Everyone seems to concur that 2020 has been especially tumultuous and full of very historic events. Now it is time to select a leader that is able to rise to the occasion and lead the country for the next four years. However, it is silly to think that events of election season go unnoticed! Students everywhere are observing the cause and effect of the decisions made during this year’s election every day, so what better time to teach them about the many functions of their government systems and processes? Whether it is a local or presidential election, campaigns and elections present various opportunities to teach students about the government and its many functions. There is no limit to the conversation when discussing the myriad of issues that are taking place in the current society. Whether it is the candidate’s positions, demographics, or the way the media covers specific material, students could use the material you teach in your classroom to make connections and understand the world around them a little more clearly.
The surge of early votes goes to say how many people have realized the importance of voting! According to a Harvard Poll, the number of Americans aged 18-29 who say they will “definitely” vote in the upcoming election has climbed from 47% in 2016 to 63% in 2020! There has been a dramatic shift in how young Americans feel about the usefulness of voting and we can attribute this to recent events. However, the importance of voting should not only be stressed to those who are of voting age, but also with students everywhere of all ages. All students have the right to understand the power in the decisions that they will have with their vote. Understanding government processes and specifics as it pertains to candidates will set the foundation for their learning for future voting! This blog will provide 5 different strategies on how you can teach your students about the election!
Before getting into specific ways to teach your students about elections be sure to establish guidelines for a safe and anti-bias learning environment. As we know elections can spark many differing opinions! Ensure your students understand how to think objectively about every process, every system, and even candidate! Giving students the platform and the resources to research and discover these for what they counteract the effects of social media and various other intruding factors that may infiltrate the facts of the election.
5 Different ways to Teach your Students about the Election
These are tools that withstand the test of time and eventually provide students with the ability to think critically about government issues! Who knows what brilliant minds may emerge from their thinking process with the proper understanding; after all, a future candidate may be in your classroom.
1. Create a Campaign for a Fictional Character: By looking at and studying high profile candidates, students can begin to further understand how to research a candidate and follow their issues. They can then begin to look into candidate upbringing and understand the reasoning behind their positions on certain issues. Eventually, they can create their own fictional candidate! Scholastic Education suggests the following objectives for instructional planning:
(Click here for instructional materials and a lesson plan!)
- Understand that the election process includes many steps and presidential campaigns often take place over two full years
- Identify with the character they have selected, lending him or her an appropriate voice throughout the campaign
- Learn the qualifications necessary to vote in the United States
- Differentiate between positive and negative personal attributes
- Select a fictional character for nomination who personifies the qualities of a good leader
- Use the Internet to learn about the election process
- Write an announcement speech that identifies their character’s platform
- Correctly complete a form that registers them to vote in the classroom election
2. Creatively Display voting patterns and demographic trends: ADL Fighting Hate for Good suggests that students reflect upon the diversity of our country and gain insight into how people may or may not vote depending on who they are and what issues are important to them. Understanding voting patterns and demographic trends based on race, religion, socioeconomic status, LGBTQ, gender, etc. can help gain an understanding of some of the differences in positions for certain issues. Look at the demographics of each state and consider how certain voters support certain candidates.
- Have students create an infographic on the diversity of the entire country or for different states. Ask questions such as “What does this say about how they would vote?”.
- Have students create a poster comparing and contrasting different candidates and the people that are voting for them, ask questions such as, “What does this say about the interest of their voters?”.
- Have students conduct an election survey with classmates, friends, and family members and gain insight into local demographic voting patterns
3. Identify biases and stereotypes in the media: Consider the extent to which certain candidates in the current election are covered more than others and how specific candidates are portrayed in the media. Notice stereotypes and biases based on aspects of the candidates’ identities. Discuss and understand the effects of the media and the importance of knowing the correct sources to obtain information. Here are some examples form ADL Fighting Hate for Good!:
- Have the students use posters or infographics to illustrate a culmination of media coverage. Compare and contrast facts and what is covered in the media.
- Have students write a paper on bias and unbiased media coverage. Ask questions such as “How does this affect the overall perception of this candidate?”.
- Have students create a social media campaign that highlights biased social media coverage of candidates. This is a fun way to identify the bias in social media coverage compared to reality.
4. Watch the videos on voting or watch the debates!: Teach students all the ins and outs of voting and responsibility with these 11 awesome election videos for learners from PreK through high school form We Are Teachers!:
- Vote: Steve Carrell joins Abby and Elmo as they learn all about the voting process by practicing to vote for their favorite snack. Produced by: Sesame Street (1:56) Best for PreK-K.
- Election Day: Big Bird learns all about what it looks like to vote on election day, including what a polling place looks like. Produced by: Sesame Street (5:21) Best for grades PreK-K.
- Why is Voting Important: This video introduces the basics of the hows and whys of the voting process. Vocabulary words such as ballot, the ballot box, voting booths, and election day are explained. Produced by Kids Academy (2:43). Best for grades PreK-2.
- Voting Fun Facts: This informative video discusses statistics and polls, political parties, tools candidates use to get elected, and more. Produced by the U.S. Government (2:33). Best for grades 1-3.
- The US Presidential Voting Process: Quick and engaging, this video explains voting districts, ballots, procedures, and how many people it takes to pull off a legitimate election. Produced by Share America (1:59). Best for grades 3-5.
How we Choose Our President: Primaries and Caucuses: Learn all about the first round of the election process-primaries and caucuses. Produced by SeePolitical (2:26). Best for grades 3-6.
- Voting: In a democracy, making your voice heard is as simple as casting your vote! The idea of giving people a say in government goes back to Ancient Greece. Produced by BrainPop (4:30). Best for grades 3-6.
- Does your vote count: The Electoral College Explained: You vote, but then what? Discover how your vote contributes to the popular vote and your state’s electoral vote in different ways. Plus, see how votes are counted on both state and national levels. Produced by TedEd (5:21) Best for middle school.
- Election Basics: This video explains the nitty-gritty of how elections work in the U.S. in a fast-paced, humorous way. Produced by PBS Digital Studios (8:45). Best for middle and high school students.
- History of Voting: How have voting rights changed since the first election in 1789? Nicki Beaman Griffin outlines the history of the long fight for a more inclusive electorate. Produced by TED-Ed (4:30). Best for high school students.
- Should 16-Year olds be allowed to vote: This thought-provoking video weighs the pros and cons of moving the voting age to 16. Along the way, it looks at the history of voting, the teen brain, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Produced by KQED-Above the Noise (6:00). Best for high school students.
5. Create an illustration for party platforms: ADL Fighting Hate for Good suggests that Learning more about the different political parties and each of their platforms relating to civil rights and social justice issues would be beneficial for students to identify issues that are important to them and gain clarity on their positions. They can then research to understand and study platforms. In addition to the Democratic and Republican parties, research some of the other parties including the Green, Working Families, and Libertarian parties.
- Have your students convey/design a log for the parties that interest the students. Have them identify how the legal symbolizes the core stance and objectives of that particular party!
- Have your students create a Venn diagram that compares and contrasts different parties. Allow them to explain what each party's stance means for the general public, ask them “What are the conflicting factors between each party?”.
- Have students write to the Chairperson of one of the parties asking them a question about a particular issue or asking them to add/change something in their party’s platform.
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