The 2016 presidential election has been unconventional and politically charged, to say the least, but you can still teach about the election process in ways that won’t leave you with a class divided. Help your students understand the facts and fundamentals with these activity ideas.
1. Celebrate past presidents. Invite your students to learn more about the last 45 presidents of the United States. These short videos are a great place to start. Have them consider how the 2016 candidates are similar or different.
2. Debate a school issue. Is your school considering a ban on plastic water bottles? Do your students want a different dress code? Pick an issue that is relevant for the students at your school and then have your class pick sides and debate the issue. BusyTeacher.org offers some great tips for holding a classroom debate. Talk about how that process is also important when choosing presidential candidates.
3. Hold a mock election. Have your class join students nationwide in the largest mock student presidential election in history. The Every Kid Votes Student Mock Election from Studies Weekly will be held on November 1, 2016. It’s free to register your class or school for the historic event and see which candidate the kids of America choose.
4. Make it all about the snacks! Teacher Ginny Mongar gives her second graders a choice of two snacks and asks them to make campaign posters to convince their friends to choose the snack they like the best. Then her class holds an anonymous vote with ballots, and Ginny brings in the snack with the most votes. Teacher Tammy Hartford says, “We vote and elect pizza or chicken nuggets for our Thanksgiving feast. My little people can’t read, so we use pictures. We also voted for drinks, desserts and sides so that hopefully at least one of each child’s favorites wins.”
5. Involve the whole school. “We divide the school into voting districts,” says teacher Sharon Clarke, “and compete for who can get the most students to take time from lunch to go to the library and vote. We follow the national elections and listen to speeches by the candidates and some debates.”
6. Try a little comic relief. Political cartoons that poke fun at the candidates and the election process reveal the lighter side of heated debates. Older students enjoy analyzing the cartoons and late-night comedians who share their humorous point of view all in the name of free speech. You can even enlist Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang to help you teach your students about voting and the election process with Peanuts Rocks the Vote. Or let kids vote on which order of cause (e.g., First Books to support education, Feed the Children to fight hunger, etc.) the Cat in the Hat should focus on first if he’s elected president. The organization linked to the cause with the most votes receives $10,000.
7. Teach voting rights with creative poster designs. Engage your students in a creative poster project that promotes the importance of voting for all U.S. adult citizens. Look for inspiration from these modern and vintage poster designs on Pinterest. While students are working on their poster designs, talk about women’s suffrage (1920) and the historical events that led to black voting rights (1965). Consider allowing the class to vote on the posters they think are the most effective. Which is the most visually appealing? Which has the best message?
8. Review voting vocab. There are a lot of confusing words and concepts involved in our election process. A good first step is to teach students the basic vocabulary. Teacher Meghan Ginley uses this video on YouTube that explains how a caucus works using LEGO.
9. Create constitutional crossword clues. One of the most important things for history students to understand is how the constitution protects the rights of all U.S. citizens. Once you’ve finished your lesson on the U.S. Constitution, test their knowledge with a crossword puzzle that you create with grade-level words and clues. There are many free crossword puzzle makers. Here are a couple we have used from Puzzle-Maker.com and The Teacher’s Corner.
10. What is the Three-Headed Eagle? Just toss that question out there and have students research the answer for extra credit. Let students know that asking an adult for help on this one is OK, and the grown-ups might learn something too!
11. Celebrate with a different kind of political “party.” Take a page from Martha Stewart’s book (on Pinterest) and treat your class to these Election Day cupcakes complete with bipartisan decorations—blue donkeys and red elephants. Will your students choose vanilla or chocolate?