VOTE! Classroom Ideas
“When I read your book to my fourth graders, I thought we would spend an hour discussing it; to my surprise, we spent a week!”
—heard from a teacher I met at a conference. She made my day!
Below are discussion ideas and links to websites which will be helpful when talking about voting with your students. And remember, we are asked to vote more than once every four years! We vote for governors, senators, mayors, school board members, bond issues… all are opportunities to discuss how voting affects our lives: adults AND KIDS!
Websites specific to kids learning about voting:
Basic facts about voting and elections. Download their free poster.
Tools and Resources
Games, resources and tools
Free resources to assist teachers and encourage students to participate in the political process. Includes lesson plans, and online simulation. Developed by the Youth Leadership Initiative program of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
List of sites where teachers can find “Resources for Excellent Civics Education”
Who are the candidates?
If you want to know who is running for which office, and what their positions are, take a look at these websites. You’ll find information about local, state and federal elections. “40,000 politicians, millions of facts” Look up information about candidates: Bios, Votes, Positions, Ratings, Speeches, Funding.
‘The Encyclopedia of American Politics’
Also: do a search for candidates’ websites.
What are the issues? What are the candidates’ positions?
Many people think that who or what we vote for doesn’t affect their lives at all. BUT…The air we breath, the water we drink, sidewalks, parks, roads, schools, health… to name just a few, are all affected by how we vote. Ask your students to think about ways that government laws and policies are connected to their lives. If you are following specific candidates, find out about their positions.
Current issues with a focus on the 2016 presidential election.
Where do you stand relative to the candidates?
Pros and cons of controversial issues: anything from school uniforms to issues dominating the 2016 presidential election.
Teaching materials and lesson plans about the 2016 election and many other topics.
Polling: Who is ahead? Who is behind?
Discuss the questions voters are asked by the pollster.
Does the way the question is phrased affect the answer?
Are the answers sorted by gender, age or other distinction?
Have your students conduct a poll on a topic of interest to them.
An independent, nonpartisan resource on trends in American public opinion.
“If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls.”
Polls from around the world on many topics.
Deals with the current election.
Do political ads tell the truth?
Where do we learn our facts: From ads? TV? The internet? How do we know our ‘facts’ are reliable?
This non-partisan site evaluates ‘facts’ as stated by political ads and the web rumor-mill. You can ask your own questions.
How do people in your town vote?
With a pencil and paper? On a machine with levers? On an electronic touch screen? Are ballots optically scanned? Is there a way to recount the votes? Can anyone tamper with the ballots? Can people vote in advance? Absentee?
- Encourage your students to go to a polling station with their parents.
- Set up a mock polling station in your school and have the kids vote. They can vote about anything from their favorite pizza to their favorite candidate.
An online voting service hosted by Kids Voting USA
Who Can Vote and…When did they Win the Right to Vote?
Look at the timeline at the back of VOTE! and you might be surprised who won the right to vote and when.
- Ask your students if their parents could have voted 100 years ago.
- How many years do your students have to wait until they can vote?
This year (2016) there are new challenges to who can vote. Several states have passed new Voter ID laws which require voters to present photo IDs before they can vote. Some of these laws are being challenged in court. For more information, try the websites below:
Kids younger than 18 can’t vote but they CAN participate!
Do your students have family members who aren’t registered to vote? Perhaps a parent, a grandparent, a sibling or friend? A youngster who encourages family members or friends to register to vote is definitely taking part in the election process. Here are a couple of sites that might be helpful.
From the League of Women Voters:
An organization working to mobilize youth to vote:
Voting and Math: Counting and…Recounting!
Voting involves a lot of numbers: how many votes, percentages. And what happens when there are three or more parties? If you want to do some interesting math, discuss INSTANT RUNOFF— an option to the way we vote now— involving voting for second and possibly third choices, thus avoiding the confusion when so-called ‘spoiler’ third parties split the vote. (For a brief explanation of Instant Runoff, see page 46 in my book.) Also visit the websites below. You’ll have fun with math and diagrams! Note: Instant Runoff, IRV, is now also called Ranked Choice Voting or RCV.
Find out how IRV / RCV works:
Civinomics and FairVote have launched a tool for creating your own RCV/Instant Runoff poll OR you can try one of their 2016 presidential primary polls:
This site has an interactive explanation of what might have happened if Instant Runoff had been the system of voting the Florida, 2000 presidential election when there were four candidates. Remember that election? It was a long time ago…but it’s a good explanation.