Elementary Lessons


Voting Rights


Why have voting rights changed?


The right to vote has been withheld from many groups throughout history based on gender, race, background and religion. Universal suffrage is the right of all adult citizens to vote in elections. It took decades of people and groups campaigning for equality to be achieved.


In this lesson, students learn about the struggles some groups experienced in gaining the right to vote in Canada. Students create a visual timeline of events in history that shaped our voting rights today. They will reflect on and discuss how they feel about groups being excluded. Students also have an opportunity to discuss low voter turnout and consider reasons for the decline.


We are learning to…

  • use the concept of cause and consequence to explain the history of voting rights in Canada;
  • use the concept of continuity and change to make connections between important events in history and determine how they affected the community development of two or more groups;
  • reflect on past discrimination with respect to voting rights;
  • use the concept of significance to show how and why voting rights has different meaning and importance for different people and groups;
  • demonstrate self-respect, as well as respect and empathy for others (Citizen Education Framework –Identity).


Below are some sample success criteria you can use or build upon. Co-creating success criteria with your class will allow students to have ownership over their learning and understand what successful learning looks like.


  • identify the contributions made by various groups to voting rights in Canada (cause and consequence);
  • make connections between important events in history and determine how they affected the community development of two or more groups (continuity and change);
  • choose an event in history and explain its impact on democratic rights in Canada;
  • analyze how various groups helped make Canada more inclusive (patterns and trends);
  • explain how and why voting rights has a different meaning and importance for different people and groups (significance);
  • empathize with those who have not been treated equally.


Grade 5:
  • Social Studies – B3, B3.1
  • Oral Communication – 1, 1.4, 1.7
  • Writing – 1, 1.4
  • Reading – 1, 3, 1.4, 1.6
  • Media Literacy – 3, 3.3
Grade 6:
  • Social Studies – A1, A3, A1.3, A3.8
  • Oral Communication – 1, 1.4, 1.7
  • Writing – 1, 1.4
  • Reading – 1, 3, 1.4, 1.6
  • Media Literacy – 3, 3.3



1. Read the following fictional story to your students:

Last year, there was a lot of bullying among the students at Harrison Public School. Students were not treating each other with respect. There was fighting, teasing and tears almost every day and it was very disruptive to the school community. Over the summer, parents, teachers, the principal and members of the school community held meetings to find a solution. After lots of discussion, it was decided that students would not be allowed to choose their own friends anymore. Instead, parents would make those decisions and teachers would enforce them.

2. Using a Think-Pair-Share strategy, have students answer the following questions:

  • How would you feel if you did not have the right to choose your own friends?
  • How important is it that we are allowed to make our own decisions or have a say in the decisions that affect us?
  • What are the consequences if people do not take an active role in the decisions that affect them?


1. Explain to students that the right to vote in Canada has not always been universal. Many groups have been excluded throughout history based on gender, race and religion. Watch ‘The Right to Vote’ video.

Video clarification: Although women, gained the right to vote by 1918, there were still many exclusions due to race, ethnic origin and religion. Universal suffrage for all women was not achieved until 1960.

2. Distribute copies of Handout 9.1 and Activity 9.2. In pairs or individually, ask students to review the handout and record the date when voting rights for a particular group were changed or enhanced, and summarize information about what happened and why.

3. Afterwards, students can create a visual timeline showing the years when various groups received the right to vote or when access was improved.

Exemplars: www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/timeline

4. Voter turnout in Canada has declined over the past several decades. In the 2014 Ontario provincial election barely half (52 per cent) of eligible voters cast a ballot. Use these guiding questions for a class discussion.

  • Why do you think fewer people are voting than before?
  • Are there valid reasons not to vote?
  • Will you vote in elections when you turn 18 years old? Why or why not?


Have a brief closing discussion about voting rights and participation in elections, or ask students to write a reflection on one or more of the following questions.

  • Why is it important that every citizen (18 years of age and older) have the right to vote?
  • What are the consequences of some people not voting in government elections?


  • Be sensitive to issues at home that may challenge perspectives around voting and democratic participation, such as religious reasons or traditions followed by certain groups.
  • Recognize and acknowledge barriers that inhibit individuals or groups from voting (e.g., negative history, socio-economic class, language, newcomer).


Type of Assessment: For Learning

Lesson Area: Minds On

Guiding Questions for Teachers

  1. Can students understand the concept of being deprived of certain rights?
  2. Are students able to connect the concept of rights at school with rights in their larger community?
  3. Can students empathize with others? Can they appreciate the suffrage movement?

Type of Assessment: As Learning

Lesson Area: ACTION: Activity 9.2 / Time Line

Guiding Questions for Teachers

  1. Are students using headings and key words to find relevant sections? Are students using accurate information on their worksheet?
  2. Can students demonstrate understanding of the information by summarizing important dates in the suffrage movement? Are they using relevant and appropriate visuals?

Type of Assessment: Of Learning

Lesson Area: Consolidation

Guiding Questions for Teachers

  1. Do students express an appreciation for voting in elections? Can they recognize the consequences of not voting?


Individual Education Plans


  • Provide extra time for Activity 9.2 and the timeline.
  • Encourage questions about content to ensure understanding.
  • Have students create a poster in relation to information on Activity 9.2.


  • Have students research the individuals and groups behind the suffrage movement and capture their stories to share with their peers.

English Language Learners

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

  • Some students may come from different background groups that may have been disenfranchised. Ensuring a safe place for respectful discussion is encouraged.

Indigenous Focus

  • Emphasize the year when Indigenous People achieved suffrage.
  • Indigenous rights and equality have been slowly forthcoming. Ensuring a safe place for respectful discussion is encouraged.


  • Handout 9.1: History of Voting Rights in Canada [PDF]
  • Activity 9.2: Voting Rights in Canada [PDF] [Word]

Download Lesson (PDF)