With another presidential election just weeks away, social studies teachers will no doubt want to brainstorm ways to engage students in the process. From mock elections to research projects on key issues, there are a lot of great ways to not only get students to pay attention to who’s leading in the polls but also to really understand the implications of the policy ideas put forth by the candidates: Republican candidate President Donald Trump, and Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.
We have also seen great change in the last two decades in the roles of the traditional and social media in the election process, and students should understand how these factors impact their perceptions of candidates.
Below is a list of ways that some of my colleagues and I have tried to stir student passion for our election process over the years. With a bit of planning, you can use different election education resources to increase student awareness and create a great sense of collective involvement in 2020.
Classroom Election Activities & Lesson Plan Ideas
1. Mock Presidential Debates
In fall 1992, teachers in my department decided that the two newest teachers (of which I was one) would be perfect to play the roles of Republican incumbent President George H. W. Bush and Democratic nominee Bill Clinton in mock debates to be held during the high school's three lunch periods. I met with my colleague several times before the debates to decide on our roles (I played Clinton), as well as the issues we would debate and the format. On the day of the debates, we simply set up microphones in the cafeteria, and after giving students an opportunity to eat lunch, we proceeded to debate for about 30 minutes. We had a third colleague who moderated, and we left time for student questions as well.
Issues that were important in 1992 are just as pertinent now: the proper role of government in dealing with economic inequality, the size and scope of the military budget, and the makeup of the Supreme Court. These issues comprised the meat of the debate, but in playing the role of Clinton, I had to point out that Bush had said, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” The young people watching enjoyed the personal jabs more than the substantive issues—just like these days!
For this sort of activity to be successful, you need teachers who will really get into their roles and act the part, and you also need to focus on issues that are of student interest. Keep the responses relatively short—lengthy diatribes over policy will fall flat. Finally, always allow students to get involved as much as possible, whether to ask questions or offer their opinions.
You can use this rubric to assess your students’ debate performance.
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