Different Types of Government (And How We Can Teach Them)

As our students learn more about government, it is vital that they understand the different types of government. This isn’t always easy or straight forward, though. To make it a little easier, here’s some of the main types of governments - and some ways to approach them in the classroom.

 
Different Types of Government and How We Can Teach Them. A look at a range of different types of governments, why it is important to learn about them and how we can teach them in an engaging way for our students. Perfect for social studies and government teachers and students. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Types of Government

There are a number of different types of government which we can explore in the classroom. These include

Democracy

Democracy has been formally used as a type of government since Ancient Athens. The general premise of democracy is that the ‘people’ (usually restricted to people with citizenship who are over a certain age) get to decide on the rules and laws of the land - or they get to choose who makes the rules and laws of the land.

Democratic principles mean that everyone is seen as equal and everyone is required to follow the laws - however, in practice there have been times when those in power have treated others poorly (and restricted their ability to make decisions) to maintain power.

When we talk democracy in the classroom, we usually talk about voting - either voting for representatives or representatives voting for the laws we have to follow.

Dictatorship

In a dictatorship one person, or a small group of people, control the population and the rules and laws of the land. This is usually done by force, especially with the backing of the military.

Feudalism/Monarchy

A monarchy is a system of government headed by a single person - a monarch - who is usually part of a ruling family. Monarchs might have power to make laws or might be the figurehead of an elected government, but their right to be the head of the government is usually accepted by most of the citizens and they don’t need to use force or restrict the freedoms of the citizens.

In feudalism, there was a system of hierarchy - the person at the top had the most power, a small group of people below them had less power, the bigger group of people below then had less power again - down to the peasants with the smallest amount of power.

Communism

The ideal of communism is equality for everyone - a system which should especially benefit workers who have historically done the work while others have received the rewards.

However, in reality, it is very hard to maintain complete equality and communist leaders have often maintained power - and ‘equality’ - using the same forceful tactics as dictatorships.

Empires

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, many European countries went out of their way to ‘collect’ nations around the world - creating large empires. They might settle their own people in the countries, promote local people to act as leaders or just rule the country from afar, but they always held ultimate control over the countries - even from the other side of the world. Many times the European countries wanted resources from the countries they ‘collected’.

 
Different Types of Government and How We Can Teach Them. A look at a range of different types of governments, why it is important to learn about them and how we can teach them in an engaging way for our students. Perfect for social studies and government teachers and students. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Why is it important to learn about types of government?

As we learn more history, we begin to understand how important it is to understand different kinds of governments. We can get a better understanding of World War Two when we understand dictatorships. We get a better understanding of the American Revolution and the partition of India and Pakistan when we understand Empires. We understand the suffragette movement better when we understand democracy.

Political history and political background is not always the most interesting part of history and it can be hard to teach. Learning the basics of the types of governments can allow for deeper teaching and make the information more accessible to students.

Understanding types of governments also allows students to understand how decisions are made. As future adults, understanding government allows our students to be better involved in them. Students can approach that part of adulthood with more confidence and will be better informed against misinformation campaigns.

Understanding different types of governments also allows us to move towards better types of governments. It helps us to understand why gerrymandering can lead to uneven representations or to understand why some people have difficulties with the ideas of quotas. For our students, it helps them get an understanding of what fair and unfair might look like when it comes to political systems and helps them to campaign for better representation as they get older.

 
Different Types of Government and How We Can Teach Them. A look at a range of different types of governments, why it is important to learn about them and how we can teach them in an engaging way for our students. Perfect for social studies and government teachers and students. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

How can we teach different types of government?

One of the best ways to teach different types of government is to find the stories that go with them. Students may not remember dry definitions of Ancient Democracy, but they might remember the story of the painted rope being carried through the Athenian Agora to mark the clothing of Athenian men who weren’t quick enough to participate in votes. Stories of life under dictatorships are common and are very helpful in giving students an understanding of that life. Stories of different monarchs through history - and their powers (or the lack of them) can also demonstrate monarchy.

The different types of governments have a direct impact on the people who live in them. That makes the stories more relevant and more powerful to our students.

Another way to teach different types of governments is by going visual. Creating diagrams or 3D representations of the different types of governments requires students to take a deeper look at them and to show a clear understanding of the different kinds of governments.

As a teacher, using diagrams to teach can also be useful. Students can record them in their book next to their writing, observe video versions of diagrams or use markers or figures to move around diagrams to get a better understanding of the types of government.

Finally, students can get a better understanding of the types of government through analogies. Using things which are an everyday part of the lives of students can make the abstract ideas much more real. Students can create ‘what if’ scenarios for classrooms or schools or the playground, experiment with what might happen if different types of governments ruled the classroom or apply different types of government to their favourite books or television shows.

Different types of government might seem like a dry topic at first glance. However, a closer look shows how important it is and how we can help our students understand it in fun and thoughtful ways.

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? (And How Can We Teach It?)

Civics and Citizenship education is filled with terminology: sometimes it feels like you’re learning a new - very specific - language. So how would you use that terminology to define Australia’s type of government? And how can we teach that in the classroom?

