Exercise: Advocacy Day

In this exercise, participants explore a public policy issue and then take part in a mock legislative session where the issue is presented and debated. There are three purposes:

  • To illustrate how a legislature works and what legislators do;
  • To allow participants to study an issue, marshal arguments, and present their case in order to convince others to support their side;
  • To practice working as a team toward a policy goal.

In addition, when a current or former legislator acts as the “speaker,” the exercise allows participants to watch a knowledgeable and experienced woman leader in action.


Invite a current or former legislator – or someone familiar with how legislatures work – to serve as “speaker.” That person need not participate in the planning process, but will need thorough briefing on the process and the issues to be debated. 

If the group is large, the exercise can include more than one policy issue, presented in the form of a proposed bill. Participants should be divided into two teams for each issue, one in favor of the proposed bill and the other opposed. Each team should have a “coach” – an adult or older student who can: keep them on task;  help them find, understand and organize relevant information; and assist them in shaping compelling, compact arguments.


Select an issue or issues that will be meaningful and interesting to young people – ideally issues that are actually under current debate or have recently been addressed in your area. For example:

Restrictions on Internet Use in Public Places: The proposed bill would require public school districts that provide Internet access for their students and local public libraries which provide Internet access for their patrons to utilize software filters that would restrict minors’ access to obscene and other potentially harmful matter.

Graduated Driver’s Licenses: The proposed bill would mandate graduated driver’s licenses with different provisions for each age/stage – learner’s permit, intermediate or provisional license, and full license.


Conducting the Exercise
Teams should have at least a few hours to research their issues and develop their arguments. Depending on the age level and the available time, they can be provided with appropriate background materials, or they can do their own research online or in a library. Among their materials can be a very basic summary of Roberts’ Rules of Order, so they can think about how a debate should proceed. They should also have access to basic materials (e.g. poster board and markers) if they wish to make visual aids of any kind.

For the actual debate, if possible, it’s ideal to have the legislative session take place in an actual legislative chamber, such as a statehouse or city council chamber. Participants may be able to speak from the desks of legislators or from the main podium; in some cases, they may even be able to try out the electronic voting system to vote “yea” or “nay” on the “legislation” at hand.

The designated “speaker” of the mock legislative body should start with a brief introduction to being a lawmaker – what a day is like, what legislators do. She should also lay out whatever rules she chooses to impose.

She (or the clerk if one is present) will then call the first bill. Each side will be allotted a short time (e.g. 15 minutes) to use as they see fit, but teams will be encouraged to limit individual presentations to two minutes. Each team member should have a significant role, whether actually speaking or preparing the material to be presented. Each “pro” team will have a chief sponsor, who should present the details of the bill. Then the “anti” team will make an initial statement explaining the opposition. Afterward, the speaker can recognize individual “legislators” to present statements.

Once the first bill is fully debated, the question should be called and a vote should be taken. Then subsequent bills will be debated and voted on in the same fashion.

The entire audience – including participants and staff – can vote, but while participants may vote according to their actual preferences, the staff should vote based on which side has made its case more effectively.