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High School — Social Studies
Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities

In some nations, people who are native born--or naturalized as a member of the political and geographic area--are entitled to civic privileges such as voting. With such rights come obligations. As members of a community, we are responsible to the people of that group. In order to enjoy the rights and privileges of membership in society, we must consider our roles within the larger body.

Ohio's Academic Content Standards establish the following expectations for student performance in the area of Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities:

  • Students use knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in order to examine and evaluate civic ideals;
  • Students use knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in order to participate in community life and the American democratic system.

The content in this Teaching Tool is based on Ohio's Academic Content Standards: K-12 Social Studies and includes types of questions asked on the Ohio Graduation Test. While various activities are suggested for working with students, this Teaching Tool is designed to complement a rigorous, research-based curriculum, not to substitute for one.

Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities

1. Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities

Click on the following benchmarks for more information and for links to annotated OGT items.


Benchmark A: Analyze ways people achieve governmental change, including political action, social protest and revolution.

Benchmark A: Analyze ways people achieve governmental change, including political action, social protest and revolution.

Students should understand that government can be viewed as an agreement between those that govern and the governed. They must understand that in some systems of government, those being governed have more opportunities to influence the ways in which they are being governed. In other systems, those being governed have few opportunities to influence public policy. Students must also understand and analyze different ways that people work to achieve governmental change.

Systems of government and opportunities for governmental change -- To help students understand which forms of government offer the most opportunities for citizens to influence change, chart the different systems of government against the level of opportunity for citizen involvement, and give a brief description of what possibilities citizens in each system have to influence their government.

System of Government Opportunity for Citizen Involvement How citizens can influence the government
Absolute Monarchies Nonexistent to lowThrough recognition as advisers (typically through familial connections) or through social protest and revolution
Constitutional Monarchies Moderate to highPossibly through election processes, lobbying, petitioning or social protest
Parliamentary DemocraciesHighThrough election processes, lobbying, petitioning, social protest or revolution
Presidential DemocraciesHighThrough election processes, lobbying, petitioning, social protest or revolution
DictatorshipsNonexistent to lowPossibly through recognition as military or political advisers or through social protest and revolution
TheocraciesLowThrough moral appeals and recognition as religious authorities or through social protest and revolution

Discuss the conclusion that elected governments have higher levels of opportunity for citizen involvement. Help students understand the different election processes that allow citizens to choose leaders directly or through elected representatives. These different systems allow for different opportunities for citizens to hold their leaders accountable and to influence governmental change.

Ways in which citizens participate in achieving governmental change -- Citizens can influence governmental change in many ways. There are different levels of citizen action. In countries with systems that allow for such participation, the risks and consequences for taking action are low. However, in countries with systems of government that do not provide opportunities for citizen participation, the risks and consequences for taking action are high.

Citizen action that carries low risk -- Have students brainstorm a list of different types of citizen action that are common in countries with high levels of opportunity for participation, such as the United States. The list might include:

  • Letter writing to influence the media, which can in turn influence public opinion;
  • Lobbying public officials through e-mail, letter writing, or face-to-face meetings to persuade them to vote a particular way;
  • Writing and circulating petitions to demonstrate public support/opposition on political or social policies;
  • Fund-raising for political action groups that support particular politicians or political viewpoints;
  • Community education to influence public opinion;
  • Boycotting businesses to protest their views or practices;
  • Proposing legislation through the initiative process;

Prompt students to identify examples of the citizen actions listed above from either their own lives, current events, or their study of history. Have them identify the effectiveness of these actions and the consequences citizens face in participating in such actions.

Examples of Citizen ActionEffectiveness Consequences

Citizen action that entails more moderate risks -- Students can identify citizen actions that entail more risk than those described above. Again, students can use the chart to identify possible gains and sacrifices involved in such action.

