With the Presidential Elections coming soon, it’s time to take advantage of the ample sources of media and discourse to make real-world connections in your lesson plans.
There are many options when it comes to discussing the candidates, the differences in policies, and even how the different branches of government function. The key is to immerse your students in the world of politics so they have a better understanding of what is happening in the news and media during these crucial times.
Since we want to keep it educational and not push our own political agendas on our students, you’ll want to create lesson plans and activities that encourage students to discover all sides of the arguments.
The United States of Your Classroom
One of the best ways to keep lessons focused on the process rather than the actual results is to telegraph the function of elections onto your students and their classroom.
Turn your classroom into campaign headquarters. Not for the Democrats or Republicans, but rather for your own student elections.
As students learn the various terminology and vocabulary that go along with studying government and elections, you can begin to guide them to break into their own political parties. They can choose a party name, campaign slogans, and a logo. The key is to engage them in the process of creating something that represents what they want a classroom government to achieve.
Students will have the chance to think about the issues that matter to them. Perhaps some students believe the class needs a mascot, and this is an important issue to them. Others may want 5 minutes of class time to start their homework at the end of the period. Some may firmly believe that snacks should be allowed, especially if the class occurs late in the school day. The goal is to have students determine what platforms they’d vote for. You can draw analogies to the issues in the news to show that’s often how people choose which candidate to vote for.
Students should gain a sense of why a democracy tends to create multi-party systems. As a few parties are established in the class, they will choose which one best aligns with their viewpoints.
Choose the Candidates
Have the different student parties choose their candidate. Much like the primary system in the United States, which you can use as an example, have the parties vote on who they want to represent them in the full class elections. Depending on how many lessons and examples of roles in government you teach, you can have students choose candidates for each role.
The crux of student elections in your classes comes down to the debates. This is where theory and studies come into action. Mini-lessons on debating can be the scaffolded elements that lead to students experiencing the actual importance of the debate form in order to convince voters to side with their candidate.
Allow the students to prep and go through the entire process of the debates on the issues of the classroom. Be sure to critique them along the way, so all students have a chance to participate and discover what works and what doesn’t. Have students make connections to the presidential debates that they can watch on tv at home or in class, and see how closely their debates follow the real ones. Your students may even be able to critique the presidential candidates now that they have a better understanding of the art of debate.
Finally, choose a day to be the class’s Election Day. All students will vote for their class leaders and fully engross themselves in the lessons of democracy. Some will be disappointed, others elated; the key is to debrief and see what worked and what didn’t for those who ran in the election. There are lessons in victory and defeat, same as in real life politics.
Presidential elections are an ideal time to help students study the functions of our government as well as the processes needed to choose our elected officials. Hands-on learning about politics reaches its potential through student elections. It will give the students a sense of ownership over the United States voting system, debating, elections and choosing political parties. It will show them why voting and elections are so essential to the foundations of our country and help them grow into politically aware citizens.