Friday, September 14, 2012

Using the Elections in your Curriculum

I usually like to have done activities - or at least most - of the activities I write about BEFORE I publish them.  Nevertheless, like with the Olympics, I find myself realizing that anything I write AFTER the fact won't be helpful again any time soon.  So, I have included some links to other blogs by people with some experience teaching THIS current event to their kids/students and included some of the objectives I have for Alice in this final month + of campaigning.

A few things to keep in mind:  especially with young kids, but ALSO with your adolescents and teens, everything you do is a model for them.  If you want your kids to learn that voting is important and to be informed voters when they vote, you must treat it as though it is important.  Even if you are a staunch conservative or liberal that always votes with the party (even if you do so because you are already fairly informed and "everyone from the other party is an idiot anyway") go through the process as though you are brand new to it.  Do this, while modeling respectful behavior toward others.  Become informed again WITH your kids.  Search for some salient points made by the other party (because really they do make them - can you tell I'm somewhat moderate?)  Read news articles together, watch the debates together and discuss them afterward (Try, during these discussions to listen FIRST, paraphrase what your child has said non-judgementaly, ask if you understood correctly and THEN offer up your thoughts - you are modeling how to be a considerate and respectful model citizen after all).  I know it means a late night, but why not watch the coverage (or at least part of it) the night of the election or watch clips the next morning together?

For an example of the kinds of discussion that can come up when everyone - including the kids - has a chance to speak and be truly heard check out this WONDERFUL example of a good discussion with kids about rights vs. respect that arose out of news from the campaign.

Objectives I Have for Alice I Plan to Teach Using the Election:

Objectives usually  begin with a verb.  They are active.  Something a student should be able to do after the lesson or series of lessons you are giving. So, if you need to turn these into complete sentences, preface each with "the learner will be able to".
  • Describe what the President's job description actually is.
  • Use a table.  We will chart each candidate's position on different issues Alice can relate to.
  • Use a Venn Diagram to compare.  Alice will put herself in one circle and a candidate in another.  Where they agree is where the overlap is in the middle.  She will do this for each of the candidates and decide which candidate (based on the issues she looks at) she has most in common with this way.
  • Describe (at an age appropriate level) the elections process and how it relates to democracy.
  • Define what voting is and include steps to voting informatively within the definition.
  • Discuss (at an age appropriate level) parallels between the Roman Republic and The United States.
  • Observe and participate in research.
  • Observe the elections process.
As I'm sure you can see there are A LOT of possible objectives I'm leaving off this list.  We do have a prescribed curriculum to do as well (both an advantage AND a disadvantage of virtual schooling) AND she is only six.  However, there are other things you could do with older kids, or if you were freer to spend an entire month or two doing almost nothing else. 

Other Objectives I will have During Future Elections (Presidential or not):


  • Use polls to observe statistics in action. 
  • Analyze "spin" on an issue using the statistics presented by each side to illustrate how that side perceives the problem and solution.  See how both sides can "tell the truth" or use accurate numbers but make it look like two very different stories.
  • Calculate percentages (democratic votes/number of voters in a precinct, percentage of electoral votes for each state. . .)
  • Use different types of graphs appropriate to the data set.  (Pick one set of statistics about an issue and graph the numbers as many ways as possible.  Do bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts. . . Then, look through newspapers to find trends in which types of graphs are most often used for what kinds of data.  Discuss why certain types of graphs work better in certain situations).
  • Time and Score debates.


  • Watch history in action. 
  • Make Word Clouds related to the vocabulary of elections
  • Use journalistic writing.  (Read and discuss multiple news articles about the election.  Compare news articles with editorials.  Then have them view a speech or debate and write their own articles about it.  Each child writes an editorial AND a news article.  Then, for the next item have them analyze their own articles for bias and rewrite attempting to remove the bias)
  • Analyze media for bias.  (Read and discuss multiple news articles about the election and seek out signs that show what the journalist thinks.  Then, have them view a speech or debate and write their own articles about it.  Each child writes one editorial and one article that attempts NOT to show their viewpoint)
  • Use persuasive writing (each child writes a persuasive article to convince you and others to vote for that child's favored candidate.)
  • Write a letter.  (Write letters to the candidates - ask questions, persuade each to care about a particular issue and the child's solution. . .)
  • Analyze speeches made.  (Analyze diction, dynamics AND the content of the speech.  Pick out the introduction, body and conclusion.  Compare styles. . . If they were campaigning, what would your kids say?  Have them write, edit, practice and perform their speeches.  If you don't have an audience nearby, use a camera and broadcast to family members)
  • Every time the kids are writing there are opportunities for learning grammar, usage and mechanics that will arise through editing.  Don't forget to have them edit!
Many schools have mock elections.  While this is difficult to do in a meaningful way in a single home, perhaps your network of friends, your cooperative, or other support group can all get together to work out a mock election for your kids to participate.  Such a thing may seem like a lot of time and hassle for nothing really, but it does motivate mid and upper elementary students to take the research part of their voting more seriously.  They really do become a lot more connected to it when they get to vote (even if their vote doesn't count in the real thing yet).  If you have a way to put one together - do it.  Make a party out of it and then have your election finish in the afternoon on election day and follow the election night news coverage together.  What a great way to show your kids how important this process is and make it memorable.

Resources for Activities:

Teacher Vision - Lots of Links and Resources specific to the election AND lesson plan ideas.
Education World - Using Editorial Cartoons during the elections and campaign season.
Busy Teacher's Cafe - Links for Elementary lessons and activities.
Homeschooling Election Freebies - Links to free resources to help in teaching about the election process.

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