By Scott Sterling
Although there have been aspects of this campaign that are not appropriate for the classroom, It’s still important for students to understand and even participate in the election process. Students need to be prepared to contribute to our democracy and be able to recognize its evolution and how it can be improved.
Here are some activities that can help bring the election alive for students, even if they don’t quite understand what’s happening.
Election season is the golden time to introduce or practice persuasive writing in the classroom. Issues are at the top of the national consciousness, along with people freely expressing their opinions. There’s no reason why students can’t contribute, even in the elementary grades.
First, analyze some editorials from the newspaper, not so much for content as for organization. How did the columnist build their case? Then help students recreate that format. This works best if students can pick an issue they are passionate about, but assigned topics can also work.
Bring in enough newspapers for everyone to at least be broken into small groups, then ask the students to find examples scattered throughout the pages. You can either come up with your own prompts and display them or, for more of a gamification aspect, use this handy bingo card from the New York Times.
A classroom campaign
This is more of a long-term unit rather than an activity. Students break into small groups and decide who is their “candidate” and the roles for the other students (campaign manager, advertising leader, policy director, etc.). Then, over the course of multiple classes, policy decisions are made that directly affect the students, such as stances on recess or what should be served for lunch. Advertisements are created that express those views and why people should vote for the candidates. Finally, the last step before holding a mock election is a debate between the candidates.
Local vs. national comparison
Many of the same issues translate locally as well as nationally, but some don’t. For example, employment may be down across the country, but it might not be a problem in your town. Have the students compare and contrast the issues that local voters are concerned with as opposed to what the national candidates are proposing. A venn diagram works for this, or you could request oral presentations (or both).
Don’t forget the local referenda
In most states, the election features local decisions that have to be made. Some of them may even affect students directly, like referenda for school funding increases. These make great topics for persuasive writing or classroom debates.
Our data-driven society has trickled down into our election results, which can be explored down to the individual polling places or deeper. A few days after the election, have students analyze how their neighborhoods voted and why that may be the case. For younger students, this may be the time to introduce the Electoral College and which states contributed to a candidate getting the 270 votes needed to win (if one does, that is).