Lesson Plan

  • Grades 9-10,
  • Grades 11-12

Student Engagement through Participatory Budgeting


Part 1: Do Now

When students arrive, have the following questions written on the board and instruct students to write a brief response for three to five minutes: Who makes the decisions about how money is spent in our school? What role could students play in the decision-making process?

Distribute two “pennies” from Teacher Handout A: Discussion Activitiesand have them write their names on each sheet. Explain that, as the lesson continues, you want to make sure that everyone’s voice will be heard and that each person can share their “two cents”. Each time a student participates in a discussion, they can hand in one of their pennies. By the end of the lesson everyone should have spent their pennies.

Have students share their responses and briefly discuss the following question using the Popcorn Sharing Method described inTeacher Handout A: Discussion Exercises: Why would it be beneficial for the school community if students helped decide how our school budget is spent?

Part 2: Brainstorming

Facilitator Note: Encourage students to move through the brainstorming activities at a brisk pace.

Ask students to imagine they have the opportunity to improve the school by deciding how the school’s budget is spent. Distribute sticky notes around the classroom and review the instructions below. Give students three to five minutes to brainstorm projects that would benefit each of the three communities. Students should write one idea per sticky note and post their notes on the appropriate chart paper (OUR CLASS, OUR SCHOOL, FIVE YEARS).

Instructions: Think of at least two projects that could benefit each of the following communities:

  • Our classmates, teacher and classroom
  • Our whole school
  • Our school’s future students and teachers (A project that will benefit students over the next five years)

Divide the class into three groups by having each student count off one at a time. Assign each team a brainstorming category (OUR CLASS, OUR SCHOOL or FIVE YEARS) and have them review the responses. Instruct teams to reorganize the sticky notes into categories and divide the groups into smaller Design Teams – one team for each category. For example:

  • School beautification
  • Recreation
  • Classroom materials
  • Environment and sustainability

Distribute one copy of Student Handout A: What’s the Big Idea?to each Design Team. Have Teams select a note-taker, then discuss and organize the project suggestions using the prompts on Page 1 of the handout.

Part 3: Select and Explore

Have each Design Team select a project to explore and use Student Handout A: What’s the Big Idea?, Page 2 to describe and evaluate the benefit of this plan.

Facilitator Note: A team might decide they don’t like the project suggestions they have to choose from. If so, explain that the goal of this activity is to practice the process of brainstorming, designing, presenting, and analyzing a project. Students might find that practicing with a random project idea can free them to up to experiment and think out of the box. Later in the lesson, everyone will have the opportunity to develop their own project ideas.

Part 4: Feedback and Reflection

Have the Design Teams rejoin their groups and take turns presenting their project ideas using the Rapid Feedback process from Student Handout B: Rapid Feedback. Have teams use a stopwatch (or app) to manage the time for each step and keep up a brisk pace.

Reconvene the class for a brief review and reflection using the following prompts, as needed (remind students who still have their Two Cents to participate in the discussion):

  • What surprised you most during the activity?
  • What questions and suggestions were most helpful?
  • What changes would you make to your project and/or pitch based on the feedback your Team received?
  • What project(s) are you most enthusiastic about? Why?
  • If you wanted to implement one or more of these school improvement projects, how could you fund them?

Activity: Watching and DiscussingPublic Money

Introduce the film Public Money and instruct students to take notes on each project, including whom the project benefits and the problem it is trying to solve. Students should also note any questions they have about the Participatory Budgeting process.

Direct the class to breakout into small discussion groups of two to three students and distribute one copy of Student Handout C: Public Money Discussion Questions to each group.

