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Rules vs laws

'Wrong way' and 'one way' road signs

Road signs by bpcraddock. Pixabay. License to use.

Students discover the difference and similarities between rules and laws, how they are implemented, and how they could be changed.


  • Rules, laws, similarities, differences, enforcement, consequences, purpose, effectiveness.
  • He Tohu theme: living together.

What to do

Compare and contrast rules and laws

Ask students to discuss and record the differences and similarities between rules and laws in terms of:

  • the purposes they serve
  • how they are made
  • how they are implemented (e.g. how people are made aware of the rule and how the rule is enforced)
  • how they can be changed.

Consider using a Venn diagram to organise responses.

Breaking a rule or a law?

Get students to identify when the following examples might be breaking a rule, a law, or neither:

  • crossing the road against the lights
  • copying someone else’s work
  • sharing a secret
  • saying something about a person that isn’t true.
  • wearing incorrect school uniform
  • riding your bike without a helmet
  • being home alone if you are less than 14 years old
  • smoking at 17 years old
  • swimming outside the lifeguard flags
  • skateboarding on the footpath
  • not wearing a seat belt in a moving car
  • a child who is less than 12 years old sitting in the front seat of a car.

Students then find out the possible consequences for breaking each of these rules or laws.

Reasons for rules and laws

Students then investigate the reason for rules and laws.

  • Explore how a range of reasons contribute to the creation of rules and laws (e.g. moral, societal, economic, health/safety).
  • Look at the consequences of breaking a rule or law above. Decide which reason for the rule or law has been affected.

New Zealand Curriculum — social sciences

Conceptual strands:

  • Identity, Culture, and Organisation

Achievement objectives:

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