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Engaging Students in a Presidential Election Year



Every four years there is a presidential election in the United States. In addition to providing voters with a chance to review those they have elected to office, a presidential election provides parents, homeschoolers, and teachers with an opportunity to engage young people in the election process and expand their knowledge and understanding of how the system works. This article provides a guide to some ways to take advantage of this opportunity. There are many ways to engage young people in the election process, both as a subject of study, if you are a homeschooler or a teacher, and as a citizen who will someday vote, if you are a parent. Here are some suggestions.

Who's Who?

One person (who could be the student) cuts federal and/or local candidate photos out of the newspaper (or print them out from the Internet) and glue them on index cards. On other cards, the game maker writes attributes of each candidate, either a short bio or individual facts on individual cards. To play the game, the cards are shuffled by the card maker and given to another player whose job is to match the photo to the attributes.

If the short bio cards are created or you wish to choose one attribute card to go with each photo card, these card pairs can be shuffled and laid out face down in rows for a game of Concentration. Concentration can be played as a game of solitaire or as a competition between two players. To play Concentration solitaire, the player turns over two cards and determines if they match. If they do, they are withdrawn from the set and stacked in front of the player. If they don't, they are turned face down again, and the player turns over two more cards, and repeats the process until all the cards have been matched.

To play Concentration for two, the only difference is that players take turns. Depending on the number of cards, you can make a rule that the player who successfully creates a pair gets to go again.

Map the Votes

The process of primaries and gaining electoral votes and the popular vote on election day can both be mapped. Print out a free map of the United States from the Internet or purchase a paper map that fits your wall space. You can choose a map with state names or omit the names to give your student a further challenge. As the primaries take place, and as the election results come in on election day, the student can record the votes on the map. As the map fills up, discuss patterns and trends that appear in the data. For a more in-depth view, make multiple copies of the map and chart results from previous elections.

Using a local map with the proper level of detail, you can also keep track of local elections, whether it's elections of alderman in your city, state representative districts, or any other elections you care to track.

What's in a Word?

Speeches, debates, and advertisements all make up part of our election process, and they can profitably be analyzed in several ways.
  • Fact checking—Various groups engage in checking the facts that the candidates provide, for example, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Factcheck.org. You can engage your student in several ways, for example, reviewing the fact-checking websites and keeping a tally for each candidate or watching debates, speeches, and advertisements and creating doing their own research to verify or rebut what one or more candidates say.
  • Analyzing the rhetoric—Rhetoric is the art of speaking persuasively, and it employs some standard patterns and devices. Find an audio and print copy of a candidate's speech or speeches and find a website that lists rhetorical devices (do a search engine search on "rhetorical devices") so you'll know what to look for.  You may want to visit the American Rhetoric: Rhetorical Figures in Sound website for an introduction to get started.
  • Positive or negative—Who is keeping the campaign aboveboard and positive and who is attacking opponents? And which approach is proving more effective? Watch a debate to determine the amount of time each candidate spends expounding his or her own position and how much time attacking his or her opponents.

Voting

It's standard practice for sample ballots to be available. Review the ballot with your student(s), explaining any special measures that are on the ballot. Demonstrate how to correctly mark a paper ballot. On election day, it's great if students can accompany their parents to vote and see the process, which may include the use of voting machines. If you do take one or more students with you, be mindful of the time you spend in the voting booth if others are waiting a turn.

Election Day Coverage

On election day, you can set up your own reporting center. Start off by each family or class member making a prediction about the races you've been following. You can limit it to winners or losers or include vote percentages. As the results come in, you may wish to allow predictions to be modified, but keep track of what changes are made and why. Use a news report on the morning after the election to see how everyone's predictions held up.


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