How Mock Elections Can Help Students Write for Different Audiences

Show students the real impact of writing during this contentious election season.

September 28, 2016
Tanner Higgin Director, Education Editorial Strategy
Common Sense Education

CATEGORIES In the Classroom

Lessons come alive when students can start using new knowledge and skills immediately outside the classroom. If you're an ELA teacher, election season is a perfect time to show students how writing has real impact. Everything from debates to campaign posters to stump speeches hinges on the very rhetorical skills students practice daily in an ELA classroom. Students can use the skills and concepts they learn in an ELA classroom to interpret and understand how each candidate communicates his or her messages.

Election season is a perfect time to show students how writing has real impact.

If you're looking to use elections as a platform for building argumentative and persuasive writing skills, I've put together a lesson plan featuring some great tools we've reviewed on Common Sense Education. You can see the lesson plan I made here, but since it's a bit lengthy, allow me to give you the CliffsNotes. My hope is that some of you still in classrooms might find some inspiration and remix what I've done.

First off, I had a few key goals in mind.

  1. Help students understand political campaigns and how campaigns connect to what they're doing in class
  2. Show students the importance of audience to writing
  3. Get students to use audience meaningfully in their writing
  4. Use formative and peer-to-peer assessment techniques
  5. Address a ton of Common Core standards

And to make the lesson feel more authentic and playful -- but not push the inhibitory limits of high school students -- I decided to use a little bit of role-play in the lesson.

In this lesson, students play a couple of roles:

Union RallyFirst, they get assigned a constituency (e.g., a union, cultural group, or professional organization) with a specific set of demographics, expectations, needs, etc. (For those of you familiar with tabletop roleplay like Dungeons & Dragons, these guidelines act as their "character sheets.") 

Second, they act as a political candidate on a campaign tour, visiting constituencies and giving speeches. In this way, students must, as constituents, assess other students and also, as candidates, craft speeches for constituencies. I see this structure as packing a lot of punch: Students get a lot of practice both writing for audiences and assessing how writing meets the needs of audiences –- all in a fun, authentic, and playful context. Since constituents also cast votes (with written comments) based on how well the candidates' speeches met their needs, there's also useful feedback and healthy challenge.

As with any lesson, there's a lot of room for adaptation, from high-tech (blog posts and discussion along with dynamic, real-time voting using polling apps) to no-tech (giving speeches in class and using secret ballots). I made sure to note a few possible tweaks.

I'd love to hear what you think, or any election-themed lessons that worked for you. Even better: Feel free to post a link to an app flow you've created in the comments!

Photo: "Speech bubbles at Erg" by Marc Wathieu. Used under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License.

Photo: "Writing for Film & Television - Students in 'The Biz' Class" by Vancouver Film School. Used under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 License.

Photo: "Rally" by Williams Thomas. Used under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License.