Reconvene the class and reflect using the following prompts, as needed (who still needs to share their two cents?):

  • What questions did the film raise for you and your discussion group?
  • What does, “Budgets are the essence of what government does…” mean?
  • What were some of the biggest challenges the participants encountered? What would you do to encourage more collaboration across cultural and language obstacles?
  • How did the participants assess the needs, challenges, and priorities of Sunset Park residents?
  • How could the PB process connect with a broader audience?
    • For example: Partnering with grassroots and community organizations that serve the community; partnering with local school leadership, afterschool and service learning programs; creating and distributing multi-language surveys online and IRL; interviewing community members directly; integrating outreach and feedback processes into existing neighborhood events; asking for input from local specialists in relevant professions to assess feasibility.
  • The surveillance camera project was the most controversial proposition on the ballot. Why do you think the cameras made some residents feel safer and other residents feel less safe? What are some arguments for and against surveillance cameras?
    • Background: Security cameras raise concerns about constitutional rights, privacy, mass surveillance, racial bias in policing and accountability. Evaluations of major U.S. cities have also shown that surveillance cameras are ineffective for neighborhood security but can reduce crime in parking lots. Security cameras, which require long-term maintenance, are also much more expensive than proven solutions like improved street lighting.
  • What should happen when a large population votes for a project that is potentially detrimental for a minority of residents? Should the majority always “win” regardless of the consequences for minority groups? What can be done to ensure that the needs and priorities of smaller populations are represented as well?
  • How did the PB process and outcomes benefit the Sunset Park community?
  • What did you like most about the film Public Money and the Participatory Budgeting process?
  • How could we translate a project like this into a school setting? Which activities, processes, ideas and procedures from Public Money would be useful for a school-based project?

Activity: Idea to Action Plan

Facilitator Note: If your class will be developing theoretical PB Action Plans but not implementing projects in your school, follow the instructions below. You can suggest a hypothetical budget limit for the projects, such as $2,000. If your school can allocate a budget for student-led Participatory Budgeting, skip the following activity and visitparticipatorybudgeting.orgwhere you will find the step-by-step Guide to Participatory Budgeting in Schools and additional tools and resources.

Discuss: Do you think a fixed portion of the budget should be set aside every year to be allocated through Participatory Budgeting? How could a PB process benefit our school community?

Explain: You will have the opportunity to apply your new project planning skills and your understanding of the Participatory Budgeting model, as illustrated in Public Money, to develop a Plan of Action for a PB project in our school. You will develop a “pitch” for your project ideas and present them to our class (as well as: students from another class, the Principal or members of the school administration, etc.)

Organize students into Design Teams of three to four students and distribute three sheets of chart paper and sticky notes to each team. Instruct Teams to write “Problems to Solve” on a sheet of chart paper and post it on the wall. Give them three to five minutes to brainstorm responses to the following question, write one response on each sticky note, then post it on the chart paper: What would you like to see changed or improved in your school? (Be as specific as possible.)

Have teams review their responses and identify themes, similarities and/or patterns that emerge. Instruct teams to reorganize the sticky notes into categories and select one category to focus on. Category examples:

  • School beautification
  • Recreation
  • Classroom materials
  • Environment and sustainability

Ask Teams to write “Solutions/Projects” at the top of a sheet of chart paper and hang it on the wall. Give Teams three to five minutes to brainstorm projects that could address their issue, write one response on each sticky note, and post them on the chart paper. Have teams evaluate their project ideas using Student Handout D: Idea Evaluationand select a project to pursue.

Assignment (In-Class and/or Homework)

Distribute one copy of Student Handout E: Idea to Action Planto each group. Have Teams develop their plans, budget and “Elevator Pitch”, then partner with another team to refine their ideas using the Rapid Feedback process.

Teams should “pitch” their completed project ideas and budget to the class (as well as: students from another class, the Principal or members of the school administration, etc.)

Option: If time and resources are available, Design Teams can create project display boards in the style of the PB participants in Public Money to showcase their project proposals. The displays can be exhibited in a common area of the school (library, assembly hall, cafeteria, etc.) and the student body can vote on their favorite presentation.

Facilitator Note: Review the papers to make sure that all students have contributed their “Two Cents” to the discussion. You may want to assign a point system to the sheets to help grade class participation.

If you have additional class time, consider introducing a ‘Design Thinking’ model into the idea development process. Examples:

With help from