 
Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post
 

What is Democracy?

We can blame it on the Ancient Greeks.

Well, to be honest, there were probably small communities practicing elements of democracy before the city of Athens, but the Athenians were definitely the ones who made it popular. In Ancient Athens, any male who was a citizen (and over 20) could take part in government. That meant they could be part of the group which came up with new laws, they could vote on new laws, they could speak out about new laws. The power to guide the future of Athens was in the hands of lots of ordinary people (leaving out women, slaves and people whose parents weren’t Athenian).

Democracy is still about sharing power today, although we don’t tend to see democratic systems where citizens vote on everything anymore - that’s just too many votes on topics not too many of us really care about! Instead of that direct form of democracy, most democracies are representative. In a representative government, the citizens vote for people to represent us.

We hope that those representatives will have special talents or gifts or knowledge and will make thoughtful decisions and laws which help to move the country or state or city forward. Citizens still get to have a say - through voting for people who we think will make the laws we want and through being able to speak out about laws and other things - but we don’t make all the decisions ourselves.

How can we explore democracy in the classroom?

There are lots of ways to explore democracy, but a really easy way is just by voting! Students can propose ideas - like whether blue or green is a better colour, or if Baby Shark is really a good song or not - and then vote on them. The majority wins - and there might be a consequence. Like the teacher writing in only blue pen for the rest of the day. Or Baby Shark being played at least three times before the lunch bell.

To extend understanding, though, you can bring more options into the exercise. What if there were three songs for the students to choose from? What if the teacher offered 5 colours to vote on? In a class of 25 students, a majority of 6 students might be enough to decide on which pen colour would be used. Is it fair for only 6 students out of 25 to make that decision? This opens up an avenue for further conversation about democracy and majorities.

What is Monarchy?

A monarchy is - very simply - a government with a monarch at the head.

A monarch is the leader of a group of people - often a family - who symbolise the power and identity of the country. The monarch might have different title - king or queen, sultan, emperor - and they usually rule until they either die or abdicate - step down to hand over power to another member of the group or family.

While many monarchies are hereditary - they are passed down through the family following a set of rules about who gets it next - some monarchies are elected. For example, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church (who is the head of the Vatican City State) is elected from cardinals before holding the position for life. In Malaysia, the monarch is elected from a group of families and they hold the position for five years.

Absolute monarchy means that the monarch has all the power. However, these days many monarchs hold ceremonial roles or have limited roles in government, with most of the power for making laws and decisions the responsibility of elected governments. This is a constitutional monarchy.

How can we explore monarchy in the classroom?

Because monarchies have been popular throughout history until today, there are many opportunities for researching them in the classroom. One avenue of investigation is to look at the symbols of monarchy in different parts of the world and different times of history. Students can look at what symbols there were for the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and compare them with the symbols for modern monarchies - such as the British Royal family.

 
Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post
 

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy?

Australia is both!

In Australia, citizens over the age of 18 participate in representative democracy. We vote for representatives to represent us at the local, state and federal level and trust that they’ll make the laws and decisions which guide the country forward.

However, we’re also a constitutional monarchy. We have a head of state who has restricted (and rarely used) powers.

Who is the head of state? Well, the Queen of Great Britain . . .

Between the 16th Century and the early 20th Century, Great Britain collected countries and states around the world to make the British Empire. Those countries were all ruled by the British monarch - the head of the British Royal family. In the modern era, as the British Empire faded, many of these countries became members of the Commonwealth realm and chose to keep the Monarch of Great Britain as their head of state. Australia is one of those countries.

As Head of State of Australia, the Queen does very little. She has representatives in Australia - the Governor General and the Governors of the states, who swear in leaders and sign laws - but again those representatives do very little (and it causes a bit of an outrage when they do try to test their power). But for many people, the Queen is important as a symbol.

Of course, not everyone feels this way. During the 1990s, more and more people called for a referendum (our way of having a direct vote in Australia) to stop being a monarchy. The referendum was held in 1999 and was unsuccessful - keeping Australia as a monarchy. Many believe this will change after Queen Elizabeth the Second passes away.

 
Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post
 

How Can We Teach It?

Some people might ask if it matters that Australia is a democracy and a monarchy. This is actually an excellent question to pose to your students - does it matter what type of government we have? What if we changed one kind of government or the other?

Students might also like to explore how we got here. How were decisions made in the different Indigenous Nations before the First Fleet arrived? What did early government look like in the colony of New South Wales? How did government change with Federation in 1901? A timeline activity could be a great way for students to examine how governments change and how they come to look like they are today.

Students can also make predictions about what government might look like in the future. Do they think we will have a monarch from another country as the head of state of Australia in the future? Will we continue to have a representative democracy or will we make changes to that system? How might the types of government change?

Monarchy and democracy might not seem like fascinating topics on the surface. But they are the systems which have shaped our government - and have shaped governments and history in the past. By getting a better understanding of these systems, we can help our students see how they can shape the country going into the future!