  • Social and political protests/picketing involving confrontation between groups that hold two opposing points of view--typically around morally charged issues;
  • Holding rallies and marches to demonstrate public support/opposition on different political or social policies;
  • Demonstrating lack of faith in elected officials through the recall process.
Examples of Citizen ActionEffectiveness Consequences

Citizen action in the form of civil disobedience -- Help students understand the definition of civil disobedience: actively refusing (without resorting to physical violence) to abide by certain laws that are considered unjust. Students can trace the origin of the term to an essay written by American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. Acts of civil disobedience have been practiced around the world--some have accomplished change, and some have been met by physical and political punishment. Have students identify examples of acts of civil disobedience:

Examples within the U.S.:

  • Thoreau's refusal to pay taxes in protest of slavery and the U.S. involvement in the Mexican-American War;
  • The burning of draft cards in protest of the Vietnam War;
  • Sit-ins at lunch counters during the 1950s and 1960s in protest of segregation and other violations of civil rights.

Examples from around the world:

  • Gandhi's hunger strike in protest of British colonialism in India;
  • The 1952 Defiance Campaign against apartheid in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC).

Again, students can analyze the effectiveness of such acts of civil disobedience and consider the consequences:

Examples of Citizen Action Effectiveness Consequences

Interpreting civil disobedience -- Students can consider their responses to the following questions.

  • How are acts of civil disobedience different from other forms of citizen action?
  • Would other forms of citizen action have achieved the same results as some of the above acts of civil disobedience? Why or why not?
  • Are the risks and consequences suffered by individuals who participated in acts of civil disobedience worth the changes achieved? Why or why not?
  • What risks would you be willing to take in order to see governmental change? What change would justify these risks?

Revolutionary acts of citizen action -- Help students understand how--unlike civil disobedience--some citizen action taken to affect governmental change has led to violence and war.

Types of acts:

  • Riots;
  • General lawlessness/criminal activity;
  • Violence against government forces, violence in response to government oppression.

Why these acts occur:

  • Violent acts of protest tend to happen in countries in which systems of government offer few opportunities for citizen participation in government, or citizens believe that the political process has not been effective.


  • Jail and further persecution on the one hand, or revolution and regime change on the other hand.


  • Riots that led to the first Russian Revolution in 1905;
  • Lawlessness that led to the French Revolution;
  • Urban riots in the US during the 1960s.

Students can be prompted to identify violent or revolutionary examples of citizen action taking place around the world.

Again, students can analyze these acts and consider the consequences:

Examples of Citizen Action Effectiveness Consequences

Further questions for benchmark discussion:

  • Which forms of citizen action have proved most effective in achieving governmental change? Why?
  • In what ways can citizens take action alone? In what ways can citizens take action in groups? Why are both types of action significant?
  • How can citizens can take action privately? How can citizens take action publicly? Again, why might these types of actions be important?

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark B: Explain how individual rights are relative, not absolute, and describe the balance between individual rights, the rights of others, and the common good.

Benchmark B: Explain how individual rights are relative, not absolute, and describe the balance between individual rights, the rights of others, and the common good.

Governments both protect and restrict individual rights. In the United States, laws protecting individual rights are written in the Constitution and in state and local statutes. Laws may also restrict individual rights in order to protect the rights of others and to protect the common good.

To succeed with this benchmark, students must be able to explain instances in which individual rights are superseded to protect the common good. Sometimes an act that one person believes is an expression of her individual rights is harmful to others or to the public at large. In such cases, the government may restrict that individual's rights. Students should understand that some people view government as a social contract between the government, which agrees to protect individual rights, and individuals who agree to use those rights responsibly.

Help students understand this balance: While an individual has the right to freedom of expression, exercising that right by yelling "Fire!" in a crowded room creates a threat to the group at large (since the exclamation would probably cause a dangerous rush for the doors). Governments try to limit such dangers with restrictions on individual rights.

