Teaching second-grade students about rules and laws is an important part of your social studies curriculum. Students need to learn that rules help maintain order in society -- at school, at home and in public. They must also learn that offenders should be punished when they disobey rules or ignore laws. The goal is to help students understand why laws need to be fair and why law-breakers must be held accountable for their actions.
Offer a brief history of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so your students understand why citizens need guidelines to follow. Briefly discuss the role of the three branches of government -- the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Explain what might happen if one of the branches were to become too powerful and a system of checks and balances wasn't in place, such as the legislative branch drafting unfair laws or the judicial branch showing favoritism. Carry those concepts into the classroom and ask students what might happen if there were no class rules to follow.
Law Enforcement Roles
Discuss the roles law enforcement agents, such as police officers, detectives and crime scene investigators, play in society. Ask students to make a list on the chalkboard or whiteboard of important rules that are designed to keep citizens safe -- driving the speed limit, not carrying illegal weapons, not drinking and driving. Explain what happens to offenders when they break the rules, such as serving jail time, paying fines or losing privileges. Ask students to make posters about laws or rules in society they think are important.
Encourage second-graders to use their problem-solving skills to think of possible penalties for breaking rules. Start with adult-oriented situations that don't directly involve them, such as "What would be a fair punishment for someone who was driving recklessly?" or "How should a judge handle a case where someone stole something from a store?" Slowly progress to topics that involve classroom behavior, such as "What would be a fair penalty for someone who disobeyed the playground rules?" or "How should a teacher deal with a student who was caught cheating?" Discuss the importance of fairness, impartiality and justice, but remind students that everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance.
Types of Laws
Explain that some rules and laws never change, such as those that lead to direct harm against others -- murder, theft, kidnapping, abuse. However, some rules and laws aren't permanent, such as Prohibition during the 1920s, laws that denied women and minorities the right to vote and tax laws. You might show the classic Schoolhouse Rock video "How a Bill Becomes a Law" to help second-grade students understand the complicated legislative process. The objective is to help students understand that some laws are set in stone, and others go through a lofty process to ensure they're beneficial to society.
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