The 2012 Presidential election coincided with my very first year of teaching. My students often came into my classroom asking if I watched the debates or if I’d seen the latest attack advertisement on President Obama or Governor Romney. Of course they’d always follow up asking which candidate I was voting for and what party I supported. As a new teacher, this all felt so overwhelming. I knew it was critical to teach my students about civics, but how?
If you are a new teacher or a veteran, this election cycle might feel overwhelming. The seemingly 24/7 media coverage of the candidates and the issues is not going unnoticed by your students. It is our responsibility as educators to engage our students in thoughtful civic conversation, but without allowing our own opinions to influence our conversations. I’ve collected a list of resources you can use in your classroom to teach about civics and the democratic process in an educational, bipartisan and thought-provoking way.
- ShareMyLesson recently launched a series of webinars and resources that you as an educator can watch on demand. This will help you reflect on your own practice and find additional resources to help you and your students navigate the political process. This is a great place to start as you think about engaging your students in civics.
- Elementary: Create a mock-ballot for your students to cast a vote in this election. Or, you can check KidsVote or other websites to have your students participate in a mock vote online. When I taught, I used a Google Survey to create a quick ballot. You could even purchase “I Voted” stickers from Amazon or create your own to spark conversation outside of school.
- Middle School: Help your middle schoolers understand the importance of voting by using a lesson plan from Growing Voters on why voting really does matter!
- High School: Are your high schoolers struggling with whom they would elect and perhaps wouldn’t vote even if they could? They can take this survey to discover how their personal views align with politicians’ stances. (Recommended for grades 10+)
The Electoral College
- Elementary and Middle School: Your students may struggle to understand our complex voting system. Try this lesson plan idea from Mo Rocca of CBS Sunday Morning. Keep in mind that Mo Rocca has opinions of the Electoral College, so you might want to adapt some of this. I used Coca Cola vs. Pepsi with my 4th graders and we talked about how the Electoral College sometimes, though not often, does not reflect the popular vote. When we did this experiment at our table groups, the popular vote and the electoral college reflected the same winner.
- High School: Check out this Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History lesson plan on the electoral college. As an educator, you can create a free account and access all of their wonderful resources.
As always, remind your students that voting is a deeply personal issue. One of the best parts of living in a democratic society is that we are all entitled to our views and that our differences in opinion are what spurs our nation forward.
Maggie Taylor is the Advocacy Coordinator at Character.org. She is a former fifth grade teacher now earning her Masters in Education Policy at George Washington University.
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