Democracy Around the World

From Vote Democracy! collection, lesson plan 4 of 7

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade level: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Government, Political Science, Social Studies, Current Events, Language Arts, Debate, Sociology, Womens Studies

Purpose of the lesson:

Democracy exists in different forms in many countries around the world. Some countries are in the process of transitioning to or developing democracy; in other countries, democracy is more established. Still others may have a different system, yet still be influenced by democracy because it has been strongly promoted around the world by the United States and other Western countries. In this lesson, students examine what democracy looks like and how it plays out in countries with different political, ideological and cultural histories and backgrounds.


Students will:

  • read and analyze opinion-editorial writing
  • analyze and critically view film as text
  • research democratic systems in a specific country and develop a presentation for a roundtable format
  • learn about the U.S. government’s position as a model for democracy for countries around the world


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussions and in writing, critical reading and viewing, researching, note taking and oral presentation


  • board or overhead projector
  • chart paper
  • Iron Ladies of Liberia Film Module
  • Teacher Handout C
  • Iron Ladies of Liberia Discussion Guide
  • art supplies

National teaching standards addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards available in the educator guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

  1. Read “Background Information About Liberia and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf” from the Iron Ladies of Liberia Discussion Guide. Discuss how the events described (U.N. peacekeeping presence, debt forgiveness by the United States) point toward Liberia’s future.

  2. Present these two quotes:

    “Africa is going through a transition; Liberia is going through a transition. There will be charges and countercharges, that’s what an environment of democracy and freedom does, it enables people to speak out. But, of course, this dissent could be dangerous.” — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

    “Liberia has progressed now, to have serious political debates, but trust me, Africa…100% democracy … is no way working. Especially right after the war. Because the people will say that’s my right to sell in your living room. That’s my right to scratch your car. I mean they will misuse it so much that you will wish you had never used the word ‘democracy.’” — Beatrice Munah Sieh, Chief of Police of Liberia

    Have students write a response using these sentence stems:

    • Some problems Liberia faces as it transitions from authoritarian rule and civil war to democracy are…
    • Freedom of speech and dissent are/not essential aspects of democracy because…
    • An emerging democracy such as Liberia should deal with dissent by…
    • In order for Liberia to become a “100% democracy” it would mean that…
    • Some steps that must be taken in order to reach the goal of 100% democracy would be…
    • Other countries could help Liberia develop and democratize by…
    • The United Nations could help Liberia develop and democratize by…

    Call on students to share different responses.

  3. Divide students into small groups. Have them read and discuss the Carnegie Council’s Special Report by Madeleine Lynn,“The Spread of Democracy,”and “Universal Democracy? Prospects for a World Transformed,” a discussion with Larry Diamond and Joanne Myers. Provide students with these guiding questions for their discussions:

    • Why might democracy have been considered a “luxury that poorer non-European nations could not afford”?
    • Why might democracy increasingly be seen as a “universal ideal” and not so much as a “Western ideal”?
    • Why is “electoralism” not truly democracy? Why might it be a “first step” in a country’s transition to democracy? What could be other effective first steps?
    • What does Winston Churchill mean in his 1947 statement? Explain why you agree or disagree.
    • Larry Diamond says, “Doing it [transitioning to democracy] badly, and then failing is much worse in essence than not doing it at all.” What does he mean by this?
  4. View the Iron Ladies of Liberia Film Module and prompt students to observe the involvement and roles of the Chinese and U.S. governments. Have students respond using the following prompts:

    • Does the election of Johnson Sirleaf indicate a democratic transformation for Liberia?
    • Why might China be interested in involvement in Liberia, and why would it be in Liberia’s interest to accept that diplomacy and aid?
    • Why might the U.S. government be alarmed by China’s involvement in Liberia, and how should it respond?
    • What should Liberia’s ideal relationship be with the U.S., China and other nations? What does Liberia stand to gain from these relationships?
    • How does U.S. involvement in Liberia validate or contradict the United States’s commitment to promoting freedom and democracy around the world? How does U.S. involvement in Liberia support other government interests and goals?

    Discuss and debate U.S. involvement in Liberia. The Iron Ladies of Liberia Discussion Guide provides additional discussion questions, and Teacher Handout C contains selected quotes from the film.

  5. Assignment: Break students into small groups and have each group select a nation to research that is in some stage of adopting democratic principles. Examples are Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Russia, the Baltic states, Costa Rica, Mali, Portugal, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nicaragua, Ghana and Cape Verde. Topics to consider include:

    • Historical and geographic background
    • Conditions of infrastructure, debt, economy and employment
    • Relationship with the United Nations
    • Relationship with the United States and other nations that may be providing aid
    • How the country’s citizens view democracy

    Each group should include visual aids, research articles, maps, statistics, and quotes from politicians and other pertinent voices. Some good online resources include the websites of the International Foundation for Election Systems, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the International IDEA Voter Turnout. Each group should also examine the barriers that have hindered the country from adopting democratic principles and practices as well as the ways in which the country has been successful.

  6. Have the class convene an international roundtable in which representatives from each country present their “State of Democracy” and debate and discuss practices and successes.

Explore and respond to the other resources cited in the Carnegie Council Special Report:

  • Film module:
    Iron Ladies of Liberia
Download lesson materials