Little known fact…in 1984 Walter Mondale carried only one state, the District of Columbia in the electoral college AND my first grade classroom.
The autumn of a presidential election year can be an exciting time to be a teacher. Few current events have as much impact and few provide as much fodder for teaching, be it about social issues or civics or history. The presidential election is an important and engaging event…how are you teaching it in your class?
There is no shortage of angles to take with this one, that’s for sure. Plenty of opportunities for discussion and analysis. And it is something that can be made relevant for every single grade, from kindergarten to twelfth. How many topics can you say that about? It is also looking to be a tight election, too, with no shortage of riveting, down-to-the-wire excitement.
Here are three ideas/tips for you to consider as you and your students explore the election:
The list of questions that an event like this generates is practically infinite. Encourage your students to do a lot of asking, and then explore the answers together. Possible questions to help them get jump started include:
- Is the Electoral College truly the best way to elect a president? Why was it created?
- What if the election ends in a tie?
- Why can’t kids vote?
- Why does some one have to “approve this message?”
- What important elections are happening in our state or local governments?
Working to tap into students’ curiosity can do a lot of your lesson planning for you. Let their questions dictate the course of your exploration.
As with inquiry, an election offers scads of opportunities to engage students in detailed examination and interpretation. Some things that students could break apart, discuss, and dig deeper into include:
- Candidates’ websites
- Presidential and Vice Presidential debates
- Political advertisements
Teach some history
One great way to explore election history is through editorial cartoons and election advertisements. Thanks to the power of the Internet, these items are easier to find than ever. But presidential election history also offers up some fantastic and fascinating stories that are worth sharing and exploring. Some of my personal favorites include:
- 1876, when Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost the election after 20 electoral votes were controversially awarded to winner Rutherford B. Hayes on the condition that he end Reconstruction.
- 2000, when it took an extra six weeks and a Supreme Court ruling to declare George W. Bush the winner over Vice President Al Gore.
- 1912, which turned into a rare four-way race which included a current president, William Howard Taft, a former president, Theodore Roosevelt, and the eventual winner Woodrow Wilson. (Bonus points if you can name the fourth candidate!)
I’ll end as I began, by asking the question “How are you teaching the election?” We’d love to hear stories from your classroom. Leave us a comment here on our blog, on twitter, or on our facebook page!
Know the fourth candidate? It’s on the tip of your tongue, I bet. It was none other than Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs.
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