Sunday, October 21, 2012

Presidential Election Teaching Resources

Putting together first-class resources for the upcoming presidential election promises to be a time-consuming endeavor. Yet, preparing students to be engaged in the event will make it significant and memorable.  The election is approaching fast, so now is a great time to get started. To make it easier for you, I came up with a few ideas using resources from my website and added terrific strategies submitted by other teachers.

Start with an Engaging Introduction
I recommend that you first show your students this short BrainPOP video called “How do people get to be President of the United States?” It’s an informational yet fun cartoon about five minutes long and appropriate for upper elementary students. This cartoon features Tim and a robot, Moby.  It covers all the presidential election basics in a clear, concise and entertaining way. In addition, the rest of this BrainPOP page is loaded with free resources that teach students about various important aspects of the election.

Understand the Candidates
Teaching students about the Presidential election can be tricky because kids come to school with pre-conceived ideas based on what they are hearing at home. At the elementary level, instead of debating the issues, you may want to focus on analyzing the character traits of the candidates. I like this approach because it’s personal, educational, and side steps the sometimes controversial and advanced political questions. It helps students understand who these candidates really are, which is factual and central to the election outcome.

Dig into Biographical Details

For upper elementary and middle school students, I recommend a terrific Frontline episode, called “The Choice 2012,” which aired on October 9. It’s two hours long, but well worth it. You might break it into segments and watch it with your students over a few days.  

The program details and contrasts the backgrounds of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. It lays out in relatively simple terms who these men are and how they’re different. I recommend that you preview it first to make sure that it’s right for your class. If you find it’s too advanced, you may be able to find similar biographical materials for younger students in written or video form.

Analyze Character Traits
Following the Frontline program or after reading articles about the candidates, your students will be ready to study these people in detail. Try these activities:
  • Character Trait Maps – Before the lesson, download this character trait map and a character trait list from my Literature Circles printables page on Teaching Resources. After students watch the PBS movie or read articles about the candidates, have them brainstorm character traits that describe the men. Be sure to have them focus on the positive character traits of each candidate and remind them to jot down supporting details. Then demonstrate how to complete the graphic organizer by adding four character traits their supporting details. Finally, either assign each student one candidate or allow them to choose a candidate and provide class time for students to complete their graphic organizers.
  • Character Bio Reports – Have students write a short biography for one of the candidates based on an analysis of that candidate’s character traits. Using this format ensures that students can’t blindly copy and paste from an online source to create their reports. This structured writing activity is a perfect follow-up to the character trait analysis activity above. You can purchase the Character Bio Report Mini Pack from my Mini Pack Page on Teaching Resources

More Fantastic Election Resources!
The following wonderful recommendations are by my Facebook fans and blog followers. Thank you to everyone who took time to share ideas with other teachers!

Read “First Pets, Presidential Best Friends” 
by Nell Fuqua
Submitted by Donna Young, Grottoes, VA 
Recommended for 3rd to 5th Grades

This paperback picture book is a great springboard for discussing presidents and their pets from any period of history! The fun facts grab students' attention.

Run a Classroom Campaign
Submitted by Kathy Paul, Murfreesboro, TN
Recommended for 6th Grade and Up

During the last election, I assigned children to be a member of the Democratic or Republican campaign teams. Each team had to create a platform, speeches, posters, jingles, and even a meal with their candidate's favorite foods. Budgets were set and teams earned money with good acts or lost money with inappropriate actions. On our "election day" we ate breakfast, heard campaign speeches, debates, and jingles. Later, we ate lunch, and voted.

Hold a Mock Election
Submitted by Mandy Neal, Strafford, Missouri
Recommended for 4th through 6th Grades

Students hold a mock election.  They are assigned to a party in which they will hold a primary election.  Students will then create campaign materials for their nominee.  They will hold a mock election to vote a candidate into office and reflect on the process.

Explore the Youth Leadership Initiative Website
Submitted By Karyn Lewis, Houston, TX
Recommended for K-12 Grades

Another resource you can use for holding mock elections is the Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) website. All you need to do is register, select an election to participate in, and download resources or lesson plans. This website has it all for all levels! YLI provides paper or online voting options. 

I hope that these materials give you some good ideas on how to lead your students through the process and get excited about getting involved and voting one day. Thank you again to all of those who contributed to this effort! If you have any ideas for teaching about the election, please share them in a comment below. I would love for this blog post to become a growing resource for educators who are seeking ideas to teach their students about the election!


  1. I'm here from Ms. Fultz's Corner for her birthday giveaway. I love the ideas found here!

  2. Thanks for the very detailed post and fun links!
    I Want to be a Super Teacher

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