Election Day Lesson Plans for Students of All Ages
Whether there’s a national election on the horizon or you’re simply electing a class president, elections and voting can be a common topic among students. You may be unsure what you should discuss with your class before an upcoming election – and what Election Day lesson plans are appropriate for each age group. Check out our ideas for constructive, educational lessons about the election for all ages.
Discussing the Election with Students: Do I or Don’t I?
It can be difficult to talk about politics and the election at school in an educational and constructive way. Students of all ages hear what their parents are saying at home, listen to or watch the news on television, and may have their own ideas and misconceptions about elections. Here are three keys to a productive, positive, and appropriate conversation:
1. Establish a Respectful Space
Before you touch on any topics around the election, set ground rules with your students. Remind them that this particular election (and who their parents may be supporting) isn’t the focus of the lesson, and that they need to respect everyone involved (especially when it comes to activities like mock debates).
In order to encourage respectful behavior, tell your class you are on the lookout for the most responsible citizens to help at “the polls” on the day of your mock election. The poll workers can help you set up the decorations and booths and help count the final ballots – so they’ll be the first to know the results.
2. Focus On the Election, Not the Candidates
Your goal as a teacher is not to help students decide who to vote for. Instead, you want them to understand how elections work and the importance of voting when they are older. You can cover the election without ever mentioning the candidates, parties, or your own personal opinions.
With our Election Day lesson plans, you can focus on the election without talking about politics, making for a more comfortable, positive discussion for all.
3. Keep It Fun and Lighthearted
As you’ll see in our Election Day lesson plans below, elections don’t have to be serious! Students can understand the process while “electing” something fun like their favorite candy. Keeping your lessons entertaining (and sometimes even a little bit silly) can remind the class that the election is nothing to fight over or get upset about at their age.
Election Day Lesson Plans for Grades 2-5
One of the best ways to teach the election process is to hold a mock election in your class. Check out these resources for a week-long discussion!
Before “Election Week”
Before your in-class election week begins, you’ll need to choose your candidates. To keep the discussion low-key, choose something fun that children can relate to, like voting for their favorite:
- Candy bar
- Snack food
- Book character
- Cafeteria meal
Election Week Day 1: Primaries
During the primaries, students come up with their own candidates for the election. If you have a large group of students, form small groups and have each group agree on a candidate to present. If you’re looking to streamline the lesson, you can also provide the initial list of candidates.
After all of the candidates are presented, students vote to choose the final two candidates. You can also offer a write-in option and discuss how this element works in real elections.
Election Week Day 2: Campaigning
After the primary election, the final two candidates are announced. Give students time to campaign for their candidate by:
- Creating posters to display in the classroom
- Handing out flyers
- Writing a speech or commercial
- Trying grassroots strategies like campaigning “door-to-door” (desk-to-desk)
- Holding a small group question-and-answer session
Election Week Days 3 & 4: Debates
On day three, have students write papers addressing key “policy” points. For a candy bar election, this could be ingredients, messiness, taste, texture, etc. If your class is electing their favorite book character, they can address character traits like honesty, responsibility, and fairness.
Many Election Day lesson plans suggest written debate papers, but with a more outgoing group, you can also try a live debate. On day three, have each “party” select a few students to represent them. Hand out the list of questions and give each party time to prepare and write notes. Then, on day four, hold your live debate, where each party gets a set amount of time to answer each question. Be sure to discuss appropriate etiquette to keep the debate fun for everyone.
Election Week Day 5: Election Day
On the big day, decorate your classroom for the election! Create voting booths with desks or cubbies and provide time for each student to vote and drop their ballot in the official ballot box. At the end of the day, announce the winner and celebrate the results!
For Younger Students
A mock election may be a bit too in-depth when it comes to Election Day lesson plans for younger students. Instead, consider using guided reading time to talk about government, presidents, the history of our nation, and more. To guide your discussions, check out leveled readers like:
You can also try modified versions of the mock election, such as a two-day lesson plan with just campaigning and Election Day.
For Older Students
The election can be a bit more difficult to tackle with older students, who are more aware of its impact. To keep your lessons focused and educational, use the election for context to cover another skill or knowledge base you need to address in your class.
Your Election Day lesson plans could include:
- Researching different debate styles and holding a mock debate about a non-political topic
- Writing a paper about how media and technology have affected the election process
- Discussing the differences between elections in the 19th or 20th century and now
- Exploring the art of campaign posters and logos
- Analyzing the math behind electoral votes and popular votes
Whatever angle you choose, your students are sure to take away lessons not only about the election in question, but about other curricular topics.
For Students of All Ages
PBS Learning Media offers their Election Collection videos for free to all teachers. This series of videos is broken down by grade level and offers educational content and classroom activities for all ages surrounding the election process.
Looking to continue the conversation on politics and the world your students will grow up in? Check out our tips for fostering an environment that supports social justice in every classroom.