4 Ways to Leverage the 2016 Election to Teach Important Concepts

Election day is coming up quickly, and this presents an opportunity for educators to teach a variety of important 635729443655008223-2114607202_screen-shot-2015-07-19-at-7-12-26-pmconcepts and skills to their students. While the candidates spend these last four weeks stumping for votes and sharing their opinions, goals, platforms, and plans, teachers can capitalize on this teachable moment by creating authentic learning experiences.

Luckily, the internet is full of unit plans, lesson plans, and activities that teachers can use to teach about the 2016 election candidates, the issues, the election process, and the role of the citizens. This blog post, while in no means comprehensive (similar to the amount of political opinions, there are endless resources available), lists some of the more effective—and some of my favorite—resources.

  1. I cannot remember an election cycle in recent history where the issues were so divisive, so the first resource I will share comes from one of my favorite websites, Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
    • The first unique activity offered is Speak Up for Civility. “Teaching Tolerance believes that everyone needs to talk about the election, explore the issues, and weigh the candidates and their proposed policies. We believe that, despite the inflammatory tone of this year’s election cycle, we can have these conversations civilly and respectfully. We also believe most adults want to be their best selves in front of children.” To support this mission, Teaching Tolerance offers ideas on teaching civility at a school, class, and individual level.
    • Beyond that, the website offers activities for countering bias, civics activities for kids, election sites for kids and teachers, and so much more.
  1. Edutopia, sponsored by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is always my first go-to resource when I need something for my classroom or want to learn a new method, strategy, pedagogy, skill, etc. In this election season, they don’t disappoint, with classroom resources to help teachers teach about the candidates and election process.
    • Edutopia blogger Matt Davis has compiled a comprehensive list of resources for teachers, including full unit and lesson plans called Election 2016: Lesson Plans and Digital Resources for Educators.
    • My favorite link (which I don’t think I would have ever found without his blog) was to the Center for Civic Education, a resource that helps educators teach their students to become citizens, not spectators. Their Citizens, Not Spectators resources page developed especially for educators for this election season offers resources to “increase the voting rate among young Americans by providing engaging voter education to students in grades 4-12. To accomplish this goal, the curriculum demystifies the voting process by teaching students how to cast a vote, how the voting process works, how to become an informed voter, and why it is important to cast an informed vote.”
  1. Another blogger offering a comprehensive list of free resources for educators during this election season is Michael Gonchar of the New York Times. The New York Times offers The Learning Network, where teachers and students can find daily articles, puzzles, resources, lesson plans, and much more for a variety of content areas related to the election season.
  1. PBS also offers their own Education Central where “PBS LearningMedia wants to help you engage your students in the political process.” They’ve compiled their “favorite election themed resources to enhance your lesson plans and spark discussion in the classroom.” From interactive maps to Frontline videos, you can use the resources on this website right to the 2020 election and not miss a lesson!
    • The Students Vote Tool Kit by Newsela is a great resource for kids K-12 and even includes “I Voted!” stickers for the students.
    • Inside the Voting Booth will engage kids in grades 3-6 in the election process. “This activity introduces students to the history of suffrage in America, through the “Voting Time Machine,” which presents case studies from different decades. Students also anticipate the time when they will be able to vote, through a customized, printable voter registration card, which also asks them to identify the issues they think are most important today, understand why it is important to vote, examine times in U.S. election history when one vote made a difference in the election’s outcome, learn several historical facts about voting and vote in a mock issues survey.” Some of the best resources on the page have the children role-play parts of the election process from holding a debate to being a campaign manager. There is also an article on the role social media plays in the election which any child can relate to.

So where are you going to begin? How are you going to help educate the next generation of voters? Post your favorite election activity in the comments below!

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