Lesson Plan

On the Campaign Trail: Writing and Audience

Students tune their presidential platforms to different audiences to win votes and the election.
Tanner H.
Director, Education Editorial Strategy Common Sense Education
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Students will be able to...

  • Identify and evaluate their stances on key political issues
  • Research political candidates' campaign platforms 
  • Compare and contrast their own political positions with others
  • Write short persuasive arguments in differen tyles from formal to informal, and adjusted to different audiences' expectations
  • Assess writing
English Language Arts
forming arguments
writing clearly
Social Studies
Grades 9 - 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 How do Presidential campaigns work?

Snapshot: Students play Win the White House then discuss connections between presidential campaigns and persuasive argumentation.

Drilldown: Have students play the iCivics game Win the White House either alone or in pairs during the course of a class period, taking notes about the stages of the election, what challenges arise, how Presidential campaigns drum up support, and connections between campaigns and persuasive writing and argumentation. Afterward, facilitate a discussion among the whole class to tease out what they've learned about campaigning, and to draw connections to persuasive, audience-focused writing. This provides an elegant and natural foundation for the unit.

2 Optional: Identifying Key Political Issues

Activity: Exploring

Snapshot: Put together a list of five political issues students must take positions on.

Drilldown: Teachers have a choice when beginning this unit: (1) provide students with the political issues (e.g. healthcare, education) that students must address, or (2) have students generate them in class. 

For option (2), facilitate a discussion among the whole class where students identify what the most important issues elected officials need to address. As students supply answers, write them on the board. Once there's a large enough list, begin collating the responses and narrowing the choices down to a list of five.

3 Drafting a Platform

Activity: Creating

Snapshot: Students research and write down short statements that summarize their beliefs and post-election plan in response to each of the political issues.


  • Students should research the identified issues, looking for what current or past candidates have said about them, recent debates about the issues, and any relevant news developments. They should also reflect on their own beliefs.
  • Once they've got a good idea of their stances. Students should draft one paragraph statements for each of the issues. This will help them organize their thoughts and articulate their overall stance on the issues; it also serves as the guiding baseline for their future writing. Teachers should review these statements and offer feedback that helps students compose unique, relevant, and nuanced stances that can be crafted for different audiences.

4 Prep: Creating Constituencies and Scheduling Campaigns

Snapshot: Students get assigned campaign tour schedules and assigned to different constituencies on the tour route.

Drilldown: The overarching goal of this unit is to get students to re-craft their political issue statements for different voting constituencies. These constituencies are made up of students in the class. Each student will not only be a candidate making speeches (i.e. writing essays) to constituencies but also acting as a voter reading by other candidates' statements and casting votes.

At this stage, teachers need to set up the campaign tours based on the amount of students in the class. Here's an example based on a 30 student class.

  • 30 total students
  • 5 constituencies composed of 6 students 
  • 4 campaign stops for each candidate

The 5 constituencies and 30 campaign schedules (4 stops each) need to be created and distributed to students.

To create a constituency, think of a common voting group (auto workers union, AARP, a college, high ticket dinner of entertainers or powerful business executives, NRA, etc.).

For each constituency, create a character sheet containing:

  • Issues that are important to them
  • Preference for formal/informal language
  • Type of argument that they prefer (evidence-based, personal experience-based, moral/ethical)

So, for instance, we could create a character sheet for the AARP that would read as follows:

Constituency: AARP
Writing Style Preference: Overall prefers more formal style arguments but with some levity and informality specifically when giving examples.
Type of Argument: A typical AARP member is suspicious of arguments that rely too much on evidence. They tend to connect more with moral arguments and personal anecdotes.

All students should receive character sheets for all constituencies.

The teacher also needs to create the campaign schedules -- these are nothing more than lists of 4 constituencies and due dates. Think of it, essentially, as repackaging the typical assignment calendar. The campaign schedule just lets each student know what audience they're writing for and when the essays are due.

Tip: It can be very helpful to organize this all in your existing learning management system, standalone website, or wiki. This way each constituency has a page where candidates can post their speeches/statements. In additional, all character sheets and schedules can be displayed online, and constituents can message their votes privately to the teacher.

Tip: It's best to divide students evenly into groups. Why? Since each group will have on candidate on the campaign trail at a given time this leaves an odd number of students voting, reducing the likelihood of ties.

Alternative: The types of argument section of the character sheet is based on logos, pathos, and ethos and provides a good opportunity for extended learning about rhetoric.


  1. Divide students into constituencies
  2. Create character sheets for each constituency and give all the character sheets to all students
  3. Create campaign schedules for each student that takes them through all the constituencies other than their own.

5 Speech Writing and Campaigning

Snapshot: Students draft speeches -- short essays -- to deliver to constituencies based on their campaign tour schedule. Constituencies receive speeches and cast votes for the candidate that best met their character sheet criteria. 

Drilldown Each week, students will be campaigning for a certain constituency as well as acting as a voting member of a constituency. This means each week each student has two duties:

  1. Writing a statement to the constituency on their campaign tour schedule for that week -- using the constituency's character sheet as a guide for how to tune their writing and message. 
  2. Reading the statements of the previous weeks candidates, evaluating them against each other and against their character sheets, and casting a vote for one of the candidates. When casting votes, students should write a short explanation of why they believe that candidate best met the needs of his/her audience through his/her speech as well as how the other candidates could improve.

Teachers should empower the constituency members to be the assessors, using the character sheets, and focus on helping voters cast the votes that make the most sense given the character sheets.

Tip: The subtext here is that formative assessment is conducted by the students who learn both through writing and reading other people's writing, how good arguments engage with audience. For this to work, teachers need to work hard to encourage students to be shrewd evaluators based on the character sheets (which act as a kind of rubric) rather than on their personal beliefs.

Alternative: This can be reformulated to focus on presentation and public speaking by having candidates actually give their speeches in-person. Students can then vote and provide their feedback using Geddit.

6 Voting

Activity: Assessing

If all works out, students do the bulk of the formative assessment via their feedback for all candidates and their votes for the best candidates. How teachers incorporate these votes in the assessment process can vary -- (1) teachers can choose to provide students with feedback and votes at the end of the campaign, or (2) after each campaign stop.

If there's concern about students getting discouraged by a lack of votes or students getting overly competitive, establish a baseline of votes that students must get on their campaign to get elected (e.g. Candidates must get 3 votes by the end of the campaign to get elected). This way students are competing against the baseline and not their peers. The amount of votes constituents can cast can be adjusted to make getting these 3 votes easier or harder. Each week provide candidates with the constituents'' feedback and their vote tally. 

No matter the structure of voting, at the end of the unit ask students to reflect on their campaigns. If they decide to run again in four years, how will they construct their speeches differently? What did they do well? What do they need to work on? What did they learn about writing for different audiences?