The midterm elections are approaching! Have you thought about how you'll integrate election-related themes into your lessons? It’s critical that we help our students learn about political issues. After all, in just a few short years, they'll be eligible voters!
Presidential elections get a great deal of attention, but mid-term elections come and go unnoticed by many. Luckily, you can implement any of the strategies below in a way that's suitable for your learning objectives.
To help you quickly find great election-related resources, I've crafted a choose-your-own adventure. Stick with it, and you might discover a new resource for your teacher toolkit.
1. What do you want to cover with your students?
- Candidates and their stances on the issues. (Go on to question 2.)
- General election-related topics. (Skip to question 5.)
2. How well do your students understand the basics of U.S. government and the three branches?
- They know their stuff! (Skip to question 4.)
- Their knowledge on government is limited. (Go on to question 3.)
3. What grade levels do you teach?
- Middle school. (Read below.)
- High school. (Skip the next paragraph, then read on.)
Middle school students with a limited understanding of the three branches of government need some prerequisite knowledge. iCivics is a great resource for middle-grades students. The “Branches of Power” game is engaging and informative and will provide a working knowledge of the roles of the three branches. iCivics also offers additional teaching materials and election resources –- check them out!
This TedEd lesson is a great tutorial for high school students who haven’t gotten any U.S. government instruction yet (or might need a refresher): How is power divided in the United States Government? As with most TedEd lessons, the “think,” “dig deeper,” and “discuss” features are available to you and your students.
Now that your students have a functional understanding of U.S. government, you can move on to the fun stuff!
4. Do your students know which candidates in their districts are most closely aligned with their own political views?
- Yes. My students understand their own views and know who they should vote for, based on candidates’ stances on issues.
- No. My students have no idea which candidates’ views match their own, and some don’t even know who is running (or what issues are being debated, or what spots are up for grabs, or when election day is, or ... ).
If you answered "a" to number 4, then go straight to PolitiFact (www.politifact.com) to check out the candidates for your students’ districts. Here, the possibilities are endless, for both middle and high school students. Students can check out their state or browse specifically by candidate to find out how truthful they have been and how they have followed through on their promises in past political office. Disclaimer: Some public officials are not included, so be sure to check for your representatives before you use this resource.
If you answered "b" to number 4, then take your kids to I Side With (www.isidewith.com) or Project Vote Smart (votesmart.org) to learn about which candidates align with their own political views. Both are maintained by nonpartisan organizations that aim to inform voters and increase voter turnout. Project Vote Smart’s “Vote Easy” allows users to “find their political soul mates,” and I Side With offers a political quiz that culminates in a customized voting guide. Project Vote Smart is a bit more aesthetically pleasing for middle and high school students, especially those who are visual learners. I Side With, on the other hand, allows users to share results with others, which could open doors for class discussion. Once the students have found their “political soul mates” or reached their customized voting guides, then head to PolitiFact if you’d like to dig deeper into the issues (see previous paragraph).
To investigate other election-related issues that aren't specific to candidates or issues, then continue reading.
5. What would you prefer to explore with your students around election time?
- Voter Turnout
- Campaign Funding
If you answered "a" to number 5, start with the history of Tuesday voting in our country. This TedEd lesson is engaging for both middle and high school students: Why do Americans vote on Tuesdays? The “Watch,” “Think,” and “Dig Deeper” features are there for your students’ use.
If you answered "b" to number 5, investigate the Citizens United decision with your students to learn more about campaign funding and what is allowed in our country. This "Citizens United v. FEC in Plain English" post from SCOTUSblog would be a good explanation for high school students, but may prove challenging for middle schoolers. Easier for all to understand (but clearly biased) is this "Story of Citizens United v. FEC" video, courtesy of "Story of Stuff." Also biased, but fun, is this GOOD video, produced in conjunction with Ben and Jerry’s.
I hope you’ve found an exploratory election-related activity that suits your needs and the needs of your students. Please share your favorite election resources in the comments. Happy Election Day!