Sage Advice: The Election Offers a Host of Cross-Disciplinary Project Lessons

How will you integrate the upcoming election into your class?

How will you integrate the upcoming election into your class?
Illustration of a puzzle maze.
Credit: Getty Images

My marketing class will explore and evaluate the various strategies the candidates are using to win the vote. We will look at commercials, Web sites, products, and print ads to determine who is using the marketing machine most effectively.

Diana Millerick

Business teacher
Downingtown East Senior High School
Exton, Pennsylvania

As a human-development instructor, I will use the election information to show students how democracy and public policy affect their lives. We study Urie Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory, and the election is a great example of how the macrosystem (democratic ideology) affects the beliefs, values, and actions of individuals.

Regina Rei Lamourelle

Human-development department chair
Santiago Canyon College
Orange, California

Dover Publications offers Barack Obama and John McCain paper dolls that I will use to inform the students about the presidential candidates. We will use the Internet and a Smart Board to research issues that students will have interest in, such as what candidates' families look like, what their slogans are, and how they feel about hot-button issues. Students will then poll other classes and post a giant Presidential Scorecard in the school hallway with results. On Election Day, we will cast private votes and count and graph our classroom votes. The following day, we will discuss nationwide results and compare them to our school vote and class vote.

Joanne Teasdale

Kindergarten teacher
Blessed Sacrament School
Staten Island, New York

I use Scholastic News materials for election content issues (language arts) and ballot materials for assessing party similarities and differences in expository text (language arts), and hold a mock election (social studies) to compare our popular-vote percentage (math) with the nation's for graph interpreting (science).

Vince Rosato

Fifth-grade teacher
Searles Elementary School
Union City, California

Election years are fun years to teach history. We discuss the way things stay the same over the years -- the issues are often similar no matter what the year -- and how we have personally changed. Students have the opportunity to evaluate where we are today as a nation and what we need from a leader in order not to repeat some of our past. An upcoming election is one of the best ways to encourage students to get out and vote as soon as they are old enough. I instill in them the belief that it is their responsibility and that voting is a way to change what they don't like. Election years make it easy to make history relevant to today's world.

Val Jones

Modern U.S. history teacher
Jerome High School
Jerome, Idaho

I plan on having my eighth-grade science students watch some of the debates, as well as do some research on the Internet, in order to identify and discuss each candidate's proposed policy on issues related to energy and the environment. Working in small groups, students will create a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation to show their findings on candidate's viewpoints. These presentations would then be used as a source for further discussion and to make connections to our science content.

Dan Beltramo

Middle school science teacher
Vaca Pena Middle School
Vacaville, California

We love election time, because it gives our grades 7-8 class a chance to discuss so many issues that can often be boring but now are suddenly relevant. We start the fall term with regular current-events assignments related to the candidates. Each student must summarize an article and offer an opinion, which leads to some excellent class discussion and group learning.

We also establish who is supporting which candidate and each student writes a letter asking that candidate to focus on an issue the student feels is important. This helps them begin to think politically about what is important to them.

After we have spent significant time in research, discussion, and reflection, we have a class debate. This is the highlight of the unit. We use a format modified for this age group, which means students must speak respectfully, and must clearly state the logic behind their opinion. Every student is required to speak -- no one is allowed to hide in the back. I usually moderate, but I have also broken up the class into smaller groups and used student moderators -- either way can work if everyone knows and agrees to follow the rules.

On Election Day, we go to a nearby polling location and ask the election workers to demonstrate the voting process. They love to do it if you show up when they aren't too busy. This experience proved fascinating back in 2000, when our students came to understand what the phrase "hanging chad" means, and how it could happen to anyone! Once they see how easy it is to actually vote, they are much more likely to vote in the future, and that is the most important lesson of all.

Govinda Reinhalter

Administrative director
The Willow School
Vero Beach, Florida

I plan to incorporate the election into our curriculum by using the compare-and-contrast method. For example, our sixth-grade curriculum is about ancient civilizations, so when we define some of the terms for various types of governments, like monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorship, democracy, and so on, students will, I hope, be able to see the connection and describe how all of these are alike and different. We'll explore how our representative democracy rose from the Greek and Roman forms of government, and how women and slaves were not allowed to vote, and why.

Eric Haley

Sixth-grade teacher
Harriette Kirschen Elementary School
Modesto, California

My class is part of a collaboration project with several other fifth-grade classes from around the country. Students will work locally in news-reporting teams to research various aspects of the electoral process. They'll report their findings by creating videos, podcasts, or Web sites. Each class will share and collaborate with one another using a project wiki. The project culminates with a mock election and analysis of voting trends.

David Cosand

Fifth-grade teacher
Kennedy Elementary School
Medford, Oregon

I teach media literacy as part of an eighth-grade information-literacy class. This fall our students will use persuasion techniques and create posters, short videos, or public-service announcements to encourage adults to register to vote, to remember to vote, to support a candidate, or to support an issue. Students may also choose to use this opportunity to remind voters that every vote counts and that voting is a privilege. As the election nears, the best projects will be sent home in our principal's weekly e-newsletter. Students will also have the opportunity to email their final product to parents and relatives of voting age.

Linda Schwartz

Media specialist
Bloomfield Hills Middle School
Bloomfield Hills, Missouri

As a teacher educator, I find that teaching candidates typically believe they should avoid controversial topics with their pupils. Part of my responsibility is to help student teachers understand both the importance of eloquent listening and how disagreement can be fertile ground for deeper understandings. They need strategies, not only on how to teach their pupils the value of diverse opinions but also on how to teach their pupils that dialogue fuels our democracy. Discussions on the impact of current events in our lives, including the upcoming presidential election, belong in classrooms, and certainly in classrooms that prepare student teachers.