Considerations that cause governments to limit individual rights -- Help students understand the conditions under which governments might attempt to limit individual rights. Brainstorm with students the possible reasons why governments might need to restrict individual rights in the name of protecting the rights of others and the common good. For each reason, help students identify examples:

Consideration/Reason Example of government restriction:
Clear and present dangerEnacting martial law (system of rules enacted when the military takes over government administration) due to the threat of war or during internal disturbances (such as riots); Seizing phone or e-mail records of individual citizens if espionage or betrayal of national secrets is suspected
Compelling government interestEminent domain, the power of a government to take private property for public use
National securityEnact security checkpoints and conduct searches
Libel (printed) or slander (spoken)Laws that limit speech that can be considered defamatory
Public safetyImplementing a public curfew during times of possible danger (i.e., blackouts, riots)
Equal opportunityLaws preventing discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation

Explain to students that while they do have many rights that are protected by the federal and state governments, these protections do not allow them to infringe on the rights of others. Explain to students that if they ever have a question about whether a specific action on their part is a protected right, they should ask themselves the following question: "If I take this action, will it infringe upon the rights of someone else?" If they answer "yes," then chances are that they are not protected in committing that action. Have students consider the following actions:

If I were to:It may have the following effect on others:And therefore is it a protected right?
Exercise my freedom of speech by yelling "fire" in a crowded room when there is no fireIt could cause a stampede and others may be injured.No
Exercise my freedom of assembly and speech by gathering gang members and urging them to attack anyone who comes down the street It could endanger people and impede upon individual freedoms of others.No

Students can reflect on these examples of government limitations of individual rights by answering the following questions:

  • Overall, what kinds of threats will cause a government to limit individual rights?
  • How is the line drawn between personal freedom and the restrictions that are necessary for public protection?
  • Under what conditions do you think the rights of individuals should be limited?

Consider examples of restrictions on individual rights that have taken place in U.S. history -- Help students understand instances in which individual rights have been restricted. For each example, students should consider why individual rights were restricted, and the consequences of the restriction. When discussing the following examples and possible entries for the second column, refer to the previously reviewed considerations/reasons regarding government limits to individual rights ( i.e., "clear and present danger," "compelling government interest," "national security," "libel or slander," "public safety," or "equal opportunity).

Example of restriction of individual rights Why these rights were restrictedConsequences of this restriction
Imprisonment of conscientious objectors during World War I  Loss of personal freedoms
Imprisonment and political persecution of immigrants of particular nationalities during the Red Scare of 1919-1920  Political persecution in the form of unsubstantiated arrests and investigations. This set a precedent for later challenges to individual rights during the McCarthy era.
Internment ofJapanese-Americans during World War II Thousands of American citizens were forcefully interned. Many lost property that was never regained. The U.S. government has since apologized and agreed to make some reparations.
Interrogation and slander of intellectuals and artists during the McCarthy Era Many people lost their jobs or were "blacklisted" during this period. Government officials involved have been criticized for acting on unsubstantiated claims.

Students can reflect by considering the following questions:

  • Whose rights were restricted by the U.S. government?
  • Why might officials have convinced the public that restricting the rights of some individuals was in the public's best interest?
  • What can the U.S. government learn from the consequences of such acts of restriction?

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.



Help With Fundamentals

These activities can help you address the fundamentals of Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities with your students.

Activity 1

Citizen Action

Students who need help with the fundamentals of this benchmark should first understand the relevance of citizen action to their own lives, then to the country as a whole.

First, prompt students by asking: What are some issues you feel strongly about (in school, in your community, in the country, or abroad)? What are some issues that you feel so strongly about that you want to change the situation? Once students have identified issues that they feel strongly about, they can identify actions that make a difference. Students can chart their responses.

  • How can you get involved?
  • What actions can you take?
Issues I feel strongly aboutActions I might take to make a difference

Once students have identified a range of actions they would take to change their surroundings, ask students to consider how many of these actions they could take if they lived under a dictatorship, theocracy, etc.

Students might extend their work into a project, carrying out and analyzing some of the actions they identified.

Activity 2

Abusing Individual Rights

Help students understand what individual rights are and why they might need to be restricted in order to protect the rights of others and the common good.

Define important terms:

  • Individual Rights - Privileges to which individuals are entitled
  • Common Good - That which is in the best interest of all members of a group (in the case of a nation, all citizens)

After students have a solid understanding of these terms:

  1. Have students think of some individual rights: They can review summaries of the Bill of Rights for inspiration. Then ask them to answer the following question: What rights do you think you have in the U.S.? As students create their lists, check for accuracy and give them feedback.
  2. For every right students have listed, they should attempt to identify how this right could threaten the rights of other individuals and/or the common good.
  3. Finally, students can reflect on what government restrictions exist, or under what circumstances a government would want to restrict these rights.

