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Whistle Stops

In this fun geography lesson, students observe how candidates crisscross the country to win voter support.

Duration: About 10 minutes 2 times per week

Objectives: Students will be able to locate on a U.S. map the states and cities where campaign stops take place.Students will be able to use a scale of miles to measure distance.
Students will be able to express why candidates go on the campaign trail.

Materials: Computer(s) with Internet access; large, inexpensive U.S. map; pushpins of various colors and string (markers can be used in place of pins and string)

Set Up and Prepare: none


  1. Kick the lesson off by asking students if they've ever heard the expression, "campaign trail." What do they think this term means? The campaign trail is the tradition of visiting as many communities as possible before the election. The constant travel and frequent speeches can be very taxing on candidates and their families. Ask students why they think candidates work so hard to travel the campaign trail. (They hope that meeting voters in person will help them win voter support. They also want to get extensive local and national news coverage of their events to help deliver their message to potential voters who do not attend.) Do students think this is true? Explain that this has been a tradition in American politics going back to the 1800s. Back then, candidates would campaign by train. At each "whistle stop," the candidate would give a speech from the rear of the last car.

  2. Have students brainstorm a list of the major candidates, then check Scholastic News Online to see if they missed anyone. When you have a fairly complete list (the number of main candidates will vary depending on when you are teaching this lesson), break students into small groups and assign each group one candidate to follow.

  3. Explain that as the election year moves forward, each group will track the campaign stops of its candidate on the U.S. map. They will use one color pushpin or marker for that candidate. When they read about a campaign stop in a particular city, they will mark that location on the map with a colored pushpin or circle. If using pushpins, they will connect the pins with string to show progression. If using marker, they will draw lines from one stop to the next.

  4. Have students read today's blogs and news articles at Scholastic News Online to get started. Not every candidate will be mentioned every day (especially in the early months), so students should check back several times each week. The most active times will be in January and February 2008 for the primaries and in the fall of 2008 for the General Election.

  5. After a few weeks of mapping campaign stops, challenge students to compare the trails of the various candidates. Ask, for example
    • Which candidate has visited the most states?
    • How many miles has your candidate covered?
    • Does your candidate seem to be paying special attention to one geographic region? (This may be connected to the candidate's own home city, the location of an upcoming primary, or other factors.)

Supporting All Learners

If students prefer to work alone, use photocopied U.S. maps you can find on the Internet or in a textbook and let students choose the candidate they will track.

Lesson Extensions

Hold a class discussion on how changes in transportation and media technology have changed the art of political campaigning. What invention do students think has changed campaigning the most (i.e., airplanes, radio, television, the Internet)?

Assess Students
Observe whether students are able to locate specific states and cities and use the scale of miles.


Scholastic Kid Reporters are on the campaign trail. Keep up with the latest election news in this special report.

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