I’m a high school social science teacher with many years of teaching experience (World History, U.S. History, and U.S. Government), and I am certain that each of the following can be effectively incorporated into many high school social science classes across the country to give students a greater opportunity to engage with the critical issues facing us this election season. The best part is that all the resources necessary for these projects can be found online for free.
1. Find Out What Candidate You Side With
Begin this project by having your students take the Isidewith quiz to find out which of the candidates they most likely side with. Then have them go online to learn more about that candidate.
2. Find Out Whether You’re a Liberal or Conservative
Begin this project by having your students take the PEW Research Center’s Political Typology Quiz to find out if they are a steadfast conservative, a solid liberal or somewhere in between. Then have them visit the Pew Research Center and find out where they stand in comparison to the rest of the nation.
3. Write a Letter to the Next President
Begin this project by having your students take a close look at the ProCon website, which presents controversial issues in a straightforward, nonpartisan, primarily pro-con format. Then have your students write a letter to the next president, following the instructions that appear on the Letters to the Next President 2.0 website. To view a letter one of my students wrote recently, click here.
4. Document Your First-Ever Debate Party
Begin this project by having your students plan a My First-Ever Presidential Debate Party. Encourage them to invite their friends and family. In the weeks leading up to the event, be sure to send out requests for food donations. Many grocery store chains give their managers the discretion to come through in this regard. For additional inspiration, click here. Just before the party begins, have the student who is hosting the party record a version of the following message on camera:
Hello everyone. My name is (insert) and I am a (insert) high school senior. Today, is (insert date) and at the moment, I’m standing here outside of my house waiting for some friends to come over. When they get here, we’re all going to go inside to watch the presidential debate. If you want to see what that looks like, stick around for the next three minutes.
The next three minutes can consist of a combination of still shots and video documenting what took place at the party. For the video segment, the host might want to ask those in attendance one or more of the following questions:
- Who do you think won the debate?
- How did the candidates respond to the questions that were posed? Were they straightforward, evasive or somewhere in between?
- What part of the debate did you enjoy watching the most?
- If you could have asked the candidates a question what would it have been?
Here’s a short video made by three San Marino High School seniors to document their first ever presidential debate party.
5. Create a 30-Second Campaign Ad
Begin this project by having your students play Win the White House to learn about the presidential election process and the importance of targeted broadcast messaging. Then have students pick a candidate and a state; research current polling data for that state; select a campaign issue; and create a 30-second ad that conveys the proper tone and message around that issue based on the current polling data. It may help for students to read the PBS article “Lights, Camera, Politics: Create Your Own Presidential Campaign Ad.”
6. Participate in a Class Debate
Begin this project by having your students go online to learn what they can about past presidential debates. Then direct them to the Join the Debate website, which will provide students with an opportunity to promote, drive and guide a presidential election–style debate while also fully participating in it.
7. Video Conference With Another Class
Begin this project by having your students take a close look at the ProCon Web page Should the United States Continue to Build a Fence or Wall Along the U.S./Mexico Border?, or another topic relevant to the two classes. Then provide them with a chance to engage in a video conference with students from another school, which provides them with a chance to civilly and respectfully share their views in regards to this question. Shortly before the video conference ends, have the students at both schools answer the Poll Everywhere question.
8. Interview an Adult About the Election
Begin this project by having your students read “The StoryCorps SmartPhone App: A Great Way for Students to Learn About History.” Then have students interview an adult using the free StoryCorps app. Interview subjects can be asked about their most memorable presidential election experiences, what America means to them, and their hopes for this election and the presidency of the candidate elected.
Remind them that, after the election, they can use the app to participate in StoryCorps’ The Great Thanksgiving Listen, in which, over the holiday weekend, high school students will record conversations with a grandparent or another elder about their lives. All recordings will be archived at the Library of Congress for future generations.
9. Decide the Future of the Electoral College
Begin this project by having your students watch the CCP Grey video “How the Electoral College Works” and the TED-Ed Lesson “The Electoral College Explained.” Then have them tweet or message family and friends: “Do you think the Constitution should be amended to get rid of the Electoral College?” Have students share the responses they receive with the rest of the class. Then have the class as a whole take a look at what a 2013 Gallop Poll reveals about this question. To close, have the class engage in a mock Congressional joint committee hearing; see if 2/3rd of the committee will vote in favor of a proposal calling for the president to be determined by a direct vote of the people, rather than the Electoral College.
10. Vote in a Mock Election
Begin this project by having your students watch the TED-Talk “Let’s Make Voting Fun Again.” Then have your students vote in a mock election. The MyVote California Student Mock Election will take place on October 11, 2016 and school registration is now open. After registering, you will receive a packet of materials (see image below).
If you are a teacher, wish to have your students hold a mock election, and are looking for an inspirational how-to, click here
11. Predict the Outcome of the Election
Begin this project by having your students go to the PBS Learning Media’s Election Central website to
- Learn about the Electoral College.
- Watch an introductory video about the presidential election process.
- Explore an interactive timeline of all past presidential elections.
Then have them try to predict the outcome of the Electoral College by using PBS’s new, free interactive Electoral Decoder tool, which provides an opportunity to “play political pundit” to see how Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or others could win or lose this year’s election. With the help of a cartogram, students see how a state that is large geographically may have a low number of electoral votes. It can also show how a candidate who has lost the electoral vote in most states can still win the presidency. Teachers can use the interactive map to predict the outcome of the current presidential election.
Students can save or print their maps or share them on social media. For example, one of my students used my classroom laptop to demonstrate how the new tool works.
— Peter Paccone (@PeterPaccone) October 5, 2016
I love that PBS provides students with the opportunity to share their predictions. What a great way to engage students! My ultimate goal is to have each of my students not only share on social media, but also print out their predictions. Then, the day after the election, they can compare their state-by-state predictions to the actual outcome.
12. Send a Videogram to Barack Obama
Begin this project by having your students watch the video “How Will Barack Obama Spend His Retirement?” Then have them create a three-minute videogram, which respectfully urges the president to give his support to something in retirement that is of importance to the students. Here’s a videogram that some of my students sent to President Obama last year.
13. Document Your Poll-Worker Experience
Begin this project by having your students apply for a chance to work the polls on Election Day. Working the polls will provide your students with a unique opportunity to assist voters on Election Day. While working the polls, have your students use a digital camera to document the experience, using either still shots, video or both. Then have them use a video editing app to create two- to three-minute video describing the experience. Share with the class. For a variation, have the students attend a presidential campaign rally, volunteer for the Trump or Clinton campaigns or visit a campaign headquarters. To learn how to apply for a chance to work the polls in California, click here.
14. Document your Voting Booth Experience
Begin this project by encouraging students who will turn 18 before Election Day to vote. Then have those students write a 500-word or less description of what it was like to vote, including where the voting took place, what it looked like inside, how long it took to vote, how they were treated by the poll workers, what specifically they were called upon to do, and what they thought about the whole experience afterward. The description should also include one or more photographs of the student at the ballot box and wearing his/her “I Voted” sticker.
15. Make a Presidential Election Blog
Begin this project by encouraging your students to use Blogger, WordPress, or another blogging platform to create a My 2016 Presidential Election Blog. Students’ blogs should showcase any/all of following:
- Their Isidewith quiz results
- Their political typology quiz results
- Photos/videos of them working the polls, attending a debate party, volunteering for a campaign, participating in an in-class debate, casting a ballot during a mock election, etc.
- Their letter to the next president
- Their Electoral College prediction
- Their StoryCorps interview
- Responses to the tweet “Do you think the Constitution should be amended to get rid of the Electoral College?”
- A I Voted sticker, if applicable