5 Great Resources to Help Teach About the Election
The Presidential elections in the United States are an exciting, yet contentious time. Every four years on the first Tuesday held after the first Monday in the month of November, American voters go to the polls. For months before the actual election, debates, primaries, and caucuses are held to introduce the people to the candidates who intend to run for the highest office in the United States.
Eventually, each political party decides on its official nominee. Though people can run as third-party or write-in candidates, the Presidential debates have almost always been between the Republican and Democratic nominees (the only exception to this being in 1992 when Ross Perot garnered high enough polling numbers to be invited).
This year, the election will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. The major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have been campaigning nonstop in their efforts to encourage American voters to support them in their bid for the Presidency. In this day of twenty-four-hour media coverage, many Americans are getting burnt out on news about the upcoming election. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey showed the frustration at how much attention the media pays to candidates’ comments and personal lives was greatest among our youngest voters (aged 18-29).
Education about the candidates, the issues, and the election process is one of the most important things we can provide to our students. If young people are burnt out on election news, it’s up to us to guide them towards resources that can help inform their decisions and increase their understanding of their role in the civic process. With only around 54% of eligible voters in the US making it to the polls, education may be the only way we keep the younger generation interested in exercising their power to vote.
With that in mind, we’ve collected five great resources to help your students become more savvy about Presidential elections. Most of these resources are aimed toward a high-school level audience so we’ve added a few bonus resources at the end that will appeal to educators of younger students.
1. Democracy Class by Rock the Vote
Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit group dedicated to getting young voters interested in the voting and election process. The group appeals to young people by using celebrities, current music, and pop culture to encourage getting involved in the democratic process. The people behind Rock the Vote have created the Democracy Class lesson plans for educators. These 45- or 90-minute lessons give students information about the history of voting and why civic participation is so important. The lessons include a video, discussion, and mock election exercise.
2. Elections Central
PBS LearningMedia offers an educational guide to the elections called Election Central. The site offers election news, lesson plans, and resources for students in grades 3-12. One unique resource on the site called “Elections Throughout History” offers a collection of primary source material from elections past.
Students can look at Abraham Lincoln’s campaign posters, newspapers from Roosevelt’s win in 1932, a Crash Course lesson on the election of 1860 and much more. Another great feature of the site is the collection of 60-Second Presidents videos. Each video highlights the life and legacy of individual US Presidents.
3. Videos from the Campaign Trail
One of the best ways to engage students in the election process is to immerse them in how it plays out throughout the course of the candidates’ campaigns. C-SPAN has a page of videos devoted to Campaign 2016 . You can download the lesson plans from the site or watch C-SPAN videos and use the accompanying discussion questions.
4. How to Explain the Electoral College
The electoral college has got to be one of the most confusing parts to the election. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the process and that leads to many young people thinking their individual votes don’t matter. In this TED Ed video and lesson, Political Science professor Christina Greer explains the electoral college process and gives students a chance to answer questions about it.
5. Demystify the 2016 Presidential Race
This fantastic resource from Newseum lets students take a quick quiz to find out if they are election news avoiders or fanatics (or somewhere in between). Then you can choose a path to learn more about, including election procedures, campaign messages, and public participation. Each path has lesson plans and multimedia resources to help decipher some of what students are seeing on TV and reading in the media about the election.
- Help parents continue the conversation at home with this information from PBS. The site includes answers to questions young children may ask about the election.
- Check out this collection of books related to government and elections for younger readers.
- Read about how to hold a mock election at your school.
- Keep an eye on election predictions and data. This could be something you check each morning and use during math lessons.
The elections teach students about what it means to be a citizen of the United States. The process is complicated and lengthy but important. By engaging students in civic-minded lessons and encouraging them to understand the issues and vote when they turn 18, you’re helping to shape the future of America.
Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.