Laurel Hill-Ward

Department of Professional Studies in Education
California State University, Chico
Chico, California

I have designed a schoolwide election plan in which students in grades K-5 will serve as independent voters and those in grades 6-12 will be divided randomly into two parties. The traditional Democratic-Republican division will not be used, so that students can determine their own platform and so on without influence from their parents. A convention will then take place with a four-week campaign. During that time, the candidates, with the assistance of finance and advertising teams, will run for the offices of president and vice president. They will make commercials for the entire school to see, put up posters, and pass out brochures. A town-hall meeting will include the entire school, and on Election Day, students will vote, with the fourth- and fifth-grade students as election judges.

Leigh Ann Schroeder

Fifth-grade teacher
Rivermont Collegiate
Bettendorf, Iowa

I teach students with multiple handicaps ages 18-22. We take our students to register to vote, if they desire to and have not already done so, and we drive them to their voting location in November if they will not be going with their parents. I will continue discussing all the candidates -- local, state, and national. I watch the local news coverage of the candidates in my classroom at noon, which students may watch with me during their lunchtime, if they desire. Afterward, students are free to ask questions to clarify and discuss positions without bias toward particular candidates. We especially look for information and positions regarding disability, education, and employment issues that will directly affect our group of students.

Galen Howard

Adult-transition instructor
Esperanza High School
Anaheim, California

My students and I will be organizing a whole-school election simulation. Students will implement procedures for voter registration, collect polling data, and staff voting sites on campus. Students will also investigate various influences on the election such as media, interest groups, political-action committees, and political parties as they create their own grassroots campaigns to educate their classmates and encourage participation in the election simulation.

Steve Magadance

Social studies teacher
International School of the Americas
San Antonio, Texas

My students will be required to do research on both presidential candidates and identify their platforms using a graphic organizer with the software Inspiration. I will then have the students form teams and debate on which candidate is best, based on the issues. They will be required to take a survey about what family members, friends, and classmates think are the critical issues we are challenged with today. Each team will be required to do a presentation using Microsoft PowerPoint on the candidate of their choice. Finally, I have created a ballot, which resembles the sample ballot, for students to vote with in a simulated booth. The votes will be counted and the students will chart this information using Microsoft Excel.

Retta L. Girley-Gross

High School multimedia teacher
Weber Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology
Stockton, California

Four years ago, my second-grade class enjoyed the activities for the 2004 presidential election, and I plan to do some of the activities again. About a month before the election, we started voting every day as a part of our unit on government/elections. Each morning, I posted a different age-appropriate question. The students would cast their secret ballot, then we would count ballots and discuss the outcome. We had questions like, "If you were given a choice on a nice spring day, would you go outside to play, or stay in and play on the computer?" Or, "When choosing a birthday meal, would you rather have fried chicken, or pizza?" We discussed current political happenings, but our questions were life related, rather than political -- except for our culminating straw vote. We had a class notebook in which we recorded the results of our voting.

Wanda Wold

Second-grade teacher
North Lakeland Elementary School
Lakeland, Florida

As part of a major unit on the election and the Constitution, we use our homeroom classes as an electoral college. The number of votes a class get depends on its size. Each class gets to determine whether it wants to use a winner-take-all system or to distribute its votes proportionally. The school winner will be the candidate who gets the most electoral votes. After the voting, we compare total votes to electoral votes, and we also compare the votes in school to our county and state results.

Rich Morrow

Mathematics coordinator
Challenge School
Denver, Colorado

What a wonderful opportunity to highlight the responsibility of a citizenry to vote and participate in the democratic process. The percentage of the eligible population that votes in the United States ranks very low; a voter-registration campaign could be run by a civics class on the campus of a high school.

Sarah Sanchez

Director of learning support services and prevention programs
Richland School District Two
Columbia, South Carolina

My ninth-grade world-history students each make a map of an imaginary planet that does not look like Earth. We use those for the rest of the year as the basis for essays. As we look at how different societies choose their rulers (best warrior, richest, old family ties, popular choice, and so on), they will write about how a presidential election would occur on their planet, and why it would or wouldn't be better than any other way of choosing a leader.

Jennifer Rautman

World-history teacher
Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque, New Mexico

I plan to research with my second-grade class what the president does, then take pictures of students at a podium with the White House symbol in the background (found through Google Image Search). Then they will write about what they will do when they are president.

Charlene Corr

Technology specialist
St. Joseph School
Racine, Wisconsin

I recommend that students use an election journal. The students take on the persona of someone involved in the election -- a candidate, the wife of a candidate, the child of a candidate, the campaign manager, or even the pet of a candidate. Once a week, the students paste an article about the election on the left side of the journal, then respond to the article from the perspective of their persona. How do they feel about the news article that is being written about them or a member of their family? Was it honest? Biased? Did it tell the whole story? This approach guarantees the engagement of the students in the election while giving them a new way to critically examine a different worldview and gain a deeper understanding of the impact of the press on elections.

Patti Coggins

Social science specialist
Loudoun County Public Schools
Ashburn, Virginia
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Oct 2008: Financial Literacy
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Sage Advice

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Karen Kliegman (not verified)


Was this helpful?

I designed an election webquest, Meet the Candidates, Over 50 schools across the USA are participating in this project, designing campaign videos, vodcasts, podcasts, and more. We will have a virtual election; we will be using a communitywalk map where schools will place either red or blue markers, depending on who wins at their school. Our election is next Thursday. I see some of the comments are referencing this project!
Karen Kliegman
Library Media Specialist
Searingtown Elementary School
Herricks UFSD
Albertson, NY

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