Even though they’re too young to cast a ballot this election cycle, many students already have their minds made up about this election. Ads for candidates are showing up online and on television; yard signs and billboards in support of candidates and ballot measures line roadways on your students’ drives to school; and presidential debates and stories on the candidates are the focus of much of the media’s news coverage. With just a few weeks left until Election Day, and early voting ramping up across the country, students are set to be inundated with campaign coverage, and as their teacher, you’ll have to help them process all this information.
Elections are the perfect opportunity to provide your students with the tools and resources necessary to think critically about the electoral process, so when the time finally comes for them to cast an official ballot, your students will be prepared. And depending on the age and grade level of your students, incorporating the election into your lessons may be as simple as explaining how the electoral process works, using the current crop of candidates as examples, or a more nuanced approach with discussion about policy issues may be in order.
Here are a few ideas and tips to keep in mind when incorporating the election into your civics or social studies lessons this year.
There’s no better place for conversations centered on mutual respect for one another’s point of view than the classroom. Whether you’re facilitating civil debate and discourse within the classroom about hot-button issues or trying to explain the rationale behind the electoral college, it’s important to remain neutral. Your role is to help your students form clear and logical arguments in support of their position and answer any questions in an honest, objective way.
There may be times when an answer or an appropriate response to a question or comment may not totally be within grasp. Instead of developing an off-the-cuff response, table the question and promise that you’ll return to the topic. Whether it takes a few moments to gather your thoughts, or you have to seek the advice of a mentor or colleague, it’s important to offer sincere answers to the tough questions students may ask.
Keep it local.
State and local elections are often overshadowed by presidential elections. It’s understandable considering the magnitude of what it means to be elected president of the United States. But local elections offer a great opportunity to focus on the electoral process and discuss the issues important to the communities your students live in. Also, depending on where you’re teaching, local government officials tend to have more flexible schedules than say a U.S. senator or representative. Inviting a city council member, state representative, or your town’s mayor to come speak to your class or scheduling a field trip to city hall are great ways for your students to experience the excitement local government has to offer during the election season.
Focus on the media.
Though we don’t elect members of the media, they do play a vital role in the electoral process by delivering much of the information about candidates. By devoting a few lessons to the role media plays in the election, you’ll be able to foster conversation about how your students can have valuable interactions with the media, whether by reading local blogs or by viewing live presidential debates. Being able to digest all the electoral information this digital age provides us access to is no easy feat. Helping students navigate the media landscape during election season will have invaluable benefits.
How do you plan on teaching the election in your classroom? Share your tips and strategies below!