November 17, 2017

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Teaching the 2016 Presidential Election: Top Tools

Every four years, social studies teachers have a little extra spring in their step. There’s a presidential election, a unique teachable moment in which students are as interested in current events as their parents—especially this year. More than one friend of mine recently said, “What a great year to be teaching social studies!”

So how does an educator approach teaching around the 2016 election? The lessons have three aspects: the process and structure of the process—primaries, conventions, debates, voting rights, and the electoral college; comparison and perspective on how this election is similar and different from past ones; and the onslaught of news coverage (clearly a focal point this year).

This will be my fifth opportunity to teach during a presidential election. I always remind myself that any presidential race is the first my 13 and 14-year-old students are experiencing as an interested party. Instilling a sense of civic responsibility is my most important goal. I want my students to appreciate the power of a vote. A presidential election season is a prime opportunity to demonstrate that.

Fortunately, I’ve found online resources to help me to engage and teach my students to be tomorrow’s voters. These tools are interactive, with the same goal I have—to get the students thinking about how they can get involved in the political process in some manner.

 

C-SpanElectionSites_CSPAN

In addition to the traditional outstanding C-Span coverage of everything political, a portion of its content is specific to the 2016 election and tailored to classroom use. C-Span Campaign 2016 is a curated list of topics related to the election. Each section has links to videos, discussion questions, and activities. Sections include the presidential election process, campaign finance, and debates.

Standout feature: Especially valuable are the specific video clips, one to five minutes long. The section on the impact of third-party candidates has a link to one such concise video covering the history of third-party candidates in presidential elections.

Grade level: 9–12

Librarians will love: The campaign resources are nicely curated, so high-quality content on a specific election topic, even more advanced content for an AP course, is easy to locate.

 

iCivicsElectionSites_icivics_main

Students can jump into the election with the highly interactive resources available from iCivics. The online game Win the White House is a non-partisan experience simulating the process of running for president. Players must campaign, participate in debates, support a platform based on issues, and fund raise. The game has been updated significantly for the 2016 election season, with players being able to play on an elementary, middle, or high school levels. It can be played on a desktop computer, or iOS and Android mobile devices, by downloading the app.

Standout feature: The handy Election Glossary and Election Night Tracker, both available in PDF format.

Grade level: 3–12

Librarians will love: The fun factor. If you have available computers in your space, try leaving the start page to the game up on a few to encourage students to play Win the White House. Add a sign to the area around these computers, perhaps encouraging an after school tournament for students who want to challenge each other for our land’s highest office.

 

Five Thirty EightElectionSites_

Statistician Nate Silver burst upon the political scene in 2008 when he successfully predicted the presidential winner in 49 of the 50 states, as well as every Senate race. His website is a continually updated view of the presidential election through data analysis. Scroll down the page to explore a variety of interactive charts, timelines, and maps. The name? It’s the number of electors in the electoral college (See if your students can figure it out).

Standout feature: A graph showing how close the race is in each state based upon 20,000 election-day simulations.

Grade level: 6–12

Librarians will love: Sharing this resource with their math teachers. The predictions, statistics and graphs are a natural hook to create a current events–math mashup.

 

Living Room CandidateElectionSites_LivingRoomCand

Here we can examine presidential elections since 1952 through the lens of political commercials. Explore via the election year, the type of commercial, or the issue being targeted. Educators can create playlists to accompany a lesson or set up an activity. The site also includes a “For Teachers” PDF with detailed lesson plans on teaching with campaign commercials.

Standout feature: The ability for students to make connections among different elections throughout history through video, a format they find appealing. My students enjoyed seeing the comparison between the 1952 “I Like Ike” commercial, the 1964 classic “Daisy” ad, and today’s attack-based commercials.

Grade level: 5–12

Librarians will love: How the videos from historical elections can be catalysts for future research. For instance, a student may first hear about the Soviets shooting down an American U2 spy plane when watching ads for the 1960 election, and decide to further look into this event.

 

NewselaElectionSites_Newsela

A favorite among educators as a source for current events, Newsela provides a link with all news articles related to the presidential election. A paid pro account brings additional options, such as monitoring student annotations and assessing with constructed response. Participation in the Newsela Student Vote 2016 is open between October 17 and November 1. Students from across the country will vote in presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial races with results announced on November 2.

Standout feature: The option to differentiate the same article for students with different reading levels. As an example, a recent article on the electoral college has the option of five different lexile levels ranging from 610 to above 1200.

Grade level: 2-12

Librarians will love: Creating school binders, which allow them, and other school leaders, to see what articles are being shared and used throughout the building by different teachers. This feature provides an opportunity for collaboration.

270 to WinElectionSites_270toWin

Helping students understand how the electoral college works, which can be confusing even for adults, is always a primary goal in my class. An appreciation of it helps students grasp why candidates spend more time and money campaigning in some states rather than others, and how population distribution impacts the presidential election. This is a great site to play with “what if” scenarios. My students always love discussing how third-party candidates with a relatively small following can turn out to be deciding factors. You can select a map to throw in some third-party wins and really dig into interesting possibilities. You can also view electoral college results from all the previous elections.

Standout feature: The interactive map. You can reset the map to display current polling data, or start with a blank map. My students love to flip states from one candidate to another with a single click, and then see how one change impacts the total number of electoral college votes.

Grade level: 5-12

Librarians will love: The election news section, which is updated daily and includes charts, data, and polling results.

 

PBS NewsHour ExtraElectionSites_PBS

Visit this site for the latest in election news as November 8 nears. Current events content is updated continuously, so that lesson plans and videos are fresh and dynamic as the election season unfolds. A common question in my classroom is “What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?” While this is, obviously, difficult to answer in short order, students might begin to think about where they fit in by taking the political party quiz, to see which side their beliefs most closely align with.

Standout feature: The depth and variety of lessons. For example, a lesson on the issue of immigration in the election includes a classroom activity and several links to resources. Suggestions on how to differentiate the lesson for a 7–9 class versus a 10–12 class is included. There are also examples of extension activities. For the immigration lesson, it was a link to an article in which a teacher described how the musical Hamilton helps him teach xenophobia and immigration.

Grade level: 7–12

Librarians will love: The high quality videos from NewsHour included in the lessons, which can be downloaded and then incorporated into a multimedia presentation or a custom lesson plan.

CNN Student NewsElectionSites_CNN

CNN produces a highly interactive 10-minute news program, anchored by Carl Azuz, specifically for use in classrooms. It’s available free every school day. CNN Student News provides a combination of national and global news. An archive provides the opportunity to view recent shows if you miss one.

Standout feature: The show is available to view online via the website, or you can also subscribe to it on iTunes and download it each morning so you don’t need to worry about the  bandwidth in class.

Grade level: 5-12 (Educators are encouraged to watch shows prior to viewing in a class to gauge appropriateness.)

Librarians will love: The transcript for each show is available for student use, which can help students with reading comprehension and vocabulary. It would be simple to create a vocab list prior to showing.


Dr. Eric Langhorst is an eighth grade U.S. history, broadcasting, and technology teacher in Liberty, MO, and the 2008 Missouri Teacher of the Year.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Eric, thank you for pointing to these great resources. I wanted to add that teachers with students in middle and high school might want to visit Letters to the Next President 2.0 for an opportunity to publish writing and media from all/any of their students related to the election. Young people publish a ‘letter’ to the next president about an issue that matters to them that they hope will be addressed in the future. The site, free and managed by educators, is at letters2president.org. It is free, open and accepting letters all fall through November 8.