a list of common characteristics that were mentioned in the clips.

    Address any misunderstandings about the concepts.

    Have the students share their definitions with the class.

  • STEP 4:

    After watching the clips and discussing the characteristics as a class, have the students create their own definition of democracy.


    Current Events- Have students research news articles and find articles that relates to these characteristics or principles of democracy. Have student explain how these articles relate to these concepts.

    Argumentative Essay Assignment- Have the students answer the following question in essay form.

    • Using examples from the clips and the class discussion, argue which principle or characteristic of democracy is most important to a democratic form of government.

Additional Resources


  • Ancient Greece
  • Constitution
  • Democracy
  • Equal Protection
  • Individual Rights And Responsibilities
  • Limited Government
  • Majority Rule With Minority Rights
  • Rule Of Law
  • Separation Of Powers


Comparative GovernmentConstitutional Foundation


Middle SchoolHigh School