Here is an example of how students might organize their lists:

Individual RightHow this right might be abused Government restrictions already in place Under what conditions a government would want to restrict these rights
Right to freedom of speech Making false statements about somebody elseLibel lawsWhen speech is used to harm another person's reputation or personal well-being.

Additional Instruction and Practice

These activities may be useful for students who require additional instruction and practice with Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities.

Activity 1

Civil Disobedience

Help students extend their understanding of citizen action and its associated successes in achieving governmental change as well as the risks and consequences incurred by individual citizens. Students can identify particular individuals and research the roles that they played in acts of civil disobedience. They can use the chart below to organize and analyze their findings:

Individual Act of civil disobedienceChange in policy/government soughtWhy the act constitutes civil disobediencePenalties suffered/ risks entailed
Henry David Thoreau     
Martin Luther King Jr.     
Rosa Parks    
Mahatma Gandhi     
Stephen Biko    
Lech Walesa    

Have students draw conclusions and create opinions based on their research:

  • How effective were these individuals in achieving governmental change?
  • What did these individuals risk in participating in acts of civil disobedience?
  • What impact did these individuals have on others?
  • Were the risks that these individuals took worth the consequences and/or penalties that they suffered? (Why or why not?)
  • Would you participate in acts of civil disobedience? What cause would motivate you to take on the risks associated with such citizen action?
Activity 2

Government Restrictions on Individual Rights

Have students complete further research on examples of government restrictions on individual rights.

Students can choose one of the examples already studied or identify further examples of the U.S. government's restriction of individual rights in the interest of protecting the common good. For each instance of restriction of individual rights, students can identify:

  • Whose rights were restricted?
  • Why were those rights restricted?
  • Who benefited from the restrictions? How did they benefit?
  • Who suffered as a result of the restrictions? How did they suffer?
  • Were the restrictions warranted?

Prompt students to draw conclusions -- Over time, many of the restrictions the government put in place proved to be unwarranted or unnecessary. Some restrictions enacted in times of war were fueled by war hysteria. Ask students to reflect on the example they studied and determine whether it was necessary. Students should be prepared to back up their opinions.

Advanced Work

These activities can help your students reach the next level in their understanding of Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities.

Activity 1

Influences Behind Policy Changes

Have students consider what they know about the relationship in the U.S. between elected officials and their electorate. Students can identify how public opinion is shaped by both elected leaders who want to influence public opinion in their favor, and by citizens who want to make changes to this leadership.

Guiding questions:

  • How are elected officials limited in their roles as policymakers?
  • What are the limitations that citizens face in affecting change in policy decisions?

Have students consider specific policy changes that occurred in the following categories:

  • Extension of suffrage;
  • Labor legislation;
  • Civil rights legislation;
  • Military policy;
  • Environmental legislation;
  • Business regulation;
  • Educational policy.

Students can research and identify a particular policy change. Have students determine how both elected leaders and citizen action influenced public opinion related to this proposed policy change. Ask them to focus on how citizen involvement produced a change in policy. You can discuss with students the role of political parties, interest groups, lobbyists and the media in this process.

Instruct students to write up their findings in a report, or to present to the class.

Activity 2

Balancing Individual Rights and the Common Good

Have students consider the big questions in the balance between individual rights and the common good. Encourage students to use their study of individual rights to form opinions about the following questions:

  • When is it necessary to restrict the rights of individuals? When does public interest override individual rights?
  • Throughout history, whose rights have been most restricted? Why might this be the case?
  • Who determines what restrictions should be enacted? What systems are in place for checking those decisions?

Students can be encouraged to create position papers in response to one or more of the above questions.

To extend their study, encourage students to consider modern-day examples of restrictions to individual rights. Ask them to connect each of these examples to the thoughts they express in their position papers.