Every four years, we witness an event that gets our nation on our feet and cheering and I’m not talking about the Olympics. U.S. citizens have the right to cast their vote in less than two months to elect the president of one of the most influential countries in the world. It’s an exciting time for our country but it can also be very perplexing. Wouldn’t it be great if we could help our students learn how everyone plays a role in the election so that they could become the educated voters of the future?
The NY times had a great list of ways to explore the election of 2012. Their learning blog highlights a Pen pal site which pairs students from Red and Blue States. What a great way for students to open dialogue about the election with their peers. Another idea with younger grades could be to have a spelling bee, vocabulary test or crossword puzzle based on words associated with elections, politics and campaigning.
During the campaign season, candidates travel the country to make speeches, meet the people and participate in debates. Advertisements by candidates dominate television and other forms of media, which will only progress the closer we get to the election. One way teachers could challenge their students to become educated voters is to have students create their own campaign slogans and ads. Older students could come up with their own policies and hold a mock debate in the classroom based on key campaign talking points.
Election Day itself is a very patriotic time but can also be confusing since this is often the first time students hear about the Electoral College. After all, when they vote for their class president, they are used to their vote counting in the final total. Adding an electoral college game to a geography lesson could help solidify this unique election process. Even a red state – blue state map to color could help anyone from a pre-schooler to a professor understand the political dynamics involved in the last few elections. The election doesn’t have to be reserved for social studies or civics classes. Do you have an “Electoral College Math” lesson ready in the wings?
Another way to motivate the students might be to start with the end in mind. Have them research who performed at the last inauguration and ask who they would like to speak or sing at their inauguration if they won. Over the years, many great poets, artists, musicians and writers have come forward with a work of art for the president and their inauguration. Students could study these different artists and the time period of history in which they were creating and the influence this had on the country.
The real-life lessons can continue after the election by setting up predetermined checkpoints. Modern day analysts often focus on approval ratings in the first 100 days in office. From the list of campaign promises they used to debate in class, how many of those promises did the president put into action by the end of the school year? Students can build upon their growing community activism skills by reflecting on how many promises their own class president has produced. For instance, did the promise of a class goldfish every really materialize? If so, were there logical reasons the promises couldn’t come to fruition? The research on this follow through might help students understand the realities of politics.
These are just a few of the many ways to integrate this year’s presidential election into your classroom. Do your part. Uncle Sam wants you to get students to learn more about the election process in our country and the exciting months ahead.