I love my job. As an elementary computer teacher/media specialist, I have lots of freedom in what I teach and how I teach it. The standards I teach can be met in a variety of ways, so my job never gets dull. I get to be a help desk, search engine, science teacher, reading coach, typing instructor, social studies teacher, and more. As the 2016 presidential election approached, I was given the task of conducting a mock election for my school. I was nervous. I was fearful that all the vitriol in the media would spill over to my students, and I truly didn’t want to foster any more hate, fear or disrespect.
So before preparing for our mock election, I thought hard about what I could do to avoid negative election talk. I decided to prepare a lesson in library class ahead of time and teach a few ideas to my students. Here’s what I came up with.
- Start the discussion by insisting upon a civil conversation. Even though we adults can’t always do it, it important for kids to know that you can disagree with one another and still be friends. Not only is this great for discussing politics, it is a good lifelong lesson. Throughout our lesson, I insisted that the kids stick to the facts and not be unkind to each other. Turns out, these kids could teach us adults a thing or two about civility.
- Teach kids about the voting process and why voting is important. I felt if students understood how voting is done, why we do it, and how long it took for all citizens to gain the right to vote, they might see the significance of voting. So in each class, we learned facts about voting in America and read a grade-appropriate book to help students understand. We learned voting vocabulary and saw examples of different kinds of ballots. I let students share thoughts about voting and the importance that voting holds in their own families. I was impressed, especially with my older students, in how interested they were in this
- Talk about the process of preparing to vote. I talked to the kids about how I approach voting. I explained how I research the candidates and figure out how they align with my beliefs. I discussed how one of my key issues is education as I am a teacher, so I try to look for candidates that support public education. And I tried to remain factual and unbiased. I did not want to bring any opinion or misinformation to the discussion.
- Remind students that voting is private. Tell kids they do not have to share their voting choice with others. Explain that I don’t even have to tell my family who I vote for. Then practice. Say, “John, who are you going to vote for?” And listen to him say something like “that is private” or “I can’t tell you.” Students may laugh, but they will get the idea.
- Answer questions accurately and without judgment. If you’ve ever worked with kids, you know the kind of things they come up with. I had kids asking me all kinds of things -- where the President lives, if he or she would be President the day after the election, could their own parents be president. I tried to honor their questions by showing respect and answering the best I could. If I didn’t know, I said so and suggested we look up the answer. I tried to discourage misinformation and promote finding a reliable source and looking into issues a bit more. Finally, I suggested that students have a dialogue with their parents.
So how did this activity go? Better than expected. I think my younger kids were excited about the physical act of voting. We used the online program Studies Weekly (Every Kid Votes), and my younger students thought it was fun to see the candidates and make a decision. The older kids were a little more thoughtful. I heard some say out loud, “this is really hard” to which I replied, “It’s hard for grown-ups, too.” I could tell that the majority of the kids were taking their time and trying to make a good choice. Sure, I had to squelch some “Trump, Trump, Trump” chants or “Hillary’s got this” comments, but overall, our election went well and was both respectful and educational. What started out as a nerve-wracking venture turned into a meaningful learning experience for me and for my students. I can’t wait to tackle a mock election again in four years!
My Teaching Resources
- Duck for President by Doreen Cronin -- This is an old family favorite that I used with kindergarten through second grade students. It is a clever way to discuss ballots and address the hard work of holding a political
- One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote You Vote -- This is a nonfiction book told in the style of Dr. Seuss. It covers the whole gamut of the voting process, voting history and
- Election Glossary poster from Scholastic Books -- This is a poster I purchased from the Scholastic Resource Catalog. On the back of the poster, there are three printable activities that go along with the teaching of election
- Get Out the Vote Boxlight's social studies and election interactive lessons.
- Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
- Vote for Me!by Ben Clanton
- Amelia Bedelia’s First Vote by Herman Parrish
- So You Want to be President by Judith St. George